People think therapists have perfect relationships. That’s not true. Yes, we have studied theories and acquired tools, but we are also human, which means we have our own stories. Just because we coach people with relationships doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with them ourselves.
In the last decade, I’ve been in two long-term relationships, and a few short-term relationships. I’ve done lots of dating, had a long stretch of no dating, and then more dating. I’ve been in fulfilling relationships and not-so-fulfilling relationships. I’ve been catfished, rejected, confused, pleasantly surprised, present, in my head, open, narrow, and conflicted. And throughout the journey, I’ve had some revelations.
1. Love is not a battlefield. Your head is.
Yes, love can feel like tiptoeing through a forest of explosives; that’s probably what Pat Benatar was feeling when she recorded the song. But ultimately it’s everything in between our ears that gives us that experience. It’s our thinking, wiring, definitions, triggers, insecurities, and beliefs about ourselves — all formed from our story, which includes previous love experiences. The destruction is real, but where it comes from is not love itself. It comes from us. Toxicity doesn’t come from love. It comes from a lack of self-awareness and tools, as well as from the dynamic of the relationship. Jealousy doesn’t come from love; it comes from our own insecurities. Jumping to conclusions and making assumptions based on feelings instead of facts doesn’t come from love; that comes from our cognitive distortions. Love is not a battlefield; your head is — and if not your head, then their head. Or both. But it’s what’s happening in our head that creates the feeling that we’re in a war zone. Be aware of your thought patterns and question what’s truth, what’s distortion, and what’s residue from your past.
2. There is no such thing as perfect.
We all want the perfect partner. But if that’s your endgame, you’re going to be playing the game forever. No one is perfect, and you should know this. But we keep searching for perfect, and it makes us judge and dismiss people, and miss out on a lot of what-ifs. I’ve learned to toss all my definitions, labels, and what I think “perfect” looks like. It will give you your ocean back. Or you can continue fishing in a small plastic swimming pool.
Yes, we have certain types that we gravitate toward. But it’s important to be open. Chasing “perfect” will only give you the same experiences, because our definition of perfect hasn’t changed. It’s the same one we’ve been clenching since college. It’s time to toss it. There is no growth or evolution in the same experiences. Give yourself a new experience by deleting “perfect” from your vocabulary. You are looking for something you haven’t been attracted to before, something new, fresh, or different. Because in that window, there is learning and revelation and discovery. That’s what love is about: The new, not the repeated.