ASK ABDI: HOW DO I NOT MISS THE FOREST FOR THE TREES?

QUESTION: My current relationship feels like the perfect storm. I came into it straight from a mutual divorce, but had many challenges at that time with relocation, family issues, and trauma that I never dealt with. My boyfriend feels like he was there for me in a way he has never been for anyone before and was not used to dealing with so much drama. Needless to say, he feels that he showed up for me (to the point of losing himself and feeling suicidal) and I have not for him, and he has many examples of how he has. I am not going to deny that this might be true at first, however, I feel I have made some huge movement over the last three years by attending events he puts on, working on my jealousy issues (my ex-husband cheated on me), and trying to be “less negative” (not coming home and complaining about work).

He states that I have not honored his feelings and continue to disregard them. When we argue it always ends up in same theme. I do not listen to him; I continue to dismiss how he feels. How can I validate his feelings when I feel like he is expecting it? It feels like anything he did do is now diminished by his insistence on my validating him. He can become highly agitated and angry when this happens, now to the point where things can get pretty heated. He states it is because he is “tired of telling me to stop hitting my head on the rock”. Meaning to take responsibility for my repeating the “same mistakes”.

So these are some bad patterns that affect my relationship. How do I not miss the forest for the trees?

ANSWER: All relationships are the perfect storm until our underlying issues are worked through. That is the whole gift of relationships. They are a mirror to reflect back the areas where we need healing. So, the first question for you is how much work have you personally done to deal with your own past traumas that you describe? Did you just will yourself forward, as most of us do, or did you have the time and energy to process your emotions? The issue with immediately going from one relationship to another is that much of the old issues follow us into the new relationship. This is not a judgment but a fact, so it has to be taken into consideration. This is a truth for those of us who have seamlessly transitioned from one relationship to another. Which is many of us. 

There are no victims here, as in all relationships - there is an unconscious agreement for things to be the way they are. Our job is to become conscious and change the unhealthy pattern. You say that your partner “showed up for me (to the point of losing himself)”. That is his codependent issue, to step in and try to “fix you” with the unconscious expectation that once you are healed you can take care of him. Except that on a deeper level, the person doing this kind of caretaking is actually afraid of intimacy. This is why they caretake in the first place: it places them in a place of power. This, in turn, places them at arms length from vulnerability, which is a prerequisite for intimacy. He is hitting bottom with caretaking (“losing himself and feeling suicidal”), so there is room now for real change.

So caretaking is not an act of kindness, even though it might seem so on the surface. This kind of pattern will only lead to anger, frustration, and disappointment for both parties. Giving care and caring is the behavior we need to aim for, as opposed to caretaking. Sit with this for a minute: the difference between careTAKING as opposed to careGIVING.

So you both have work to do individually as well as collectively. You need to both take a step back and take your own inventories. We have no control over another. We have to look at our own stuff and our partner at theirs. You pointed out some of yours, such as negativity and jealousy. Him telling you that he is “tired of telling you to stop hitting your head on the rock” is an example of his control/codependency issues. His job is not to tell you such things unless he has asked your permission to do so. Even in that case, he would have to step back and not take it on. There is an unhealthy pattern ingrained here between your past issues and his feelings of not being fed. As always, expert help, whether in terms of a couples therapist or seeking individual counseling, will help immensely. 

This, after all, is the work. It is the same for all of us in relationships, intimate or otherwise. It is through interaction with others that we clear away the psychic debris that keeps us away from tasting our lives fully. Truly, relationship when approached from deep honesty is a powerful spiritual practice. By revealing our self to another, we get to know our own true nature. To be able to see the forest, we first need to stop tripping over the roots of the trees.