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, shared hobbies, gave thoughtful gifts and rarely engaged in any conflict or disagreement.
But the relationships never worked out.
All but one or two of those 10 relationships involved me being the last one standing. Men cheated on me, became distant or just moved on. I became very bitter, because I couldn’t understand why someone would leave me when I was everything they wanted me to be.
And then I had a revelation.
By being “everything they wanted me to be,” I wasn’t being myself.
I was convincing myself that I liked the same things that each boyfriend I 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 so desperately desired as a child. I was willing to sacrifice my own being in search of that.
My pattern was that I was never truly myself in any of my relationships.
My 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 as I go along. 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.
I would agree to things my gut told me otherwise, but it was such an improvement from previous relationships that I didn’t think much of it. Over time, I realized that 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 it has been an enlightening experience of what it really takes to maintain a healthy relationship with another human being.
Our marriage is certainly not perfect, but we are both working on staying true to ourselves through it all.
It’s not always easy — it’s still difficult for me to stand up for myself when I don’t feel like I am being treated the way I should — but it’s always worth it. Being able to grow independently also allows our relationship to grow.
It is a much more rewarding feeling to understand that we can mature without overlapping and that his presence is an addition to mine, not an integrated part.
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 it 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.