I was away for a family vacation last weekend when my wiser-than-his-years brother uttered a piece of wisdom in a conversation that has stayed on my mind since the moment he said it.
"Its not about how good he treats you, it's about how good he treats himself."
Damn. I mean, that's pretty solid advice for a 20-year-old kid to be giving. And while I'm sure we can all nod our heads and agree with it, I think this is a concept we need to continually remind ourselves of as we navigate through our romantic relationships.
We've all heard "You need to love yourself before you love someone else," but do we really understand what that means? I think we do on an intellectual level. But, a lot of us have never even experienced a true, unconditional love for ourselves. We've been trained to get our sense of worth from the way we look, the money we earn, and the relationships we have. We forget that we our worth is inherent in our nature. We forget that we ourselves are pure light and love.
We forget all of this because we've been blocked by our egos demands and altered ideas of reality. We fixate on our external relationships with our partners, our families, our jobs and completely neglect the relationship we have with ourselves.
When I first started my journey inwards, I was shocked when I realized how poor of a relationship I actually had with myself. On the outside, I was a determined, relentless woman. I restricted my food, worked out every day, and coached others to do the same. My idea of self-care was bullying myself into obsessive behaviors because I thought that being attractive to other people would bring me the love and happiness I had always wanted. But, that only brought me further into a spiral of self-hatred, shame, and perfectionism.
It wasn't until I started to look at my actual self, not my external self, that I started to cultivate the love I was desperately seeking. Once I got clear about the ways I was damaging myself, with my thoughts and my behaviors, I worked consistently to change them. There were a lot of ups and downs, but with time, it became easier to think of myself as the way my highest self thought of me...pure love.
And it wasn't until I made this shift that all of the other work I had been doing fell into place. Before then, I was just distracting myself with the self-care rituals I had read about in books; the massages, the bubble baths, the yoga classes, the green juices, the solo dates, etc. I was only performing those acts because I believed that they would heal my pain. And I also enjoyed playing the role of "the girl who took care of herself."
But, once I did the actual work, I realized that all of the external rituals were really just icing on the cake. I was the cake. And it wasn't until I felt the unconditional love and acceptance from myself that I was able to cultivate the confidence and vulnerability I needed to even begin exploring the idea of a romantic partnership.
After a lot of refection, I realized just how toxic I was to my own romantic relationship in the past. My relationship was an emotional roller coaster, most of which was caused by me. I was either lashing out or latching on to my partner because I was addicted to the external validation he provided. I needed to feel his love for me, even if I had to bluff and threaten to leave just for him to chase after me. And when his love wasn't enough, I looked to other people and situations to give me the same high he once gave me. But, I would never feel the fulfillment I was yearning for. In all actually, I ended up causing myself even more pain as time went on.
And since realizing how I personally did this in my past, in numerous situations.... I’m extremely aware of how others around me play the same game with themselves. Whether they’re overprotective and jealous, or even showering their partners with gifts and affection…it’s all stemming from the same lack of self-love. It’s stemming from a need to feel validated by someone outside of themselves.
If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t offer pure love to our partners. Period. Because what were calling “love” is actually fear. Fear that they will leave, fear that they will stop loving us, fear that were not worthy of their love. Fear and love cannot coexist.
When we get into new relationships, were trained to pay attention to how our partner is taking care of us. Are they taking us out on fancy dates? Are they making an effort to meet our friends/family? Are they getting us soup when were sick?
What we should be doing is paying attention to how they take care of themselves. Because even if they're showering you with love and attention, they may only doing in effort to make themselves feel worthy. They may be trying to get something from you that you can never give them. And when they feel emotionally vulnerable or threatened in the relationship, they’ll resort to adultery, anger, or a plethora of negative behaviors.
If you've been experiencing conflict or angst in your romantic life, I’d suggest you start looking at your partners relationship with themselves (or maybe the relationship you have with yourself).. While you can’t tangibly assess their inner dialogue or emotional state, you can get an idea for how much they love and value themselves by looking at their external self-care rituals.
Do they value their health and the way they feel? Are they choosing to eat nutritious foods? Or are they stuffing themselves with crappy food everyday?
How do they handle stressful situations? Are they taking down time for themselves and talking it out with you? Or are they running to the bar to drink the pain away?
Do they actively work towards achieving their goals? Do they even have goals?
How do they handle conflicts in your relationship? Do they lash out and blame you? Do they cower down and beg you to forgive them? Do they ever stand up for themselves or their own personal values?
How do they feel about their career? Do they settle for something they hate doing? Or do they value the importance of having a passion and purpose in the workplace?
There’s plenty of insight you can get on the relationship they have with themselves from simple observations. And please, understand.... I’m not trying to start a witch-hunting brigade of people who aren’t prioritizing self-care. All I’m offering here is a shift in perception so we can get to the real root of the issues in our relationships.
Because two halves will never make a whole when it comes to our romantic partnerships. True, unconditional love requires two individuals who take care of their own emotional, mental, and physical well-being, whether they're in a relationship, or not.