What does it mean to do the work in relationships? (and some hard truths)


One of the ways I provide support to my clients is by being honest about what I hear from them. It’s important to be able to name old stories that are no longer in alignment with who they are now. We are changing and growing all the time, and when we cling to old stories or patterns, we are doing ourselves a disservice. This is especially true in the context of relationships.

In my personal and professional experience, learning how to show up in relationships and shift them in a way that results in long-lasting positive change has been about shifting my perspective and diving beneath the surface; it has been about recognizing the patterns and dynamics that are happening that we aren’t talking about in the moment. We probably all have some suspicion that this is going on (“it’s not really about the fact that I haven’t taken out the garbage, she’s mad at me for something else”), but then what? What do we do from there?

If we don’t have a model for showing up fully in partnerships, it’s difficult to know what that looks like (and especially difficult to know how to do it). Do you have role model couples in your life? People who use effective communication, discuss issues as they arise, trust each other without question, and have one another’s best interests at heart? Have you ever asked them how they maintain respect, integrity, and support in their relationships? This is one of the ways we learn how to be who we want to be in relationships. We need to know where we are going to so we can do our best to stay on track.

Image via  @yungpueblo

Image via @yungpueblo

Today, I want to share some of what I believe it means to do the work in relationships. This list is derived from my own journey toward security and relationship health as well as my professional trainings and clinical experience; it’s not exhaustive by any means but includes some topics that I don’t think we read about in popular books or magazines. I imagine this list might feel difficult to read for some of you, especially if you are in a partnership that is not feeling solid right now. My hope in sharing this list is that you will feel empowered because you have the information. How you move forward is always up to you. I want to remind you that you deserve to feel seen, held, and supported in your relationship—and so does the person you are in relationship with.

  • Be honest with yourself about what you want.

    • What are your intentions in the relationship? What do you want to see come out of it?

  • Be responsible and accountable for your own “stuff.”

    • We all have it. Own it and do what you need to do to heal. If you are not being accountable for your own stuff, you are participating in the crappy relationship dynamic. There is also a difference between naming the stuff and doing the work; if you say “I have trauma from that relationship and that’s just the way it is!”, that’s not being accountable. It’s really difficult to figure out if the relationship is sustainable if it’s muddled with our personal unmet healing needs.

  • Recognize how connected you are to your narrative about the relationship.

    • Are you willing to change your story? Are you willing to allow the relationship to change? Sometimes we get stuck out of fear, and our fear can prevent the relationship (or our partner or us) from shifting in the way we actually want them to.

  • Ask yourself if your happiness is based on whether your partner will change significantly.

    • You are not in charge of your partner’s healing process. You don’t get to determine what they need to do to heal. However, it may feel glaringly obvious to you that they have some work to do, especially in the context of your relationship dynamics. Their “stuff” impacts you—maybe a lot. If they aren’t actively seeking support outside of your relationship, it’s important to consider what it might be like if they don’t change. As you are healing and growing, is this a relationship that is going to work for you in a year? Five years? 20 years? Sit with the possibility that they aren’t there and may not get there. How does it feel? Don’t forget that expectations in relationships can lead to resentment—and if you are expecting them to change and they don’t, you are likely going to feel more and more resentful (and less connected and loving).

  • Know that if you want your partner to do their work, the outcome may not be the one you are looking for.

    • Sometimes people discover things about themselves in their personal growth work that they weren’t expecting, and it may lead to the relationship shifting in a way that doesn’t work with your personal agenda. This can feel scary and disappointing. It gets to feel scary and disappointing at the same time as it feels good that they are finding their way back to their truth. This may also happen for you; we can’t control when we discover something about ourselves that changes how we live our lives. This is part of growth.

  • Know that even if this happens and things don’t work out the way you want them to, you are more yourself and more in your integrity than you were before. The truth is difficult and it’s liberating, like most truths.

I would love to know how this list lands for you. Please leave a comment and let me know what resonates.