When you’re loved and you know it, you feel it, you begin to infect others around you with feelings of safety, “chill,” and secure attachments. I’m that guy. I bring a sense of calm (albeit a tad frenetic at times: think Robin Williams on a good day) to my friends and family.
How Do We Heal Ourselves
First, a person on the journey toward a healthy life and healthy relationship must do the deep work of healing themselves. Getting in touch when with triggers you or frightens you. It’s probably deep stuff from your childhood and family of origin. Or it could be a trauma you endured and learned to “cope” with various tactics that are now hurting you as an adult. (Mine, for example, was isolating when I was scared, sad, or mad. I would run into the woods and build a fort.) So, for a person to show up in their own lives as WHOLE, a bit of deep cleaning is required.
Second, as we tiptoe into dating again, we need to be conscious of our desire to attach to someone who is super attractive and magnetic (see: Sexual Chemistry) and perhaps not very clear or honest. It’s hard to tell sometimes. Ask open-ended questions. Listen to their answers. Search for clues in the early conversations. No need to jump to conclusions, just be aware of your previous tendency to attach to someone less healthy, and perhaps you dabbled in an insecurely attached relationship. That wasn’t fun, was it? Learn what secure attachment feels like and sounds like. Go there.
How Does Our Love Heal Others
As we become more connected to our own hearts and healthy desires, we can begin to look for and nurture relationships that show potential for going the distance. I had several attempts at “healthy relationships” with women who were a bit less transparent. I got engaged to an alcoholic. That didn’t go well. I jumped in with a sexual power woman who was severely damaged by some trauma that kept coming out sideways. I even dated a woman who had not had a serious adult relationship, ever. She had a kid (by donor) and was incapable of detaching herself, even for a minute, from her hyper-mom role.
As I got better at healing and loving myself, it was easier to observe how certain relationship patterns were not good for me. These were my own insecure attachment issues. Each one of these relationships gave me new opportunities to learn, grow, and ultimately leave. Don’t say with someone who is not on the same healing path as you are. If you request a behavior modification and the person can’t seem to pull it together, that might be the red flag that grabs your attention.
Of these three women, none of them had done the work. They were running from their pain and their past. One used alcohol. One used hyper-sex. One used an obsessive/avoidance pattern. All three would’ve been long-term disasters. Sure, I could’ve modified my own needs for “healthy” by settling a bit.
Never settle. It will bite you.
The Limits of Love
I’m going to use an example from my recent past, involving two dogs rather than previous relationships. My GF has two lovely and neurotic dogs. The girl pictured above is Gracie May. She’s a freaked-out Chihuahua. When we met, two years ago, she would bark at me for the first five minutes. Then, if I ever motioned to her that I was going to pick her up, soothing and loving voice and open hands, she’d run for cover. Today, because I have always been 100% safe, respectful, and loving, Gracie will look at me and wag her tail when I’m coming to pick her up. It’s remarkable how trusting she has become.
That is because I am 100% trustworthy. That is my goal in any relationship. Gracie knows that I have never hurt her and would never do anything to injure or frighten her. She’s still scared and still delivers the side-eye all the time. But I’ve given her only love and affection. She’s warming to the relationship.
The other dog, Frodo, is more of a goofy goober. He loved me on sight. He wags his tail any time I’m in the room. He knows this will get another kind word and often a head pat or back scratch.
A Healing Crisis
In the past, each of the three insecure relationships experienced a crisis. It was clearly time for me to go. Each partnership found its own unique way to detach. In one case, I crafted it so the partner was convicted that it was their decision to break up. Win-Win. There is no point in blaming the other person. While I can point to the reasons I left, I am not judging them. I’m just choosing to no longer be in their lives. And visa versa.
And sometimes, along the path, a “healing crisis” is an opportunity to love even more. Let’s say your partner has only been in insecurely attached relationships. And when they make a mistake they trigger themselves with scary thoughts of the attack to come. A big lover can see what’s happening and make better decisions about navigating the crisis. In my case, often the best solution was to be quiet and listen. I didn’t need to offer the solution. And, of course, their solution was out of my control.
I learned to be patient with a partner who had less experience. I learned to redirect arrows pointed at me. I learned to ask for containers (a communication tool) and pause when I felt overwhelmed. And I learned a really basic lesson.
You cannot wait for another person to change. You can ask for your needs. You can set up healthy boundaries. And unwell partners will continue to thrash and bash until they blow themselves up. Don’t give in to the drama. There is no healthy shouting. There is no healthy triggered moment. Stop. Take a break. Regroup.
Learn Brene Brown’s BRAVING concept. And remember the al-anon/aa slogan.
“You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it, and you can’t change it.” Focus on yourself and what’s inside your hula hoop. And if the person cannot come into alignment with you on the key issues (time, affection, safety, honesty) you will know it’s time to go.
Calm Your Partner With Love
In the present moment, keep yourself attached securely to your partner, and loosely unattached to the outcome of your request. Let’s say, for example, you’d like to stop drinking for August. That’s *my* decision. My partner can join me or not. My attachment to her behavior doesn’t involve alcohol. We’d have broken up a long time ago, had alcohol been a real *gem* for her. It’s always optional. Her drinking or not drinking is not something I have to think about or manage. And she doesn’t have to join me on all of my wild adventures.
She can stand beside me. She can support me. And she can do her own thing. It’s only when someone’s thing becomes the other partner’s pain. Then the modification requests come in. And boundaries. And negotiating skills. If someone (me included) wants to be with you, they are going to find the energy, the words, and the actions to show you how they can do better. Handling someone’s request is a process. I have to be patient with their response. My book The Third Glass explores how my partner’s drinking appeared to not be a problem for her, but it WAS an issue for me. It was time for me to move on. Secure attachment is not possible with an alcoholic.
By giving your partner ZERO actions to be concerned about, you allow them to relax their fears and traumas. They need to take charge of their own healing and address their issues head-on. And you cannot wait for them to change. You can be patient while they work on stuff. But staying in a relationship that is dysfunctional, regardless of how good it feels, is not a long-term winning strategy. Being loving, slow to anger, and patient is the key. Then give your partner time to sort out their own issues.
Big love heals you first.
Then, as you find another person on the big love journey, you can collaborate to build that healthy and well-attached relationship you’ve been searching for.
Read more about my current BIG LOVE journey here: One Big Love: A Quest Fulfilled.
Get the complete single dad story with John’s new book: Single Dad Seeks (available in all formats)
*image: Gracie May still gives me the side-eye, but she no longer runs away.
- Relationships at the Speed of Life: On Becoming a Couple Together
- What I Learned About Sex: It’s Almost All In Your Mind
- Stepping Back Into the Breach: Dating Again After a Breakup
You can find all of my books on AMAZON.