In part one of this article, Does Vulnerability Help or Hinder Romantic Relationships, I suggested that being vulnerable is not always appropriate or helpful. I pointed out that the word “vulnerability” comes from Latin, meaning “to wound.” And relationships that are built on woundedness are wounded. To learn more about that read part one of this article.
In part two of this article I will explore an alternative form of romantic love, which is to build our relationships by focusing on our health, not our wounds.
When we do this we see each other as fundamentally healthy people. When I look at my partner, it is her health—emotional, mental, spiritual—which I see and reflect back to her. When she looks at me, the same thing, she sees me as a healthy man and I motivate myself to live up to that. This is the ground we stand on. This is the basis for everything we do. This is where our conversations begin and end. Because we see each other as being healthy—mature, curious, open-hearted, kind—and we hold high expectations of each other.
This does not mean that we don’t share our fears and insecurities. We do, but we don’t talk about them as if they define us. And we don’t spend much time discussing past partners and mistakes we made because we are not who we were back then. And we don’t want to be. We don’t want to resurrect and re-stimulate our histories. If there is some way I am using my past to hold myself back from living as I want to live today, the solution is not to focus on my past but to ask for what I need today, from my partner and other people. This is very different from using my past to justify my current behaviors.
So then, how do I share myself, my angst and insecurities, without being self-indulgent?
I believe that this requires three things:
- Being reasonably self-contained. This means that I learn how to manage my own nervous system—to soothe myself.
- Focusing less on my past and more on how I am constructively using my past. It’s not what happened to me, but what am I doing with what happened to me.
- Putting most of my focus on the present and having clear intentions about how I want to live now.
And during times of tension, conflict or when I feel overwhelmed, I help myself by remembering that my partner and I are separate people. To do this, it may be helpful to actually take a few minutes to be alone. After I acknowledge I am separate from my partner, and hopefully she holds the same awareness, then we turn toward each other to deeply listen and witness each other. This is almost impossible to do when we are enmeshed, that’s why the recognition that we are separate is so valuable. We must each take responsibility for our own nervous systems. You can’t run mine and I can’t run yours.
And when we turn toward each other to express ourselves, we take turns. I don’t mean that I speak for two minutes and then my partner speaks for two minutes. That’s an invitation for conflict. When I say we take turns it’s more like, “today I’ll share my thoughts and feelings and then tomorrow I want to hear your thoughts and feelings.” And who goes first? Whichever one of us is the most upset.
Another concept that is helpful is for me is accept that I will never heal all my wounds. Some of my wounds or scars I will live with forever. Ironically, when I stop looking for my partner to heal my old wounds, and instead we focus on seeing each other as healthy—if we are together for a long enough period of time—indirectly some of my wounds will heal themselves.
When I present myself as healthy, I attract other people who are interested in healthy people, so that together we can celebrate our lives together. And if I really don’t think my partner is healthy—emotionally healthy—then I have a greater challenge. That challenge is not necessarily insurmountable, but overcoming it requires finding and building on the health that does exist.
And for a fuller explanation of how to create healthy romantic partnership look at our Dating Relating Mating Course which is now on sale at Amazon.