The Painful Truth About Relationships
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Most mornings start the same in my home.
My boyfriend, who chooses to arise precisely two minutes before he has to be out the door for work, zooms through the flat like a tornado.
As soon as he’s satisfied that testicles, spectacles, wallet & watch are all aboard, he rushes over to the confused little mole that is me and plants three pecks on my unwashed mouth.
When he’s out the door, I take a couple of deep breaths to ready myself for the next segment of my morning ritual:
Clearing up the trail of destruction my calamitous lover has left in his wake.
It typically takes me around half an hour to bring the flat back to an order I feel safe and comfortable enough to work in.
It then takes another half hour of yoga and meditation to diffuse the resentment and irritation I often feel at having to spend my first thirty waking minutes in this way.
Such are the joys of OCD.
Right now, Joey Wilderness’s morning routine is wilder than ever, on account of the fact he’s hating his current job and working frankly ridiculous hours.
He’s a freelance location manager in the film industry, and whilst he normally works on huge budget Hollywood blockbusters, he took a lowly TV job to ensure he had adequate funds for our upcoming round-the-world trip.
Having left him home alone while I was in Spain with a girlfriend a few weeks ago, I knew I’d be returning to a bit of a shithole.
Whilst I thought I was prepared for the worst, the bout of insomnia I’d experienced on holiday – coupled with raging hormones from my new contraceptive pill – had inevitably set me up for a fall.
As soon as I put my key in the lock, I knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty sight that was to greet me on account of the smells that were seeping out in to the hall outside our front door.
I could tell he’d used the old trick of burning incense to mask the lingering accents of curry, tobacco and boy that had clearly been wafting about for the last six days.
He’d been for one of his midnight sleepwalking wees and forgotten to flush the toilet, and whilst he’d attempted to do the washing up, the surfeit of plates, pans and cutlery were covered in a thick layer of grease and precariously heaped on to the drying rack, threatening to totter over at any moment.
The living room rug was all scrunched up and wonky – it was obvious he’d spilled something on it, then chucked it into the washing machine and back under the coffee table, hoping I wouldn’t notice.
Clearly, he’d forgotten he lived with Monica from Friends.
In hindsight, this wasn’t the end of the world – and it certainly wasn’t the worst scene I’d come home to in our time dwelling together under the same roof.
But, given my exhaustion and fluctuating oestrogen levels, I fucking lost my shit.
Why is he so INSENSITIVE?! I groaned to no one.
Couldn’t he have made a bit of an effort, JUST FOR ONCE?! Why do I have to do fucking EVERYTHING in this fucking flat?!
When he arrived home, he burst in to the kitchen like an excitable puppy.
“Hello baby! Welcome back!!!!” he hollered, face all smiley.
I turned over my shoulder as I stood at the sink, rewashing all the cutlery.
“Hi,” I replied dolefully.
The puppy furrowed his brow and held his distance.
“Are you… ok?”
I let out an exasperated sigh.
“Well, no, as it happens; I’m not really OK Joe, no.”
I then launched in to a full blown tirade of how I was not interested in living in a student flat at the ripe old age of thirty-one, and how devoid of love and comfort this place had felt when I walked in.
I failed to see the irony inherent in my words, and I failed to remember that a loving home is established through the energy between the people in it, not the sanitation levels.
The thing is, messiness is a really, really big trigger for me.
As some of you may know (if you’ve read ‘The Inner Fix’), while I was growing up my parents were consumed by drug addiction – at the same time as my mum was going through Hepatitis C, and my dad was doing all he could to prevent us falling in to bankruptcy.
It was an intense time for our family, and it’s a testament to the kind of people my parents are that they were eventually able to pull themselves – and the rest of the family – out of the chaos.
However, coming home from school as a little girl and seeing my mum passed out on the sofa, so exhausted from chemotherapy that the usually pristine house had fallen into complete disarray, really, really affected me.
Having recently undergone some therapy for the adult children of addicts, I’ve learned that during my formative years, I’d developed a trauma response to mess that continued way beyond the point where my mum healed from the Hep C and my parents both got sober.
At university, I found myself experiencing regular mild(ish) panic attacks every time I came home after lectures to find the house I shared with five (incredibly messy) girls to be an utter shambles, with days-old washing-up stacked precariously by the sink, and clothes, make-up and paperwork taking up every available surface.
To try and manage the anxiety I felt when I came home to a site like this, I’d spend at least an hour trying to restore order to the flat, or lock myself away up in my room pretending I wasn’t in so I didn’t have to sit with the others in the mess, pretending I wasn’t phased by it.
I also put an unbelievable amount of pressure on myself to be perfect in every area of my life.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I put a tremendous amount of effort and energy into creating the illusion of perfection, because underneath a seemingly glistening exterior lay a very lost and scared little girl.
My OCD and anxiety only grew worse when I found myself in relationships with messy men.
Their untidiness was a source of most of the fights in the relationship, mainly because I wasn’t afraid of shouting at them about the state of their flat, like I was with girls I lived with (I’ve always been terrified of confrontation with women; nothing worse than being ostracised from a girl clique because you’re unbearably anal).
So, when I moved in with Joe – the world’s messiest person I’ve ever met - towards the end of last year, it was inevitable that all my trauma around mess was going to rear it’s ugly head.
Following my rant, Joe and I sat watching TV in silence for an hour, the air thick with resentment and – on my side – righteous smuggery.
After that time, though, it dawned on me that as much as I may be punishing him, I was also punishing myself.
No one was winning here.
“I’m sorry I was a twat,” I said looking down at my peeling nail varnish.
“I’m just really tired – didn’t sleep again last night, and all I wanted was to come home to a nice clean, cosy flat. But I know it’s not OK to speak to you like that.”
Joe continued looking at his phone while I spoke, then after a few moments, looked up at me and let out a weary sigh.
“The thing is babe, I’m really fucking struggling at the moment too; my boss is treating me like shit, and all I want is to come home to the one person who usually lifts my spirits – especially after I haven’t seen you for a week. But, the moment I walk in to the flat you look at and speak to me like I’m useless. I know I’m never going to be tidy or clean enough for you, but I am trying – I’m doing the best that I can. It just feels like no matter how hard I try, nothing will ever be good enough.”
The bitchy ice queen mask I’d been wearing for the last hour instantly melted, as I realised I’d made him feel the way I’ve felt most of my life: inadequate.
I flung my arms around him and wept like a banshee in to his shoulder, overcome by shame and remorse for hurting the person I love the most in the world over something that really, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t matter.
The painful truth about relationships is that we’re doomed to attract the person whose teeth fit our wounds – and vice versa.
I'd subconsciously managed to recreate the same dynamic that I’d experienced growing up – only this time, I was the one expecting impossibly high standards and behaving passive aggressively when they weren’t met.
I was the one turning my back on love because it didn’t look how I thought it should.
He may not be the tidiest of flatmates, but Joe has never once tried to change me or make me feel ashamed of who I am.
I think the reason I can sometimes be so naggy and controlling of him is because I don’t really accept who I am either, and getting at him distracts me from this inconvenient truth.
The silver lining in all of this is that, although the people we attract will always trigger our wounds, they also offer us the opportunity to heal them.
Our pain, shame and trauma can only be healed when brought to the surface.
It has to be felt, not pushed down.
But feeling it ain’t no walk in the park, which is why most of us abandon or sabotage our relationship moments before a miracle and transformation could have occurred.
I know that I haven’t attracted a messy man by accident; he has come in to my life as a gift – it’s my choice whether to embrace him as such, or cast him aside because it’s too painful to learn the lessons this particular relationship requires of me if it’s to last.
He will never change – and I will never change – through judgement or manipulation.
We only grow through love.
Behaving differently in situations that bring up our stuff is a process that takes time and self-compassion.
Like a baby learning to walk, we will falter, we will stumble, and we will most certainly bump our heads.
But, we don’t judge a baby for falling over while they learn, and we mustn’t judge ourselves.
We’ll get there, one wobbly step at a time.
In the end, walking’s worth the struggle.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Have you ever been ‘triggered’ in a relationship by issues or situations tht remind you of your past?
How did you deal with it? What would you do differently now?
Let me know in the comments below – awareness is the first step in the right direction :)
Love Persia xx