Healthy intimate relationships, whether dating someone rather casually or being committed to a life partner, call for a bit of a balancing act. Intimacy requires an ability to act selflessly sometimes -- to put the other guy’s interests on a par with our own. At the same time, if we don’t get our own needs met, we are going to experience this relationship as pretty damn unfulfilling. We want to maintain our individualism, but also to open our hearts in a way that allows us to grow closer.
Healthy relationships require taking responsibility for our own selves, while allowing the other person to keep responsibility for himself. How to do this? Start by deciding that you are going to let go of the “v word:” victim. You are responsible for the choices you make. If you find yourself consistently dating or in relationship with men who can’t control their anger, or who are alcoholics, or who can’t keep a job or pay their bills, you could decide that all men (except you, of course!) are “just that way.” Or you explore whether there is something within you that seeks out men with certain needs or patterns.
Do you find that you are so sensitive to the feelings of others that you sometimes have a hard time knowing what you are actually feeling yourself? Notice, for instance, if something happens that makes you angry -- but you find yourself deciding that you are angry sometime later, not in the moment. Or if your feelings express themselves as headaches, stomach trouble, or other somatic problems rather than in tears or anger.
Boys often aren’t raised to pay attention to their emotions. Perhaps you were told not to cry when you were growing up or you were told that good boys don’t get angry. Learning to express your feelings may require learning some new skills or a bit of a new language. Of course, expressing yourself doesn’t mean unloading on the other person in a way which is abusive.
Understand that there is a place for anger in relationships. Stuff happens. Learning to express angry feelings in the moment -- and in a way which doesn’t attack the other person -- keeps those angry feelings from festering into bitterness and hostility. Learn that anger doesn’t mean a relationship is over. Take responsibility for your feelings: “I feel angry when you do this because...” Don’t attack the other person.
If you find yourself currently in a relationship that causes you to feel you might be codependent, begin by taking a deep breath and stepping back a bit. Who is the most powerful person in your life? You are, buddy. Realize that you can change and make choices. In fact, happiness itself is a choice. So choose to take responsibility for your own self.
Do the people around you -- especially your significant other -- encourage you or put you down? If you find yourself around people who are chronically, consistently discouraging, interrupt them. “Friends” who do this are not true friends. When a partner does this it is likely to be a signal that unhealthy patterns have been established. You may want to consider counseling.
Intimacy almost always challenges us and requires us to learn new skills. It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Remember: with patience and persistence and a willingness to face the truth, you can get what you want.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.