Original Link : https://medium.com/the-partnered-pen/navigating-a-healthy-relationship-5e287084802a

When you’ve never had one before

Relax, you’re on a journey of discovery. Let life reveal itself to you.~Melody Beattie

Some of us have never had a healthy intimate relationship.

We don’t have an instruction manual, and we can carry some painful baggage. So why expect ourselves to know what we’re doing?

It’s important to be gentle with ourselves as we explore new territory.

I want what I perceive in the photo above. They appear to be a healthy, happy couple enjoying their dog and each other. I’m a dreamer and an idealist.

They’re only a dream to me, as I’ve never experienced what that looks or feels like. I don’t do “normal” too well. I guess that could be seen as an asset. But maybe I could use a little smidgen of it sometimes.

I’ve had positive role modeling from my dad and stepmom, but very little experience of my own.

My birth mother models a victim mentality. She relies heavily on others to make her happy. Codependency rules her life.

I perpetuated that pattern in the past. I started getting drunk and loaded by age 17. I had two meaningful relationships before I began to lose myself to addiction. One was the first person I had sex with. He was my first high school boyfriend.

I reconnected with Kyle, the other significant person, about 7 months ago. We live many miles apart, but there’s still an undeniable connection between us. There’s a chance we will get together again, after our brief interlude as teenagers 30 years ago. That was the last time we’ve seen each other.

Back then, I was fresh and new to the feelings that come from attraction.

I shared my body when I meant to share my heart. That’s what I really wanted, to share heart space with another human. I felt like Kyle allowed me to share both.

Unlike most high school rendezvous, we had no drama. We got along well and naturally followed our impulses when we felt attracted.

Nowadays, I tend to complicate things. I forget this is a dance. Life is a process, not an event.

When I reach out, I don’t know if I’m crowding him or simply expressing my interest. I know it isn’t true, but there are times I feel like I’m “too much”.

If he doesn’t get back to me right away, I start to think he doesn’t like me anymore. Usually, he’s busy doing his own thing. It’s not personal.

He’s an individual having his own experiences. We’re two autonomous beings who can come together and be apart.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.~Khalil Gibran

Occasionally I feel vulnerable and unsure of myself. Other days, I let things flow as intended. Maybe it’s the distance between us that makes me question everything. But there’s really nothing wrong.

I have no idea what I’m doing, and that’s understandable.

Once I got sober, I had to learn what it’s like to respect and care for myself. I began to establish and maintain boundaries, and have honest, open communication. I had a toolkit, but hadn’t used the tools yet. I went to 12-step meetings for my addiction and learned what it’s like to love myself.

It was a rocky beginning. I started sleeping with a guy who I wanted to love me. He used me for sex. I was willing to sell my soul for a little attention, so I kept going back to him. This continued for 4 long years.

I finally stopped going to the hardware store for bread. I nurtured my inner being. I gardened, socialized, watched good movies. I had a few sweet cats I loved so much.

I was in a particularly healthy and happy place when I met my next partner.

We’d been friends for years, then we got romantically involved. He came close to my vision of an ideal partner. I wanted him to be my soul mate for life. That’s why I didn’t see the warning signs.

Unfortunately, he was struggling with an alcoholic relapse and couldn’t escape. I dove deep into codependency and suffered greatly from the effects.

I went to another 12-step program for friends and families of alcoholics.

I placed the focus on myself and found relief.

Although recovery uncovered wounds and healed many aspects of my life, I still pined for my ex for nearly a decade. He’s been sober and he’s been drunk, but hasn’t contacted me in nearly 8 years.

In 2011, I attended a sober dance with the hope I’d see him. He wasn’t there, but I saw someone else familiar and asked him to dance. We ended up being attracted to each other back then. It was so strange, because I wasn’t into him before that.

We now have two amazing children together. I suspect my oldest orchestrated our meeting, since I would have never planned to pursue a relationship with this person.

Other than this important parent role, we don’t connect on a soul level. The big feelings aren’t there. He’s also struggled with addiction and codependency. I took on most domestic responsibilities while he worked. It’s still like that, even when we live apart.

Although I’ve learned a lot from my kids’ dad, I wouldn’t categorize us as healthy together. I do all the parenting and he agrees with me from the sidelines. It’s not my idea of an egalitarian relationship.

If you relate to my story, do you know how to move forward? How do you begin again with a fresh perspective and behavior that serves you and the other person?

My experience has shown me time and time again that there’s one solution.

When in doubt, love yourself first.

Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.~Author-Poet Aberjhani

Love begins with me.

Years ago, I printed that phrase in colorful type and put it in a plastic sleeve. I placed it near my bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen. Then I followed my own advice.

Don’t let anyone convince you you’re selfish for caring for your own needs. You deserve love, and you can give it to yourself anytime.

Fill your own cup. Don’t try to fulfill someone else’s needs before first addressing yours. Once your cup is filled, It can flow to others. That’s when you’re available to help, with one caveat. Be sure they want your help, and it’s best to wait until they ask for it. Allow them the grace and dignity to take care of themselves.

Each person has their own needs and desires. They make their own choices, how they treat their bodies, what work and leisure activities they pursue, and how much time they spend with you.

I’m still learning. But I know that everyone has a right to choose what kind of relationship they want. We can’t push our agendas or we’ll likely push them away.

What if Kyle doesn’t want the level of commitment I seek? Then our relationship will be different than I expected. And that’s ok. We have a wonderful friendship. What if I make a ton of mistakes along the way? That’s good because I’m only human after all.

What if he blows my mind and shows up in the way I’ve always wanted? I’ll know that I’m worthy of a healthy, happy relationship with a stellar being. I’ll open myself and accept the love I know we both deserve.

We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.~John Lennon