Why I Said Yes When I Knew I Needed To Say No
A story of codependent habits
A story of codependent habits.
Recently I chose a new partnership. It was so exciting and inspiring; I felt so seen, heard, empowered and inspired by her. I felt so loved.
She chose me back. It was more love than I’ve ever felt before. It’s nice to be loved. It felt good. Then I think I got complacent.
It’s just that she wasn’t ready for a relationship, and I knew that from early on.
In his song Shadow Days, John Mayer says:
It sucks, to be honest, and it hurts to be real, but it’s nice to make some love that I can finally feel.
I started to believe that it didn’t matter if I felt hurt or upset because we had our love. I turned love into a thing. It became a noun in my mind, an unbreakable noun. Anyone resonating with this yet?
I turned my partner into an unbreakable. I put her on a pedestal like that, believing in her ‘good’ side and ignoring her bad. That’s not fair on her or me.
It’s a terrible relationship strategy.
We slipped into second-guessing each other’s needs and being too afraid to speak up about our own. I became obsessed with the relationship, entirely focused on making it work and meeting her needs. My work dropped away, I haven’t written an article since last year, and I haven’t released a podcast in that time.
The conditioning that I faced in childhood was so full of coercion and control, speaking my truth was such an ordeal — that usually ended in a shouting match if I was feeling courageous or desperate enough, that I collapsed on my life.
I collapsed on my life not because I wanted to, and my partner definitely didn’t want me to. I collapsed because it’s a strong subconscious driver that protected me in childhood.
Collapsing meant safety. Collapsing made my life easy.
Collapsing made me resentful. It came from a belief inside me that I am powerless to voice my needs.
The dynamics continued until they became competitive, two people who love each other trying to gain dominance of the other to feel safe.
That’s a sad reality. It’s sad at the moment, and it’s sad after the moment.
There’s never a point of safety in that reality. You’re always searching for something that’s just outside of your reach.
I was hoping you could show me that you’re trustworthy, that I’m enough for you.
You want to feel safe, yet, every moment of control, aggression, dominance or competition leaves you picking up the shards of trust that lay on the floor.
I started to develop jealousy and shame around it all, that I wasn’t able to feel what I was feeling, to navigate the relationship so that we could both be safe and comfortable.
I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I’ve done more soul-searching than most people I know: more awareness building, more courses, training in healing, coaching, therapeutic models. I still collapsed. I collapsed because all of that searching came from powerlessness and a sense that I didn’t have worth unless other people told me that that was the case — and even then, I didn’t believe them because I had no way to translate that within my body of experience. I couldn’t ground their words and anchor them in my body; to recognise them as true and authentic to me.
Luckily, we always have the inspiration of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing shards of pottery (or trust) with golden lacquer. The golden lacquer makes the broken thing more valuable, desirable and rebuilds it into something different and more beautiful than before.
Here’s the thing, it’s not about rebuilding the relationship — although that’s the ideal with repair, it’s about rebuilding the trust, integrity, respect and pride that exists between two people who love each other.
Whatever they need is whatever they need. I can’t change that. If I try, then I’m coercing them into doing something that I need.
It turns out I’m good at that, thanks to childhood. I’m persuasive and an eternal optimist. That can be tantalising.
The difference this time is that I was able to bring consciousness to the process in hindsight.
Admittedly, it would’ve been grand to bring that awareness to the process, but I can only live hoping that each learning moment will bring me closer to that goal.
I was able to have some open and vulnerable chats with my partner. I came out of those chats feeling sad, heartbroken and respectful and proud of us both.
We took the opportunity this time, where the pressure was off of us in terms of the relationship’s momentum, to be completely honest and assertive. To say the things that we were too scared to say.
Those are some great learning moments. Even at the end of a relationship, when things are breaking down, there are some gems. If you manage to get through the emotions and the finger-pointing, there are some profound insights.
It’s not always easy or possible to get past the emotions and finger-pointing, don’t get me wrong, I stormed off a few times during our chats. A pattern I learned from my youth as well.
Here are the biggest lessons I learned this time:
I became incredibly jealous, something that I wouldn’t have known to recognise in my life before this year.
My jealousy centred around the trauma that I went through. I felt that the world owed me, that I was behind. I would always be behind. I resented groups of friends that could be so relaxed and easy with each other. They didn’t feel the need to be curious about outsiders. I resented my partner for not having to navigate the daily neuroses of a trauma survivor.
I sank into my jealousy. I used it to fuel my perpetual discontent and anger.
I’d highly recommend this article about the psychological reasons why anger can become a way of life by Nick Wignall.
In my recent coaching training, I learned that I tend to make myself inferior or superior in every situation.
I mean that I’m only comfortable when I know if I’m submissive or dominant in each scenario. I feel uncomfortable being dominant too.
With the aid of my coach on the training, I’m learning to have a partnership with someone where we are equal, curious, exploring the situation with each other. Together.
Feeling pain is always easier (if you can)
The amount of ways we distract ourselves from pain is ridiculous if you sit down and think about it:
- Netflix binging
The list goes on, but I won’t ruin your favourite activities.
It boils down to four dynamics; when we don’t want to feel the pain, we have four options:
- Attack others
- Attack self
Feeling the pain is challenging, yet it’s way easier than going through the ups and downs, loops, protecting ourselves and covering up our paths.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Protection mechanisms need to be honoured and nurtured if behaviour needs to be changed.
Once you get to the place where you can intentionally feel the pain or any other feelings in your body, the coping mechanisms will start to fall away.
Micro-controls add up
We don’t always mean to control a situation, but if there’s enough confusion and chaos, we will.
A micro-control looks like grasping at a situation, asking someone to do something so I can feel comfortable and secure. That’s a different perspective to talking about boundaries.
These add up in a relationship. They develop into competition and dominance.
If something makes you feel insecure, journal it, meditate on it, and then talk to your partner about how you feel with compassion and forgiveness.
Love doesn’t guarantee alignment
Love is a fantastic feeling, and it doesn’t guarantee a working relationship.
You need to work on it. You need to negotiate needs, you need to be assertive, you can’t miss an opportunity to discuss something that feels like it’s crossed your boundaries.
Codependency can be tempting when love is involved, especially at the start when you want to spend all hours of the day and night with that person. You want to devour all of them.
Love doesn’t guarantee that you’ll both be in alignment with your visions for life or your values. Everyone is different, so that’s impossible. It takes difficult discussions, compromise and negotiation to make that work.
Don’t just collapse into the relationship because you need to feel loved, build something sustainable and strong, and if something isn’t right for you, be courageous in asking for what you need in a kind and loving way.
Your partner will know how to provide that, or they won’t, but at least it’ll be out in the open for you to make a decision on. Secondarily, if your partner can’t provide that for you, they can make a decision whether they’re capable of learning how to do that.
Think of a relationship like a tree. The deeper you build your roots, the taller and stronger the tree can grow.
Love isn’t all rainbows
Sometimes you need to be with someone who is committed to looking at the hard stuff alongside you. Alongside you. ‘Doing the work’ together.
Relationships are mirrors of the deepest pain and the most profound joy. Intimacy is being seen exactly as you are.
You can’t expect or hope to never feel pain. It’s how you deal with the pain that is the mark of a wholesome human being. It’s whether you can deal with the chaos and confusion of life together.
I’ve put a lot of time and effort into understanding what it means to be a man, masculine energy dynamics and societal factors around being a man. I’ve also just begun to understand the feminine energy dynamics and how that shows up in a relationship.
If we’re blind to these things, they will play out as they always have, good and bad, desirable and undesirable, just how we absorbed it as a child.
It’s tough to do the work together. It includes courage, resilience and dedication. If you can work out the kinks without severe boundary violations, or if you can work those boundary violations out, then you’ll build a relationship that’s so loving, trusting and resilient.
There’s a spiritual aspect that I want to bring up here because I listened to Pema Chödrön’s Embracing The Unknown during all the upheaval.
She talks a lot about what Tibetan Buddhism calls Bardos. These are periods that feel like a transition.
You can’t rely on the old and familiar patterns and don’t yet know what the future will bring.
I received the sense, from this training, of a relationship with groundlessness. Feeling isolated and unsure, with uncertainty. Knowing that life unfolds as it must. All we have at our disposal is to relax into the flow of life and to discern what choices we need to make amongst those energies.
A relationship to uncertainty is vital, especially if you’re both going through a change moment. Most people are in some capacity.
You choose how much uncertainty you can handle in your life and set the appropriate boundaries.
Keep sharing with friends
They want what’s best for you. They care about your happiness and inspiration. Share your heart with them. Lean on them in times of struggle. It will change the options that are available to you in the struggle.
Timing is everything
Timing is essential in the sense that the things you want might not be possible at this moment.
I wanted my partner to commit fully to me and the relationship. I tried to guide her to that point, and it didn’t work. I am not responsible for her experiences or emotions. I couldn’t change or influence her to be ready when she wasn’t.
Building an immune system for the relationship
Building an immune system or a foundation for a relationship is important.
When times get tough, or conflict arises between two people, which it will, you have a solid foundation to work from.
If this system is built on understanding both people’s needs, communication and the greatest challenges that each of you faces, navigating uncertainty and struggle becomes easier and can even become inspiring or enjoyable.
Suppose you don’t build this immune system. In that case, the relationship body won’t be able to flush out the toxins. The pressure will build up. You’ll argue and start to try and set rules or dominate each other. There’ll be arguments that escalate endlessly and the whole thing will come crashing down in a rupture of trust. Best to build an immune system slowly and intentionally.
Share your sacred no
You can’t say no every time you feel like it, however, it’s really important to say no when it’s your ‘sacred no’, when you feel that something is so important to you that it defines who you are.
It might be that this comes through in small aspects; how you like your breakfast, what you need in the morning.
Rest assured, if you compromise on these things then you’ll be building a relationship that doesn’t allow you to be authentic.
It’s hard to go through a life moment like this and trust that it’s all going to be O.K. I’m losing someone in my life that I care about, that I love deeply.
Life’s most treasured moments are not always the joyous ones.
The treasure lies in the pain of two people that wanted to fight for something that wasn’t right, the treasure lies in the realisation of those two people that it’s not going to work, the sigh and relax when they both know that that’s the case. The feeling of shared pain about that situation. The respect and pride in each other of being assertive around that.
All of the reasons I’ve described above kept me saying yes to things when I knew I needed to say no. That doesn’t make my partner or me a bad person. It means I was too scared or too unaware of my patterns to change them.
Now I know about the patterns, and I’ve done great work to feel the emotions and nurture the parts of me that make me act this way. I have a better chance than before at being assertive and developing an authentic connection in a long-term, sustainable way. It won’t happen overnight, and I know it’s developing.
That gives me great hope.
Peter is a creative coach working to unblock people's authentic creative essence and expression. Using transformational life coaching, meditation and embodiment techniques. He is passionate about mental health, trauma informed practice, spirituality and how to create sustainable cultures that empower in equity.