Preparing for the Relationship You Want

Black Woman Looking Up
Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

I spent years having conversations with friends and my therapist and my parents about how to find a partner who was a good match. My friends and I discussed the pros and cons of online dating, dating apps, meeting someone through friends or out and about. We discussed what we wanted in our partners; the degrees we wanted them to have, the careers they were pursuing, their political and religious beliefs, and personal characteristics. We vented our frustrations about the emotional ups and downs of dating; matching with someone on a dating app, chatting for a week, getting excited about a date, only to be disappointed when meeting in person. We cried together about relationship disappointments and how we might be able to choose better next time. What strikes me now, is that through all of these conversations, rarely did we discuss how we wanted to be as partners; the question of whether or not we were ready for the type of relationships we longed for was rarely asked or addressed. When I got into my relationship with my current partner I realized that I had spent far too little time preparing for the kind of relationship I wanted and reflecting on what it would look like for me to be a good partner.

When I started dating my current partner, I was caught off guard by how honest and straightforward he was. I was pleasantly surprised that he proactively planned dates, communicated that he liked me, expressed his desire for a committed relationship, and generally did what he said he was going to do. I was so used to not getting what I wanted in relationships that I struggled to be present and just enjoy our budding relationship without looking for things that were wrong. Upon reflection, I began to understand that I had become so accustomed to working to get past partners to commit that I was not used to just relaxing into a relationship. What I have concluded after growing in this relationship for over a year is that I had not spent enough time preparing myself for the kind of relationship I really wanted. I had been overly focused on trying to find the right partner and had not spent enough time thinking about how to be the kind of partner that would enable me to have the healthy, deeply committed, and intimate relationship I was longing for.

Is my story similar to yours? Have you spent a lot of time thinking about how you can find the right partner and what you want that person to be like, while neglecting to think about how you want to be as a partner? Have you failed to consider whether you are ready for the kind of commitment and relationship you are looking for? If this feels familiar to you I hope you will find my suggestions below, about how to prepare for the relationship you want, to be helpful. One thing that I have learned over the last year and a half of my relationship is that being the kind of partner you want to be is an ongoing process. I am continuing to grow and learn about myself as a partner and to identify ways that I can be a better partner to my fiancé. The suggestions below are intended to be ongoing practices that you revisit throughout your time dating and in a relationship. Continue reading “Preparing for the Relationship You Want”

Stuck, Not Broken: Understanding Mental Illness

Stressed Black Woman

Picture a young Black girl named Lauren growing up in the suburb of a major city with her family. Her parents are married and she is the middle of 3 children. From the outside their family looks “perfect.” A two-parent household where both parents are working and the family has enough money to cover necessities and some luxury items. However, if you looked inside and observed the family dynamic you might notice something different. Lauren’s parents do not get along well and the conflict between them is frequent. They are never physically violent with each other but they pick on each other’s mistakes and have a very low tolerance for each other’s quirks. Lauren’s parents are also very critical of her and her siblings. They push them hard to succeed and are harsh when their kids do not live up to their expectations. The parents even withhold love and affection from Lauren and her siblings when they make a mistake. In order to survive in this environment, when it felt like Lauren could be critiqued an any moment, when the love from her parents did not feel consistent or stable, Lauren became a perfectionist. She agonized over everything, spending extra hours to make sure that things were perfect. She began to be self-critical to preempt the harsh criticism from her parents if she made a mistake. She has trouble falling asleep at night because she worries about her parents not loving her, about doing something that might cause them to reject her permanently. In Lauren’s efforts to adapt to a difficult home environment, she developed symptoms of anxiety. While her efforts to be perfect may have been adaptive as a child, as an adult these strategies are no longer working for her.

As an adult, Lauren struggles to do things in a timely manner because her perfectionism makes it difficult to get things done. She has internalized her parent’s critical voices and even though she lives 1000s of miles away from them she hears them in her head whenever she is about to do something new or challenging. Lauren has a hard time accepting love and affirmation from other people, romantic partners in particular, because she fears that they will leave her as soon as they find out that she’s not perfect. Lauren feels stressed and on edge all of the time; she has headaches, difficulty sleeping, and an almost constant tightness in her chest. Lauren struggles to accept feedback because she can’t tolerate looking at her mistakes in a constructive way. Lauren is struggling with generalized anxiety disorder. Continue reading “Stuck, Not Broken: Understanding Mental Illness”

Healing Childhood Wounds

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I saw Moonlight last weekend; it is a powerful, poignant, and nuanced movie about Black male development, masculinity, love, and sexuality. One aspect of the movie that moved me to tears was the depiction of the trauma the main character experienced in relationships with his mother and peers and how this trauma influenced him as a child and as an adult. Inspired by Moonlight, this post is dedicated to discussing childhood wounds and providing suggestions for how to heal them.

I was blessed to grow up in a stable, loving family and I still came out of childhood with some wounds. As a kid it felt like my parents were a unit and that I was on the outside of their strong marriage. Also, because my parents were so successful, I believed that they were perfect and that I needed to be perfect in order to be loved. In addition to my experiences at home, I frequently felt like an outsider as one of few black kids at school and didn’t quite fit in with my black friends at church. Loneliness was a frequent companion. As a child and teenager I adapted to this combination of experiences by working to try to get people to like me. I subconsciously felt that I was unlovable and spent a lot of energy trying to do things (giving my time, energy, support) in order to be loved. I guess it’s no surprise that now my job involves spending most of my time helping people to feel better about themselves and to not feel alone. I carried the wounds from my childhood into my young adult years and therapy was what helped me to heal and let go of these wounds. Continue reading “Healing Childhood Wounds”

The Gifts of 30: Learning to Love Yourself

30th Birthday

As my 30th year comes to a close, I have been reflecting on why 30 has been my favorite age thus far. The year has certainly included challenges and disappointments but overall I have felt more at home and secure with myself than ever before. After turning 30 last June, I felt a shift from an underlying feeling that I was not good enough or needed to get better in some fundamental way, to believing that I am worthy and good enough just as I am. I settled into myself. I began fully embracing my weird, quirky, silly, generous, anxiety-prone, outspoken self and it feels wonderful. When I was younger I had many personal life goals (e.g. getting married, having kids, etc.) that I wanted to accomplish before turning 30 and they have not happened yet.  I am thankful that I have experienced this level of groundedness and contentment without reaching those goals. It has enabled me to understand that I don’t need to get everything I want in order to be happy. What follows are the key things that have helped me to love myself during my 30th year. Continue reading “The Gifts of 30: Learning to Love Yourself”