"The process of Recovery teaches us how to take down the walls and protect ourselves in healthy ways - by learning what healthy boundaries are, how to set them, and how to defend them. It teaches us to be discernina in our choices, to ask for what we need, and to be assertive and Loving in meeting our own needs."
When I started writing this article I thought it was going to be the last in this series on Healthy relationships - it turns out that it is not. Some points that I wanted to make that haven't fit into other articles inserted themselves here. So this article is going to be about paying attention and some more aspects of communication.
1. Pay attention - to your own reactions and to the other person. People tell us who they are within a very short time of meeting them. Pay attention to what they are telling you. Watch and listen - this is part of being present that was spoken of in an earlier article. Do not let your desire for a relationship - your loneliness, horniness, starvation for nurturing and touch - blind you to the red flags the other person is waving before you. We are never going to meet someone who doesn't have issues, who doesn't wave some red flags - the point is to pay attention and see what this persons relationship to their own issues tells you about their ability to be healthy in a relationship.
Pay attention to your comfort level with them - to the emotional reactions you have when dealing with or thinking about the other person. Listen to your Spirit and heart more than you listen to your loins or the needy inner child places within you, and you will be able to see the other person more clearly for who they are - rather than trying to cast them in the role of who you want them to be for you.
One of the reasons that many of us didn't know how to pay attention is that we were so focused on giving a good impression so the other person would like us. A client of mine had a big "aha" recently when she realized that for all of her dating history she had related to men as if she were auditioning for them. Out of her low self esteem, she was always trying to get them to like her - rather than wondering if they were worthy of her attention.
As you learn to Love and respect self more, then you can start being the one doing the auditioning. The reason for spending some time getting to know someone else is to audition them to see if they are a person you want to have play a very important role in your life. By knowing that you are worthy and Lovable you are empowered to make choices about who you are going to invest time and energy in, instead of looking for someone to tell you that you are worthy.
2. Communicate - speak up. Be direct and honest - do not assume, interpret, or mind read - ask if you are not clear what the other person is saying, or what some behavior means to them. The foundation of a healthy relationship is built on communication.
It is very important to be emotionally honest. If you are afraid (they will get angry, leave you, etc.) say so - out loud. "I am afraid that if I tell you what I am feeling you will get angry." Just stating the fear can take some power away from it. If you are hurt or angry or scared, it is important to bring the feelings out into the open. And in very important to remember that the reason we are doing this is to share our inner self and to help ourselves take the power away from the feelings by owning them - the point is not to control the other person. The purpose of saying "I am afraid you will get angry" is not to prevent the other person from getting angry, it is to help the other person understand you (in-to-me-see).
We need to own the feelings for our self - and in sharing them with the other we are developing emotional intimacy. If the other person invalidates our feelings or tries to fix us - that is something to pay attention to, because it indicates that they may not be a safe person to share with emotionally.
Being able to communicate is the only way to develop a healthy relationship. Being direct and honest in our communication is the way to develop healthy boundaries so that a relationship has a chance to grow.
Boundaries in relationships are about 95% negotiation. Boundaries for the most part aren't rigid (some are, like it is not ok to hit me or call me certain names or cheat on me, etc.) but most boundaries are a matter of negotiation, which of course involves direct, honest, communication.
It also involves some compromise. We don't want to compromise our being, our essential self, in any relationship - but it is important to be able to compromise in the day to day details of life. Things like household chores, choices of activities or music or how time is spent, etc. It is vital to have a balance - a give and take - in terms of the compromise necessary in a relationship, not to have one person do the majority of the compromising.
Another important point I want to make about honest communication, is that this does not mean that you have to tell the other person every thought and feeling that you experience. We need to practice discernment in what we share. As human beings we have untold number of thoughts during the course of a day. Some of those thoughts will inevitably be about past loves, or negative thoughts in relationship to our significant other. In fact, the disease often produces those kinds of thought specifically for the purpose of sabotaging the relationship. So, we do not have to share everything. It is possible to use honesty as a defense: i.e. when someone gets too close or Loving we tell them something that pushes them away.
The clearer we can see our self and understand our own issues, the easier it is to recognize when an impulse is coming from the disease - our wounds - so that we know that we do not have to share it with our significant other. (It is helpful to have a healthy friend to share these types of things with if they are bothering us.)
This brings us back to paying attention to ourselves and our own process, and having clear communication with ourselves. Healthy relationship starts at home, in our relationship with ourselves. Unless we are in recovery, doing our emotional healing, there is no chance of having a healthy relationship with our self - which makes it impossible to have a healthy relationship with anyone else.