One of the most difficult times in my relationship was when my girlfriend and I decided to take a break from communicating with each other for a week. It started as a suggestion during our therapy session. Our therapist threw out the suggestion softly asking, "What would happen if you two didn't talk to each other for a week." She had always known what my girlfriend and I struggled to notice. Our relationship was codependent.
It is easy to lose yourself in someone you love. Especially for me. I am a very emotionally generous person with people I care about, and I am very expressive with my love. What I have never noticed though is that my love quickly becomes a dependency. I have a tendency to lose sight and focus of my personal problems, things I need to work on, and I focus on supporting my significant other. I have found that is even easier to do with someone who has a chronic illness, because that person can often need more support than someone who is healthy.
When our therapist made the suggestion to stop communicating, I panicked. It felt like my world, and more importantly my usefulness decreased immensely because I would not be there to support her. How I had come to define myself was being challenged, and I did not handle it well. It felt like I was not being valued, that she didn't notice all of the support I was giving her, and that she did not need me. Honestly, I felt replaceable.
I had to learn the hard way that you truly cannot love someone until you love yourself. This is true in any relationship, but it is vital in a relationship with someone that has a chronic illness.
I used that week to start to rediscover myself. I spent more time with my dog, and just spent more time outdoors in general. I reconnected to family that I had not talked to in years. A lot of that communication at first was complaining about how it was ridiculous that my girlfriend and I were not talking during the week. As the week progressed, I noticed that the communication with my family became less about how I missed my girlfriend and more about our family. I read books on codependent relationships, and that helped me understand that I need to be a strong individual. Once I found myself again my girlfriend learned that she could lean on me when she needed me.
It also helped me in one other key area - it reduced my need for validation and helped me improve my self-soothing techniques. When someone is always suffering from an illness and in the case of my girlfriend, she has two huge illnesses, their mood, understandably, can fluctuate dramatically. If you are relying on their validation, you can start to take those mood swings personally. That was something that had happened with us. We had begun a very bad cycle where she would not feel well, I would ask her if she was mad at me, and then she would feel angry and upset at the need to make me feel better, when she was dealing with very hard issues.
Our week long break broke that cycle. What we found when we finally saw each other at the end of the week was that we were actually closer then before the break because we were able to find our individual selves again. I have also found that she leans on me even more for support, but now it is the support she needs rather than the support I think she needs.
What has enabled our relationship to thrive has been our ability to make self-development our focus. By working on our own health, mental well-being, and by having things like her band and my websites, we have outlets to grow as individuals. The biggest testament to this is our commitment to doing the happiness project next year. You will be able to read more about my thoughts and experiences here.
Ultimately, one of the most important things I have learned from my girlfriend is a simple, yet profound lesson. In order to love someone, you need to love yourself. In order to grow with someone, you must grow yourself.
Tell me what you have done to foster individuality within your relationship below.