As a 22-year-old woman living in the year 2020, I’ve had quite a lot of time to contemplate relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but
friendships as well as work relationships. I can admit that I am not a very forthcoming person when it comes to discussing the more private details of my life. Today, after needing some much-needed reflection, I decided to share what I’ve learned through my own relationships and struggles with mental health. Ready? Settle in!
Over the past seven years, I have been in several romantic relationships, something my family wouldn’t really know because I am a person who is extremely private. I have introduced them to one partner who I had stayed with for almost three years, but ultimately that did not work out. As it stands currently, I intend to introduce them to my new partner, but it is very much on my terms. Why is this, you might ask? Well, as I said, I’m a private person. I struggle with being open and vulnerable, which in turn makes me treat my relationships very delicately. I let people in little by little, giving tidbits and hints that there is something happening in my life. As a disabled young adult, I can say that there have been more times than not where situations that should have been in my control simply weren’t; this plays a huge role into how I open up and introduce my partners and even how I show affection.
What I’ve learned from my past relationships have numbered in the dozens; of course, communication is one. But how’s this for a change? You need to have room in the relationship to grow. Not just separately, but as well as together. That’s a heavy one I’ve had to sit with for about a year and some change. I have spent years worrying about helping others, making sure my partner was happy and extending myself far beyond my normal limits. What that has resulted in has been a lot of manipulation as well as forfeiting control and being emotionally abused. It’s been… difficult, to say the least.
Months of being gaslit into believing that I shouldn’t trust, that my partners didn’t want to spend time with me because of my outbursts, (which was later diagnosed as anxiety), and feelings of incompetency because I constantly felt like the, for lack of a better word, fuck up of the relationship, harbored feelings of insecurity in my mind that I wrestle with to this day. Jealousy and fear wrestle each other in the corner of my mind reserved for my anxieties frequently. It sucks. It truly, devastatingly sucks. These feelings often end up being projected onto the people around me in any relationship and often causes issues that I feel I am not in control of. What has this taught me?
Well readers, it’s taught me accountability. I’m in a relationship that shouldn’t make me question anything, but I frequently do. Not for any incident on his part, but because my past has left me feeling less than worthy. And that is unfair to him. Recognizing what is an actual problem vs. what is in your head is key. Acknowledging the damage of your past, working on it in the present and working past it for the future will help not only you, but your person. You need to be able to step back from yourself, analyze an issue, and come up with a plan to work through it. Sometimes, that has to be a ‘you’ thing; other times, it will be an ‘us’ thing. No matter what, you must communicate this to your partner. Letting them know that, “yes, I am struggling with (example), but I recognize that this is a me issue and I need your support,”, as well as other phrases, should be safe to say to anyone in your relationships. For me personally, I know I have an issue of being overwhelmed when I do not have a grasp on what is going on around me; in the past, I’ve been honest about my mental health and have had partners take control of what “we” would do. I need you to understand that you should have a voice in your game plan. It’s more than okay to step away for yourself. In fact, your partner should respect that the relationship may not be good for you in the moment. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case in my past situations.
Self-improvement. We all know that one. Self-care, self-discovery, all these words have been thrown around in a relationship a few times. While these words are important and understandable, they shouldn’t take precedence over your relationship. I’ve seen more than one instance in someone else’s relationship where a negative experience by one partner has been met with a, “But look at all the work I’ve been doing.” Well… that’s great. But that shouldn’t be a scapegoat for treating others like trash. I’ve been known to separate myself from relationships when I’ve needed to sincerely focus on myself and my mental health purely so that I wouldn’t one day find myself using this very excuse. It’s never an excuse. If you need to end a relationship because you don’t feel mentally, emotionally, or physically safe, that’s OKAY. It is a valid and very private feeling and you shouldn’t be made to feel less than because of this decision. If your goals of self-care and self-improvement are acting like weeds and choking the meaning and connection in your relationship, it’s time to take a step back. Hard stop. Take a moment, reflect. Is this a relationship I want to be in? Is this how I want to be treating my partner? Did I really dismiss my partner’s feelings in a disagreement all because of the “important” work that I have done? Recognizing that you are on an unhealthy path in your relationship is just as important as recognizing that you need to give each other space to grow and become people better equipped to handle an ever-changing environment.
I don’t promise to have all the answers. In fact, I struggle every day with feelings of inadequacy, self-worth, and of course, my ever-present, ever frustrating anxiety. Bu I’ve learned a lot, been hurt a lot, and have grown a lot. As I write this, I know I will have to go back to my partner and explain why I withdrew when he mentioned hanging out with someone this weekend. It’s not his fault. He is a kind and smart person, but I’m a person who has been hurt and made to feel less than by my previous partners. That’s not his problem. It’s mine. And I know I’m being ridiculous, but the first step is acknowledging that feeling that is entirely in my head, vocalizing it, and… apologizing. My partner is here to support and care for me and I shouldn’t be allowing my anxiety and my past dictate how I should respond to things.
I hope the ramblings from a 22-year-old have given you some insight and things to think about. Unrelatedly, I can’t wait to share my partner with my family. All in due time. All in my time. And remember guys, that’s alright. You are on your own timetable. You owe no one anything, so give with care and love wholeheartedly.