by Alden Gregory
It’s easy to be busy. Our schedules are filled with appointments to attend, lists to mark off, tasks to finish, deadlines to meet, and goals to accomplish.
We can go through the motions of our days without thinking of much else. We wonder if we should pursue a deeper purpose or loftier goals. But when the boxes are checked and the day has come to an end, when we are given a moment to be alone with our thoughts, why don’t we feel complete?
Our lives are often made whole by the people in them and by the relationships we have–relationships with friends, family, partners, and coworkers who fill our days with connection, community, and purpose.
However, when these relationships aren’t healthy, they can do the opposite – drain us of energy, fill us with doubt, and create days ruled by uncertainty and fear.
When we are overcome by these relationships and feelings, it can feel lonely, dark, and hopeless. We worry there might not be an end to the frustration, to the cycle of hope and disappointment, to the push and pull of being needed and being shut out.
We don’t recognize ourselves through the anger, despair, irritability, depression, and panic we exhibit. There is no single root cause for patterns of unhealthy relationships and the turmoil they can bring to our lives, but they leave us all feeling the same.
Maybe we are dealing with a loved one’s addiction or mental health struggles. We want so badly to help, to prevent consequences, to alleviate pain, to make it okay. We lose ourselves in “fixing.” We strap into the roller coaster, white-knuckling it through the journey right alongside our loved one.
Maybe the challenges are found in our own attachments and unrealistic expectations of those around us. We expect people to be mind readers, to know what we need and what from them. We expect them to be there for us without having to ask. We assume we are unworthy or unwanted when they don’t measure up.
Maybe our present day relationships are reflections of what we experienced growing up. Our ideas of what a romantic partnership should be like may be based on our parents, or previous relationships. We turn a blind eye to warnings and choose to ignore blazing red flags because it is what we are familiar with.
Maybe our relationships are strained because of outside factors – stressful careers, chronic illness, financial hardship, or traumatic events. We allow our relationships to struggle to the point of breaking because of the world around us. We can’t seem to prioritize which problem deserves our attention.
No matter the cause or reason, there is hope for a resolution. Change is possible. Through hard work on ourselves, accepting help from others, practicing healthy communication, and setting careful and consistent boundaries, we begin to see change take place. We learn to recognize our own needs and to identify how our interactions with other people impact our peace of mind.
We learn it’s okay to set limits on the time and energy we give to others. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to take a break. It is okay to communicate how we feel, what we need, and what we want in a relationship. We process the issues and baggage we bring into our relationships. We breathe. We begin to heal.
In this process of healing and change, we begin to recognize and accept healthy relationships. What we look for in the people we share our lives with changes – we look for people to exist alongside us, rather than to make us whole.
We choose our friendships more carefully, we communicate our boundaries with family members, and we learn to accept genuine compassion from others. Our willingness to trust and be vulnerable grows. We accept what isn’t meant for us. We learn to be okay outside of these relationships as well, we learn to exist on our own.
There are tools that can help in this process – peer support groups, individual and group therapy, practicing self care, and implementing lifestyle changes. Using the resources available to us provides accountability, support, and understanding.
With this help, we learn to become independently fulfilled and gain the ability to participate in healthy relationships.