I have been in enough relationships to know that I am happiest when I have time and space to do ME. I have also noticed how detrimental it can be to my overall health if I find myself being smothered. Freedom is much more important to me than needing to feel loved by someone else. This has been an arduous lesson to figure out about myself, because needing to feel loved and needed by another is my innermost addiction with roots deeper than alcoholism. That’s a story for a different day. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy time spent with my friends, lovers, or family. I believe that relationships are enriching far beyond any material possessions and very well could be the meaning to life. I just know myself well enough that I need room to come to a partner. I’m kind of like a cat, chase after me and I hide, hiss, and might even bite you. Lay still, give me room, and make it seem like it was my idea and I’m sitting on your chest.
It’s been my experience as a woman dating men, that these men have not respected my space or boundaries by either forcing their way into my life, saying shrewd or disrespectful things if I politely decline, or partners who feel the need to be in the same room, listening to my conversations, barge into friend time or just blatantly ignore requests for my needs. It all feels restricting, overbearing, and I definitely don’t feel safe to express who I am and grow as an authentic being with these experiences. I know I am not the only one who has been in a restricting, smothering, or lacking boundaries type of relationship. I can look back, and had boundaries been respected, had space been given, or had space been held, the relationship would have looked MUCH different.
When you are in a relationship, it should feel like you are more than the sum of your two parts- meaning you each add something beautiful to the relationship and enrich each other’s lives. The best way to do this is to allow your partner to grow and to be there to help them grow in a nurturing, not overbearing way. GROWTH requires SPACE. Look at plants, for example, in terms of growth. Plants need nurturing, water, sun, and earth to hold space. They also require boundaries and certain plants fare better when around plants that provide a symbiotic relationship. Think The Three Sisters planting: Corn, Squash, and Beans. The corn offers support to the growing beans, the leaves of the squash create a living mulch and protect all three plants from weeds, the squash is also prickly protecting from raccoons or other hungry beasts, and the beans pull nitrogen from the air to nourish all three. If you over water your plants, plant or leave them in a place with too much sun or too much shade, keep it in a small pot or overcrowd it with plants whose root systems take over the whole garden, the plant dies. Relationships are a lot like plants. They require SPACE. Space to grow as individuals for the greater whole. Holding space allows one partner to feel heard, loved, and supported as they take risks and blossom.
Boundaries are super important! I’ve noticed those who didn’t like me enforcing my boundaries were the ones who benefitted from me not having them. It’s hard to believe someone who says “I love you”, but barges in on your when you’re meditating, doing homework, or lies to you. I can see, maybe, if someone didn’t *know* that these things were violations of personal space and boundaries, but if you’ve told them explicitly what your needs are and that it’s nothing personal, it can be frustrating! Pay attention to those whose words and actions don’t align. Saying “I love you” and consistently disrespecting you by crossing clearly drawn lines is a red flag. This is just a recipe for more disrespect. One day, they run the vacuum when you’re meditating, the next they block your car in the garage so you can’t leave, and then their next move might be talking to one of your friends behind your back. If someone does not respect your time and space, they do not respect YOU. Loving relationships are built on mutual respect. Even trees in the forest respect boundaries and work together with surrounding trees.
If you want to build a healthy relationship either from the ground up, or repairing your current circumstances you must first know what your own personal code of honor is. This code is what you need to thrive, what you won’t tolerate, where you’re going, and how you present your energy to the world. Only when you are clear to yourself about your code of honor will you know where your boundaries lie. How can you enforce something that you aren’t sure of yourself? Next, be comfortable expressing your boundaries and when you need your space. Take notice in how your partner reacts to this. Reiterate that it’s nothing personal, and then show them the same respect when they define a boundary.
Learn how to hold space for your partner. This looks like cheering them on from the sidelines without actually having to be involved or in the spotlight with them. It is asking them and yourself what you can do to help nurture their growth. It the answer is needing alone time, give it.
Experience YOU without your partner being around. Learn a new skill. Try a new restaurant alone. Read a book. Travel alone or with a friend. Do something to enrich YOUR life while letting them do the same. You’ll look forward to the next time you see each other and you’ll having something NEW to contribute to the relationship. Without this novelty, this space apart, the personal growth, they relationship becomes stale and full of resentment. As I listen to music, writing this, I realize it’s the spaces between the notes that create a beautiful sound. Space offers us creativity, excitement, gratitude, joy, and the ability to stand on our own.
You have the choice to create a beautiful and thriving relationship with room to grow or you can smother the fire you’ve built together. The choice between allowing your partner to blossom, or come home to a half empty house because you suffocated them.
Check your personal code of honor. Notice how you are showing up in your relationships. Know that when you cheer each other on and give each other room to breathe, everyone wins!