By Erin Bahadur
There has to be a pattern. This is what I thought to myself as I took a look back at 10 failed relationships spanning from high school through post-college.
I recently entered a drug and alcohol recovery program and was putting in the work to heal myself and expose behaviors that seemed to repeat themselves throughout the years. Back then, I was what you would call a serial monogamist. I went from relationship to relationship with very little time in between. I invested a lot of time and energy into each relationship. I shared hobbies, gave thoughtful gifts, and rarely engaged in any conflict or disagreement. But the relationships never worked out.
I was convincing myself that I liked the same things that each boyfriend liked. I was giving gifts I thought they wanted, when some of them didn't even like gifts at all. I was avoiding conflict like the plague, which meant my own opinions were put on the back-burner.
I didn't come to this realization on my own. It took my recovery from alcohol and heroin addiction to draw attention to the fact that what I was actually trying to do in all of these relationships was recreate the love I had so desperately desired as a child. I was willing to sacrifice my own being in search of that. My pattern was this: I was never truly myself in any of my relationships.
Being true to yourself is one of the best forms of self-care you can display.
And, my relationship behavior was manipulative. I wasn't able to see this at first, but by being what I thought someone else wanted me to be, I wasn't allowing that person to know the real me. The realization I had through all of this was that I had no idea who I was as a person. What were my likes and dislikes? What were my values? My opinions?
Relationships are about two people complementing each other and working together to create a successful partnership. Conflict is normal, healthy, and can even be the catalyst for improving your relationship. It took me years to learn what I did and did not like in a partner — and I'm still fine-tuning that process. My pattern of people-pleasing has been a hard one to break, but I'm learning to use my voice in my marriage, and it's an empowering feeling.
Through therapy and recovery programs, I've learned that I need to be responsible for my happiness. It's unfair and damaging to put that responsibility on another human being. To break my relationship pattern, I need to define what my wants and needs are and be open to sharing them with my partner. It requires being vulnerable and asking for what I need, even though I may not get it. It requires strength.
I met my husband in 2010, but we didn't start dating until 2011. We were friends before it turned into anything more, and that allowed me to get a little more comfortable with myself. My recovery had helped me get a better handle on my previous patterns, but there were still times when I would default to agreeing with his opinions because I was afraid to rock the boat.
By being "everything they wanted me to be," I wasn't being myself.
Still, it was such an improvement from previous relationships that I didn't think much of it. Over time, I realized some of my old patterns were coming up again — but this time I quickly nipped them in the bud as soon as I recognized them. I slowly started to speak up when I disagreed or when my feelings were hurt. I started honoring my feelings instead of convincing myself that they were wrong. We got married on our two-year anniversary, and our marriage has been an enlightening experience of what it really takes to maintain a healthy relationship with another human being.
Being true to yourself is one of the best forms of self-care you can display. Being authentic means respecting yourself, and the more you respect yourself, the more you demand that respect from others. It's not easy, and it takes strength and courage — but it's something that would have saved me a lot of time and heartbreak if I had learned it earlier.
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