Lessons about romantic relationships from the last 6 months

The year 2022 started with me thinking I was up for the adventure of a lifetime – moving to a dream country with my boyfriend and building a new, exciting life together. However, after 5 and a half months of planning this life change and trying to understand where our relationship was, we broke up instead.

No more moving. No more building a life together. No more boyfriend.

I met my 29th birthday crying on the floor. I was heartbroken. I was grieving the end of a relationship, the end of the illusion of what my – our lives could have been, and the fact I was heading into my 30ies just as single as I entered my 20ies. But heartbreak was not the only strong feeling I was experiencing. I was also deeply disappointed.

I was disappointed in my ex-boyfriend and his apparent inability to make up his mind about major relationship topics. I was disappointed in life for bringing even more grief to my doorstep. I was also deeply disappointed in myself. A relationship takes two people and so I wondered how much the failures of my relationships in the last decade were my own fault. Finally, I had grown up enough to look into myself and assume responsibility.

This work sucks

This hesitent willingness to turn inwards and find what it was that was not working in myself started a turbulent 6-month period of self-exploration, learning, loving, and growing. To be honest, most of the time is it difficult and not fun. It is like looking in a mirror that shows you the most unwanted and unloved parts of yourself and knowing that the only way to move forward is by accepting, embracing, and loving these parts. No wonder so many people choose to stay ignorant or in dysfunctional relationships. This work sucks.

It is the type of effort that turns you upside down and inside out, brings your worst fears to light, and makes you question if you would ever find the happiness you are looking for. Yet, the growth that accompanies all of this misery is oddly satisfying. You dry your tears, understand the value the lesson brought you, and, if you are honest and courageous, find yourself looking up to the Universe and saying “Thank you! Show me more”. And you start to really observe and see – inside and outside of yourself.

Open the tap but don’t drown

I have noticed that one of the biggest mistakes people make when they want to introduce changes in their lives is that they start with action. Instead, we should start with observation and awareness of where we currently are. The same principle can be applied to exploring your romantic life. Before blaming and fixing, we really need to understand. What is happening? How am I feeling? What are my thoughts about this situation? Why do I think this way? Is my brain telling me the truth? Then, we need to sit with whatever is coming up. And this ain’t easy. Once you open the tap, you have no idea how much rusty water will run out of it. You might be up for a nasty surprise if you’ve never run the tab before. Your job is to be there, observe without judgement, be compassionate to yourself, and hold yourself while the shit runs out. Ooof! Tough stuff!

All of this, though, is just applying mindfulness to the situation – observing without judgement, fully allowing yourself to experience whatever is at hand. Remember to keep your head above the water, though. Creating anchors such as sports, journaling, meditation, crying sessions in the shower, if you want, helps a lot. As the cliche goes, time heals everything. I believe, that effort combined with time definitely does the job… Most of the time.

Unrealistic expectations lead to realistic problems

Mindfulness and time allowed me to tap into another lesson. Actually, this felt more like remembering something that I had forgotten – that it is unrealistic to expect others, not to mention just one poor and unexpecting romantic partner, to satisfy all of our needs. In fact, according to David Richo in How To Be An Adult In Relationships” (yes, I read that and you should, too), a healthy adult relationship should satisfy around 25% of our needs. What about the other 75%? That’s all on us, folks! All of a sudden, you realise that your happiness and fulfilment are your job. Crap. Now you have to work on yourself and with yourself to be happy. It’s so much easier to just drop all of these expectations on someone else’s shoulders, am I right?

25% is not a lot. We need to carefully think about what we need from our romantic relationships. I am still figuring this one out, but this lesson gave me a lot of perspective. Whenever I approach a situation with a heap of expectations, I step back and ask myself a few questions: Is this realistic? Are my expectations fair? Are my expectations transparent? The last one leads me to my last revelation – that communication is the most important thing to cultivate between two romantic partners.

It’s not a heart attack, it is just a conversation

I use the word “revelation” rather loosely. If anyone would ask me to rate how important communication is in relationships, I’d shoot for the highest numbers. But when it is time for me to start uncomfortable and vulnerable conversations I run in the opposite direction faster than Bugs Bunny. Knowing something does not necessarily mean we’d apply it when it is needed. And do you know what is worse than having one partner who is a crappy communicator? Having a whole couple with the same level of non-existent skills. Every tough conversation is born with complications, dies quickly, and leaves behind hurt, misunderstanding, and frustration. The biggest problem is that in such an environment issues do not get resolved. They get pushed down and buried somewhere deep. They start to rot and poison the relationship slowly but surely. Sounds a bit too grotesque? It does but it is true (trust me, I am speaking from experience).

This was my hardest pill to swallow in the last 6 months – I am a grown adult who never learned to properly voice and resolve issues in romantic relationships. Following all of the other lessons, this one taught me that I can continue blaming past circumstances or I can grow a pair of balls and start trying to do better. I chose the second. I cannot tell you how difficult, uncomfortable, and… effective it is. Who knew that a single honest conversation can feel so much like a heart attack resolve so many things – feelings, issues, fears, frustrations? I’m kidding, I knew. Now I also try to apply this knowledge to reality.

We live and we learn

It is said that we as humans can only fully experience ourselves in relationships with other humans. When we get into a conflict, a part of us is triggered and shows us where we need to apply awareness, attention, and love. When we live in harmony with one another, we learn to love in different ways and to make each other’s lives more beautiful. Couples grow together in conflict and in harmony. It is also said that mindfulness is required for adult relationships. Without it, couples are just two kids running around wanting the other to fix their hurt and give them what they did not receive in childhood.

Learning to be better in relationships is quite the task. I don’t think this is because it so difficult, but because we do it while being in relationships, while trying to build them, nurture them, and – well, frankly – not screw them up. It is like swimming. The only way to truly learn is in the water.

So we live and we learn. Day by day. One mistake after other. One happy day after the next. Next thing we know we can swim to the other side of the pond in one piece.

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