Do the Work

It doesn’t matter how many books you read, conference workshops you attend, or MAsT meetings you frequent: If you don’t do the work, your relationships will suffer.

What work is that? The work on yourself. Specifically, the hard work of unpacking your psychological and emotional baggage.

Virtually all of us enter adulthood with unhealthy coping mechanisms, imperfect communication skills, and limiting ego structures. Much of this baggage stems from what clinicians refer to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). From early childhood, we learn what we have to do to survive in difficult situations. We then carry those survival tactics into our adult lives, where they can sabotage even our best efforts to cultivate honest communication and loving awareness in our relationships. And of course, adverse experiences don’t end in childhood.

If you find that you just can’t make relationships work, you may be re-enacting old patterns. Becoming aware of those patterns is half the battle of overcoming them. Check your ACE score at the site linked above. Make a list of any trauma, abuse, or stressful life events you’ve experienced as an adult, especially any recent ones. Honestly assess your reliance on substances (alcohol, street or prescription drugs, nicotine, caffeine, food) or compulsive activities (gambling, shopping, sex, porn, play) to cope with stress.

Fearlessly examine your relationship history. What patterns do you see? Do you struggle to maintain healthy boundaries? Do you repeatedly fall for people who are emotionally unavailable? Are you codependent? Rather than hold out for Mr./Ms./Mx. Right, do you settle for Mr./Ms./Mx. Right Now? Are you unable to trust? Do you repeatedly self-sabotage? Do you compromise on fundamental needs or agree to relationship structures that don’t work for you (e.g., monogamy, polyamory)? Do you avoid speaking your truth due to fear of rejection?

These patterns are not uncommon, nor are they specific to any particular gender, orientation, or relationship role. I firmly believe that we are all doing our level best to relieve our suffering and find lasting happiness. I also believe that one of the best ways to improve our chances of finding that happiness is to learn from the wisdom of others.

Social groups, coaching, conferences, workshops, spiritual counseling, mentoring, and peer support are all wonderful ways to learn from and with others, but they are not substitutes for therapy with a trained, licensed clinician. No one can do the work for you, but a knowledgable and compassionate therapist can guide you through the process.

Doing this work is the best gift you can give your current (or future) partner…and yourself.