9/30/2023 (Day #4294)
(Note: To be clear, I’m not pointing fingers or throwing rocks at ANYONE with this entry. If anything, there is credit due in past relationships to partners who suggested counselling or other interventions to resolve issues and strengthen our relationship – I am the one guilty of poo-poo-ing those ideas, and I readily admit that I struggled with healthy communication and conflict resolution.)
Having been married and divorced twice, I took special interest in the “Partner Selection” and “Relationship” modules in SOTP-NR. I readily admit I had no business being married either time, especially knowing what I know now and looking back in hindsight. I was not emotionally mature enough to be married.
One of the handouts we received and discussed was an article by Brittany Wong, Relationship Editor for The Huffington Post, titled “7 Differences Between a Healthy Relationship and a Toxic One”. The article resonated deeply in me and was uncomfortable to process because I identified myself on the toxic side of many of the signs. The truth hurts, and I challenged myself to accept it and face it so that I can learn and evolve, be a better partner and person in the future.
The 7 Differences (and my humble annotations):
1. You’re free to pursue your hobbies and maintain friendships.
– From firsthand experience, this is a characteristic of a healthy relationship – UNTIL it’s manipulated for jackassery, in my case being a page from the “old me” playbook. I exploited my dirtbike hobby to camouflage my illicit activities. Not cool on any level. Wong posits in her article that, “If your partner has fears about you doing things on your own, it could turn into the self-fulfilling prophecy.” That’s true, my actions validated her theory. My actions contributed to suspicion, even before I did actually exploit my hobbies for other unhealthy pursuits, and the relationships suffered direly from a perpetual cycle of suspicion and resentment.
2. You don’t act differently when you’re around them (your partner).
– Wong says, “If you act differently when your partner is in the room, it’s a bad sign.” I call this the “chameleon effect”. I recognized this in past relationships and ignored the red flags it raised. I’ve also been the one who acted differently and contributed toxicity to the relationship by compartmentalizing illicit/unhealthy activities. To paraphrase Maren Morris’ song “My Church”, I’ve cussed on a Sunday, I’ve cheated and I’ve lied; and I compartmentalized that, concealed it and projected a facade of clean-cut, Mr. Good-guy, to deflect attention and suspicion. I’ve done a lot of work to recognize and address compartmentalization, and I am confident that I’ve resolved it successfully with absolute transparency and honesty.
3. Power is relatively equal.
– In past relationships this has been problematic, typically recognizable in the sharing of household responsibilities. I’m complicit in over-emphasizing or over-valuing “specific” skillset as “offsetting” factors, such as my assuming house and vehicle maintenance responsibilities “in lieu of” laundry and washing dishes. I unfairly assessed my duties as more time-intensive and thus skewing the balance in my favor to avoid dishes and laundry. An apples and oranges comparison. Again, not cool. In the future, I’ll rely on consideration and compromise to guide my part in conversations about responsibilities to ensure harmony with my partner.
4. You can follow your dreams.
-Mutual, authentic support is the theme here. I’ve been in relationships where I received amazing support from my partner, and I’ve been in relationships where I’ve received “begrudged” support. I’ve also been the supporter and the begrudger. I’ve learned that support is a reciprocal element that builds trust and confidence in each other. Rest assured that I am well-prepared to be a drastically-improved supportive partner, and pre-appreciative of the strength and devotion any future partner will need to pursue a future together and bear my past with me. I’ve learned and instilled deep consideration, sensitivity, and selflessness in my psyche to ensure my contribution to relationships is healthy and supportive.
5. Your differences are celebrated.
-I’ve gained a greater sense of appreciation and acceptance for differences than I exhibited in previous relationships. I was in a relationship with someone who sang BEAUTIFULLY, and rather than support and appreciate her natural talent, I discouraged it. That was horribly inconsiderate and insensitive to her. We’ve discussed it in therapy and considered possible resentment or defensive reaction because of my hearing loss, and I accept that as a contributor while also taking a clear stance that it’s no excuse for my behavior. It was reactionary, short-sighted perspective that overlooked the likelihood of my hearing loss someday progressing to 100% deafness, and I’ll miss hearing her singing and all the other wonderful sounds there are in the world. I projected my issue on her unfairly and insensitively. You can bet that I’m aware of and embracing differences from a proactive, long-view perspective now, and that I appreciate and celebrate them.
6. You can leave your cellphone unattended.
– And anything else that distracts from being present, in the moment, and attentive. It’s so simple that it’s almost like, Well duh. I’ve been guilty of it, and not having a cellphone for 12+ years has contributed SIGNIFICANTLY to remedying it, along with sobriety, mindfulness practice, and evolving towards being the dad, grandfather, son, nephew, cousin, and friend that I genuinely want to be.
7. You can tell your partner when they hurt you.
– My past experience informs my perspective on this being a matter of unconditional love, trust, and communication. I’m guilty of being defensive when told I hurt someone, and I’m guilty of not telling someone they hurt me and letting the resentment dwell and fester into unhealthy, unproductive thinking and behavior. I’ve learned how my self-confidence, better self-esteem, and figuring out who I am enables me to love unconditionally, trust deeper, and accept the challenge of sharing feelings with someone by healthy communication and share in growing the relationship together by overcoming hurt, disappointment, and other unpleasantries together. There’s growth in overcoming difficulties together.