Updated: Jul 11
When we became parents, my husband and I spent a lot of time exploring our own childhood, how that affected us and in what situations we would like to do things differently. We were on the same page when it came to respectful parenting. We understood that childhood can determine how one behaves as an adult.
But! For quite sometime this is as far as we went. Or even knew how to go. I’ll be honest and say that we spent a lot of time ‘blaming’ our parents for the situation we were in and felt that we were ‘stuck’ with our patterns. We had labels which we clung onto desperately. It formed our identities. I suppose in a way we felt ‘safe’ being the present victims of our past.
It was only when the spiralling of our lives became so intense that I felt that I couldn’t live like that any longer. Explosive, triggered and overwhelmed, I needed to change something. Fortunately, sitting in circle with women became the introduction to my self-healing journey. I also started to take action on how to change my responses and my patterns. I learnt to observe the ego. I tried connected breathwork. I learnt about the somatic and emotional experience of the body and learnt how to embody healing rather than just learning the theory. I bought books, I followed people on Instagram. I immersed myself. It was clear quite quickly that the effort that I was making was paying off.
However, I got to a point where I had changed so much that it felt like my husband wasn’t keeping up. Let me give you an example. A learnt behaviour from my childhood was criticising when I felt not ‘seen’. If I saw something that hadn’t been done, for example, the dishwasher, I would ask him, if he had done it, he would reply ‘no’ and then I would launch into a tirade of ‘you never do…’ or ‘why is it always me…’ etc. Quite clearly, my communication skills were non-existent and my ego stories were ‘I’m not appreciated. I’m not considered. I’m not loved.’ What happened is, over time, my husband had learnt this pattern. So when I came to ask ‘have you done the dishwasher?’ he would get defensive and then criticise back. At which point it would result in an argument and a competition of point scoring as to who was the most hard done by.
When I started my self-healing journey, I would ask questions such as ‘have you done the dishwasher?’ to actually understand whether or not he had done it. Which would result in his automatic response. I learnt to listen, pause, and say very calmly, thank you, ‘I’m just wanting to know if you’ve done the dishwasher as I need to put these plates in to wash’. Over time he has become used to my ‘new’ behaviour in this situation so he responds now without feeling he’s about to be attacked. I have mentioned previously that setting boundaries with my husband to not emotionally dump, especially during meal times, took a while to implement.
Speaking to others, especially those on my course exploring relationships, I would say that it takes around 3 to 6 months for a partner to ‘catch up’ with your healing. ‘Catch up’ in the sense that they also change their patterns and behaviour.
So what about my husband? Well, I’ll be honest, at the beginning I struggled to see if we could continue in our relationship. Twice we sat down for a chat and I asked him to change. I expected him to make the effort and do the learning I was. Twice I made ultimatums. And he did what I asked, not so much because he wanted to, but because he felt obliged. I wanted him to change.
I wanted to be ‘worth’ changing for. And I realise now after a good few months of exploring more my attachment style that it was down to that. It has been a number of years since I had stopped calling to check where he was and getting upset for him spending time with other people and not me. However, up until only recently there has been this need of mine to be satisfied. The need of someone doing or being something because I was important enough to do it for. It was my inner-child showing up. Requesting my husband to meet her needs.
The issue with trying to get our partners to change is that we are trying to have them meet some need of ours in some way. That we want them to become something for us. Asking them to be and act in a certain way is controlling and based on our own wounding.
Our partners cannot meet our inner-child needs.
I’ll say it again for those at the back.
Our partners cannot meet our inner-child needs.
You will have heard me talk about the inner-child, she is always looking to have needs met that weren’t in childhood. She reacts from a place of desperately seeking love and to be seen. When we get into relationships, the feeling of being ‘rescued’ and ‘whole’ is an illusion as no other person can complete us. We need to reparent our inner-child. We can never expect another person to unconditionally love us. To do so would be expecting them to self-sacrifice and negate their own boundaries. We are asking them to, in effect, unlove themselves.
Instead it’s important to meet our own demands first. The only secure attachment my inner-child can have is to me. My wounds are my responsibility. Meeting my inner-child’s needs first means I can then be in a communicatively mature relationship.
I am the one who needs to be responsible for my own thoughts and stories. I need to be aware of any projections I have about my partner which may not be true but are coming from a place of wounding. For example, for me it was the feeling of ‘not being considered, not feeling respected, not feeling loved’. I was ‘interpreting’ my husband’s behaviour in this way. Projecting onto him. And for someone with an anxious attachment style this has been a difficult journey to heal from.
Healing from anxious attachment, the difficulty has been in not seeking constant validation of being loved. My inner-child previously chased to always need attention and time. I have ‘expected’ him to be aware of what I require and what is important to me. I have since learnt that I need to manage my own expectations and communicate exactly what I want and wish. So instead of feeling upset that I’m not considered I need to look at how I am not communicating. Ensuring I had time for myself when I needed it and asking my husband to make dinner or be with the children, instead of me ‘waiting’ for him to offer. I stopped complaining and (for the most part!) nagging and now communicate in a respectful way, from a more empowered self instead of a wounded self.
If we change it is for us, for our own mental health. We need to be self-responsible. We need to be the ones responsible for our own actions and not expect others to change who they are. Of course they would benefit from doing ‘the work’ but it is not our role as a partner to instigate that. For a person to ‘heal’ they must want to do so themselves. The old saying of ‘you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.
It’s also OK to not be happy sometimes. To be frustrated with our relationship, to dislike parts of it. The ‘shadow’ part of our relationship needs to be shown compassion and love, the same way that we show compassion and love for our own shadows. They are part of us. Part of the human experience. Part of what makes us whole. In the same way, our relationships have shadows. We tend to choose the partners who mirror back to us what parts of us need healing. This is why so often, anxiously attached and avoidant attached seem to be pulled together. One needs to hold back on communication the other increase it respectively.
Emotions and experiences in a relationship are so much more intense and are amplified so this is what assists in bringing to the surface the parts of us that require looking at, exploring and integrating. This shadow aspect of the relationship requires compassion, love and acceptance.
It’s important to note, that although we are responsible for our own healing and we can’t be responsible for our partner’s, we also need to be mindful of when a relationship isn’t working, when it’s toxic and when there is no future together. Some questions to ask yourself are, if they never changed who they are, if they never healed, would I still be with them? What is the most loving thing I can do either for myself or for my partner? If I stay will I have the space to step into my more empowered self, or will they keep me small? As always, these questions need to come from a place of connection to our authentic selves and not from a place of wounding or projection. We need to take a deep breath and be honest with ourselves as we venture into our internal environment.
After all, WE are our own best healers. And this applies to our partners too.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.