Preparing for the Relationship You Want

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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”

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Dealing with Relationship Anxiety: How to Heal for Healthy Relationships

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Romantic relationships used to be the number one trigger for my anxiety. I would experience some stress and anxiety related to academics and a little in response to friendships but dating was what consistently caused me to feel most anxious. And there’s good reason, in contrast to a lot of areas of our lives, romantic relationships are one place where we don’t have much control. Sure we have agency over how we engage with the person we are dating but we can’t control how they feel about us. We can feel like we are doing “all the right things” but we can’t make someone like or commit to us. Also, romantic relationships put us in a place of vulnerability. In romantic relationships more than other types of relationships, we open up to our partners and share parts of ourselves that we are scared to let the world see. This combination of dynamics coupled with my desire for everyone to like me and the pressure I felt starting around age 23 to meet and marry the right partner made relationships a powder keg for my anxiety.

Thankfully, I have emerged from that period of my life more calm and grounded in myself, which has helped me to be much less anxious in relationships. My last relationship was a true testament to the growth that I’ve experienced in this area. While there were times when I felt anxious I was able to manage these periods and communicate constructively with my boyfriend about what I needed. Instead of getting overwhelmed and leaving the relationship abruptly or beginning to criticize my partner in response to my anxiety I learned to soothe myself and identify when I wanted to address a concern and when I could let things go.

Below, I highlight some of the primary challenges people encounter related to anxiety in romantic relationships along with strategies to begin effectively managing your anxiety so that it does not ruin your relationship. Continue reading “Dealing with Relationship Anxiety: How to Heal for Healthy Relationships”

Communication: The Best Valentine’s Day Gift for Your Relationship

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Everyone knows that communication is key in relationships and yet many romantic partners struggle with communication. Difficult discussions quickly devolve into arguments and name-calling. People fail to articulate their thoughts and feelings and then get frustrated when their partners don’t understand them. Through my personal experiences in relationships, hearing about the experiences of my friends, and doing couples therapy with a range of couples, it is clear to me that many people do not know how to communicate in clear and constructive ways with their partners. Despite good intentions, people fall short in their communication and this can derail relationships. In honor of Valentine’s Day and the desire most of us have for healthy relationships this post includes my recommendations for how to begin communicating with your partner in healthy ways.

1. Know that Your Partner Cannot Read Your Mind 

One of the things that derails communication in romantic relationships is people believing that their partner should be able to know what they are thinking and feeling without having to be told. No matter how close and connected you and your partner are, they cannot read your mind. Understanding this fact will save you a lot of grief. People often feel like there is something wrong with their partner or relationship if their partner doesn’t know exactly what is bothering them. Understanding that you must clearly express your feelings, desires, and needs in order for your partner to know them is an important first step in communicating constructively.  Continue reading “Communication: The Best Valentine’s Day Gift for Your Relationship”

“You Can Never Love Anybody if You are Unable to Love Yourself”

smiling-black-woman“One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others. There was a time when I felt lousy about my over-forty body, saw myself as too fat, too this, or too that. Yet I fantasized about finding a lover who would give me the gift of being loved as I am. It is silly, isn’t it, that I would dream of someone else offering to me the acceptance and affirmation I was withholding from myself. This was a moment when the maxim ‘You can never love anybody if you are unable to love yourself’ made clear sense. And I add, ‘Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.’ – bell hooks (All About Love: New Visions)

For as long as I can remember up until a couple of years ago I was searching, searching for a partner to fill the empty spaces within me. I had this worry that I was not good enough, that I was not lovable. I wash harsh and judgmental with myself when I made mistakes. During this time, I wished for someone else to love me unconditionally. I longed for a partner to provide me with the comfort and encouragement that I rarely offered myself. When I was in relationships I could barely tolerate any indication that my boyfriends might not think I was wonderful. I was overly sensitive to any sign of rejection, sometimes experiencing intense anxiety and starting conflict in response to feeling rejected. While I still struggle with being sensitive to rejection, I look back on my teens and twenties and can see that my challenges in romantic relationships were in part due to the problems in my relationship with myself. As my relationship with myself has healed, my relationships with others have also improved.

In the quote at the beginning of this post, bell hooks encourages us to offer ourselves the love that we dream of. To be our own lover. This is essential, not only for the health of any romantic relationship we might engage in but to feel fulfilled when we are single and to have healthy relationships with family members and friends. When we stop outsourcing what can give ourselves our life and relationships become so much better. In this post I will share my suggestions for ways to begin to improve your relationship with yourself. Continue reading ““You Can Never Love Anybody if You are Unable to Love Yourself””

Fences: On Losing Yourself in Relationships

fullsizerender“That was my first mistake. Not to make him leave some room for me…I didn’t know to keep up his strength I had to give up little pieces of mine. I did that. I took on his life as mine and mixed up the pieces so that you couldn’t hardly tell which was which anymore.” – Rose from Fences by August Wilson

While watching Fences, a play written by August Wilson adapted for film and directed by Denzel Washington, I was struck by Rose (played by Viola Davis); her commitment to doing the right thing and the stability that she provided for her family. Rose’s sacrifices on behalf of her family are characteristic of the sacrifices that so many Black women make. Putting aside our desires and ourselves to such an extent that it’s hard to find either after a while. Hiding our wants so well that even our loved ones can’t tell that we’ve lost touch with the things that used to excite and energize us. In the quote above, Rose reflects on the fact that she married a man who took up all of the room in their house, all of the room in their lives, and that she lost herself in their relationship. She failed to make room for herself.

Failing to make room for ourselves in relationships is something that happens to many women. We are socialized to prioritize relationships, to prioritize the well being of our romantic partners. This is particularly true for heterosexual relationships that adhere to patriarchal values. As Black women we are often asked to put aside our strengths and defer our dreams in order to support our romantic partners. It is communicated to us through family members, friends, and church communities that we should prioritize our relationship, that we should support our man, that him and his needs should be put first. That achieving the goal of marriage should be enough to sustain and fulfill us.  We are shown models of “good women” who don’t have needs of their own, who spend all of their time and energy catering to the men and children in their lives. We hear the harsh critiques of women who dare to put themselves first. Continue reading “Fences: On Losing Yourself in Relationships”

The Fall of Issa & Lawrence: Preventing Infidelity in Relationships

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The fall of Issa’s and Lawrence’s relationship on Insecure depicts a common and cautionary tale of what can happen when generally healthy relationships are not protected and nurtured. Most relationships go through rough patches at some point. People feel frustrated or annoyed by each other and aren’t sure how to communicate clearly  or resolve their problems. These patches often arise after the infatuation and overwhelmingly positive feelings of new love have worn away. When daily life in a relationship feels mundane and partners take each other for granted. The things that used to come easily – sincere compliments, passionate sex, general admiration – seemed to fade without warning and you’re left wondering what was lost in the relationship and if it’s possible to get it back

Cheating is a common response to feeling unhappy in a relationships. When relationships go through rough patches, many people do not know how to address the issues that arise. Instead of turning towards each other, partners often turn away from each other; avoiding engagement and the hard work of having difficult conversations. Additionally, many people have trouble asking for what they need in relationships and feeling hurt, disappointed, and angry can cause people to disregard their partner’s feelings. These issues can make partners vulnerable to developing inappropriate connections with people outside of their relationship. On this season of Insecure, we saw both Issa and Lawrence cultivate relationships with people who they were attracted to and provided them with the affirmation and encouragement that they were not receiving in their relationship with each other. Continue reading “The Fall of Issa & Lawrence: Preventing Infidelity in Relationships”

3 Common Dating Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

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As the season for summer flings winds down and people start to make choices about whom to date more seriously, I want to share my thoughts on common mistakes people make when dating and my recommendations for how to make wise choices about romantic relationships.

I have had countless conversations with girlfriends about our dating lives. We talk about what the latest person (or people) we are dating are doing. What we hope potential partnerships will be like, what we hope they will look like, the amount of money we hope they will make, etc. Recently, I’ve begun to think that we are not focusing on the most important things during these conversations. My experience as a couples therapist has helped me to understand that many people have good intentions but are unaware of important building blocks for strong, healthy, long-lasting relationships. I think a lot of us date in ways that do not help us to understand whether the people we are dating will be good long term partners for us. Essentially, I think we focus on the wrong things, which leads us to make mistakes when dating. Continue reading “3 Common Dating Mistakes & How to Avoid Them”