The benefits of a healthy relationship are many – feeling loved, partnering in life, and experiencing the joy of sharing a life together. However, relationships can stir up all sorts of negative emotions as well – fears of abandonment, moments of feeling unloved, doubt, insecurities, loneliness, hurt and pain. All of these experiences, positive and negative, add up to one very important aspect of our relationship – it is an investment that we make in our life together.
This is a story of learning about the value of investment from one’s person’s pain:
Annie came into therapy shattered from a recent breakup. She had been in a relationship for ten years and had thought that she’d found the love of her life. They’d traveled, enjoyed dinners out, parties, and overall enjoyed each other’s company.
Within the context of a romantic relationship, Annie has a strong need to take care of her partner. She thrives on it and it actually hurts her to NOT give. And yet she found herself experiencing the devastation of a breakup (not of her choice) that caused her to question how a relationship could end when she had given so much of herself to this person.
In the beginning of her therapy, she shared that she was lucky to be in a relationship with this person. She saw herself as unworthy of love and viewed herself as unattractive and overweight, questioning why anyone would want to be with her. And let me just say that Annie is a lovely person who is kind, thoughtful, hardworking and generous.
During the course of our therapy I asked her the question, “Do you let others take care of you?”
Her reaction surprised me – she gasped in fear. The thought of someone taking care of her terrified her.
She told me that if she allowed another to take care of her – she believed that she would then owe them and if she owed them – she would have no control. (Keep in mind this is a trigger from childhood; I will say more about this later in this post.)
“BUT,” I said, “you had no control in those one-sided relationships in your life. Those ‘others’ took advantage of you – they took from you and then did as they liked – they cheated on you and did not contribute financially.”
Although they traveled and had fun together, Annie had provided the finances to support these activities. She was convinced that the only way that she was safe in a relationship was to not accept giving or being taken care of by another. She believed that “If you owe someone they can hurt you, they can take things from you.”
I told her that she had it backwards. Safety in relationships is achieved through mutuality. It is through each of you making a balanced investment in each other and your relationship that gives one a sense of ‘control’ and ‘safety’ because only then are BOTH invested in the relationship. When both people are invested – the result is safety.
While Annie had convinced herself that she was unworthy of being given to by another, this was partly a defense because the larger truth was that she feared receiving. She believed that she had control over her life if she was the only one giving. Receiving made her feel vulnerable.
The emotional trigger for her was this: When she was a child (vulnerable) her parents took care of her but there was always a painful price to pay. Therefore, she internalized that being taken care of was a bad thing that could only cause pain.
Value of Investment:
The key take away here is recognizing the necessity of not only making an investment in our relationship but asking for it in return.
Recently, I wrote about giving and receiving in relationships; however, we rarely think of giving and receiving as a long-term investment in our relationships.
It is knowing that each of you are invested in a balanced way that provides safety, security and connection.
Think of it in terms of numbers – if each of you invests a thousand dollars in something that will earn you more income – both of you work toward growing that investment. If only one invests, grows it and maintains it – the other does not care because they have no reason to care. The same is true for relationships – investment means love, care and connection.
What does investment in a relationship look like?
This is a complicated question because each of us may invest in very different ways. I have a client who struggles to understand the complexities of his marriage and yet comes to therapy and works hard to learn, understand and make the necessary changes in the hope of improving his marriage. This is a perfect example of investing in your relationship.
But investment varies from person to person and couple to couple. Some examples include: taking the time to know each other like no one else knows you; learning to live in the same space; accepting each other; knowing each other’s secrets; learning what makes each of you tick; knowing what makes each of you laugh, cry, feel fear and/or anxiety; caring and worrying about each other; supporting each other; caring for your home; healing one another’s hurt; extending forgiveness; partnering in parenting; working hard for financial support; listening to one another; and care-taking, planning and dreaming of your future. All these are just some of the ways in which we invest in our relationship!
Please feel free to add to this list in the comment section below – I’m sure others will appreciate it!!
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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
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