I had arrived that point. The point where all your experiences come together and paint you a picture that you just cannot ignore. I was there.
I had been in many short and long-term relationships (count an 8-year marriage in). I had been burned and learned some valuable lessons. I understood my own wounded places and what to do when they get triggered – though maybe did not have full control over my projections and reactions yet. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel but I knew that I still had a little ways to go.
Through my experiences in relationships, I was ready to give up on finding fairy tale, romantic comedy style of love. I knew that until I got to know and love myself enough, I couldn’t truly be happy with another person – no matter how awesome they are.
So far, so good. Many people go through this and it can be considered a “right of passage” into mature, inter-dependent, adult love. I was glad to have arrived here. I was grateful that I had the awareness to know what wasn’t working and the wisdom to know why.
A relationship can lift you higher or send you to the depths of misery…
The good news is, we get to choose which experience we have. Once we have awareness, that is.
What are the signs that suggest whether a relationship has the potential to be healing or toxic? How do you decide if the red flags can be a growth opportunity or a hindrance to your overall happiness in life?
Here are a few check points I have identified as a result of my own experiences:
1. Does the new person talk about their ex(s) in resentment?
This could potentially be a toxic component. Especially if they are unable to own their own responsibility for how and why that former relationship went south. Maybe the ex cheated on them and that truly sucks. But can they own that there were signs of it from the beginning? Can they look back and see that they ignored their intuition when they were seeing the rough edges of this person? Can they say something like, “Hey, I made a mistake. I learned from it. I aspire to make different choices in my future relationships”? If it is “All the ex’s fault”, then this potential new partner might be more trouble than you bargained for.
2. Do they make general negative statements about men/women?
Such as “Men are untrustworthy”, “My brother’s wife left him for a rich guy”, “All she wanted was to have a good time and spend my money”, etc…
I’ve heard these myself. And the outcome of the relationship was sort of disastrous. If you are willing to listen intently and ask focused questions without interrogating the person, they will tell you what they think and believe. They will tell you who they are. A person’s belief system can make them instantly more attractive or repulsive. And give you a clue as to the kind of emotional and energetic waters you will be swimming in if you choose to be in a relationship with them.
3. Have they done any personal growth work or are they open to it?
What do they think about seeing a counselor or working with a coach? Do they challenge their own beliefs with the intention of growing as a person? Have they ever taken responsibility for a mistake they have made and proceeded to work on it within themselves? In my experience, when a person doesn’t invest enough time, attention and effort in their own growth, they will not be putting much into the relationship just the same.
4. Do they take feedback well?
If you bring up something that you aren’t happy with or would rather see improved, do they listen without getting defensive? Can they hear feedback, take it inside and check in with their core, then come back to you with their side? If they get defensive and are not willing to look inside themselves or never come back to you with an introspective apology or new awareness, this can be a potential for toxic patterns to emerge where neither party is getting their needs met. If they can’t at least hear it, it could turn the relationship into an ego battle, create a platform for passive-aggressive behavior or allow things to fester for a blow-up-in-my-face kind of break up. Not good.
What works instead? What works is when people know who they are, are open to growth and understand that the other person also has needs just like them and are deserving of getting them met.
I don’t know that there are hard and fast rules but I believe that there are some general patterns that work for many people. These are the desirable qualities you want in a relationship. Such as:
1. An ability to have fun together and work on projects in a balance of shared responsibility.
2. A level of trust that goes beyond the ego personality. Meaning, they can put their masks down and become intimate –in the doses that feel right for both of them.
3. An emotionally connected and physically compatible sexual relationship that is a part of their intimate connection.
4. The skill to get angry with the person but to hold back on the reactive behavior. Instead, they share their feelings and how they are affected by the others’ comments or behavior towards them. If they fight, they refrain from personal attacks or own it if they slip up.
5. Each person is on their own personal growth quest. They make time for introspection and don’t use the relationship as an escape.
6. They know their own wounds, weaknesses or sore spots emotionally and don’t blame their partner for them. They invite their partner’s support in resolving them- if it feels fitting.
7. They have shared and individual life goals that are fulfilling to them. They make time for their own life, while joining on common projects or interests.