How to reconcile our ‘WE-ness’ or ‘I-ness’ within a love relationship
On New Year’s Eve my man and I set aside some time, as so many of us do, to name our desires for the coming year. Not resolutions—which are often sabotaged by being laced with restriction and deprivation—rather a focused, conscious, intentional eye on what we wanted to cultivate and create.
Here’s the thing, though.
He’s a ‘we’ person.
I’m an ‘I’ person.
So, you can imagine how an exercise like this can go off the rails pretty quick.
And it did.
And, thankfully, we were able to bring it back on track before midnight.
Not because I’m still committed to reconnection at any cost, though.
We have learned how to stay in connection, even in conflict, and be more committed to our connection than resolving our differences.
See…his list was all about ‘we-ness’ and the adventures he longs for us to co-create and experience together. Whereas my list was about me…and what I want to do.
In the language of Stan Tatkin, founder of the PACT Method (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy®), I’m an Island. Islands hold the core belief that if we depend on another our independence will be taken away, and we will feel robbed and trapped, thus causing us to isolate. And my man is a Wave. Waves tend to hold a core belief that they are going to be abandoned, and so they are less independent and often cling to others.
Seems ironic, right? But it’s not. This is essentially how it works.
We attract partners who have core wounds that plug right into ours so we can each be activated in service of healing.
This is the invitation. This is how evolution happens. I wish it weren’t. Believe me. I really wish it happened by being a self-reliant shut-in, reveling in workaholism and Netflix. But it doesn’t. I know I’m not going to progress past my habitual patterns until I rub up against someone, preferably said boyfriend, where the friction and trigger is actually the gateway to growth
* * * *
I was born into a mourning family, a grieving family. My older brother had been born severely mentally retarded. Incapacitated really.
Because it was the early 1960’s, before they had the technology they do now, no one knew anything was wrong with him right away. It wasn’t until he didn’t do the things that a baby should do—he wasn’t rolling over, lifting his head or sitting up—that they started to understand that something was wrong.
And so, given what we know now, I was swimming around in my mother’s neuroses and fear in utero. Then, when I arrived, they were already immersed in the process of survival—his and theirs. The unconscious imprint on me was I cannot have any wants or needs because his wants and needs are far more important than mine. This became the fuel for my self-sufficiency and independence.
When I was two years old and he was five, he died. The unconscious imprint on me at that time was if I am imperfect and broken like he is, I will die. Thus began my quest for perfectionism.
When I was born, my mother was afraid to attach to me right away because she was waiting to see if something was wrong with me, too. I know this because we’ve had conversations about it in the past few years as we’ve grown quite close.
So, I entered the world in an arena of scrutiny, being watched to see what was wrong with me. The unconscious imprint was something must be wrong with me, I must be unlovable, if I’m under this level of inspection and evaluation.
The non-bonding with my mother also solidified the belief in me that it’s not safe to feel connected or dependent.
And this is how it happens. We begin forming our limiting beliefs, shadow beliefs, based on events and circumstances that occur when we’re likely under ten years old. Since we’re too young to process and digest what’s happening in a healthy way, we start interpreting them and making them mean something about us. Ultimately something negative about us. These are the conclusions that we draw about ourselves, the beliefs of I’m not good enough, I’m not enough, I’m not worthy, I’m unlovable, there’s something wrong with me.
Then, despite all our good intentions as we go out into the world looking for love, our beliefs drive the bus and draw toward us the people, relationships, circumstances, situations that will reinforce those beliefs.
Based on what I shared about my mom not attaching with me right away, it’s no wonder “we-ness” doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet my shadow beliefs around being unlovable and having something wrong with me caused me to overcompensate by abandoning myself, becoming a chameleon, people-pleasing, bending over backwards, buying love—literally and figuratively—seeking external validation, approval and acceptance in an effort to prove my worth and value.
The evolutionary journey to self-love—and to a healthy relationship with another—is a dance of dependence (relying on another), independence (self-reliance), co-dependence (enmeshed attachment enabling dysfunction), counter-dependence (refusal of attachment) and inter-dependence (mutual reliance.)
The truth I’ve learned is that love isn’t actually able to land within me from the outside until it’s already growing inside of me.
Everything we’re seeking externally needs to be resolved internally first.
* * * *
It’s been hard won, but I’ve had to make a conscious choice to lean in when I want to get out, trust that love is not life-threatening and know that this relationship with my man has the resiliency to hold our differences and our truths, containing the fullness of us both. I’ve had to use my voice, make myself a priority and give myself permission to have needs. From there, self-love and self-worth is a natural progression.
The other thing we did on New Year’s Eve was listen to a composite astrology reading—in which the relationship itself is treated as a third entity and dynamics are revealed—that we had when we first got back together, nearly two and a half years ago…after an eight month hiatus…after nearly two years under our belts in the first go-round. So clearly, I wanted more ‘we-ness.’
Turns out that the major theme of our relationship is, in a single word, healing. No surprise we have come together for the purpose of reparation, restoration and integration. Comforting actually. And so we accept the invitation to ‘we-ness’.