FIVE YEARS OF THOUGHT WORK PART 2: FAMILY AND ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
Most of us think that changing a relationship requires two people – us, and whoever we’re in a relationship with.
It sounds pretty logical, right?
You may even have a mental list of people you dream would change. Maybe you wish your kids would be more obedient, or your parents would stop criticizing you, or your friends would always be on time, or your partner would whisper more sweet nothings into your ear.
Well, I have some great news for you: you don’t have to wait around (forever) until the people in your life decide to change exactly as you want them to. You can completely transform your relationships on your own by investing your time and energy into thought work.
I’m living proof that this is possible, because I’ve used thought work to completely transform my family relationships and my romantic relationships, and I’m going to share how five years of thought work has changed my relationships to my family and my dating life.
(This is the second part of a three-part series, so go check out last week’s podcast if you want to learn how thought work has changed my body image, my work life, and my money mindset.)
Let’s start by flashing back to 2015 for a little window into my family drama pre-thought work.
In 2015 my primary thought about my family was that my childhood had f*cked me up.
And who could blame me? That was the story that society presented everywhere I looked – every self-help book blamed your parents, every serial killer show on TV included a screwed up parent in the background.
Not only did I blame my childhood for every negative feeling I had as an adult, but I was also unable to enjoy my current relationships with my family.
I was fully living in a victim thought pattern – I believed that:
- Being with my family was painful.
- I was obligated to spend time with them.
- In order for me to feel better, my family needed to change their behavior and that I alone didn’t have any control over my relationships.
Do you see how that’s a recipe for meltdowns? Do you see how it paints me as completely powerless?
If you experience this type of thought pattern in any area of your life, there is hope.
With thought work, I have fully untied the knots that kept me trapped just five years ago.
I now understand and believe that as an adult woman, I get to decide what kind of relationship to have with my family. When I go to family events, I am aware that I’m choosing to attend them. When I don’t attend, I accept that too as my choice.
I also did the work to create the emotions I want to have around my family, so that when I do spend time with them, it’s perfectly pleasant and nice. It’s fun. I actually enjoy it.
Pay attention now: My family didn’t change. My mind did.
So how did I get here?
First, by giving my parents “permission” to have whatever thoughts and feelings they wanted. (That’s in quotes because of course they always had the human autonomy to think and feel whatever they wanted, just like I do and you do. They didn’t need my “permission!”)
Second, by letting go of the idea that parents should unconditionally support their children and only want their children to be happy. This thought sounds nice, but it sets us up to feel betrayed, judged, and abandoned by our parents when they inevitably act – well, human.
Really think about it: Why should we expect our parents to abandon all expectations of us when we haven’t evolved to let go of all expectations of them or ourselves?
When you’re mad at your parents for wanting you to be different, you know what you’re doing? The exact same thing as them – wanting them to be different.
When you focus on your own mind, you set yourself free. You learn to love and accept yourself and believe in your own choices without needing someone else to validate them.
Managing my mind with my family has added benefits: it’s helped me go deeper in the work I’m doing on my romantic relationships, as I can see the ways in which whatever we learned growing up about how families work reactivates for us when we start to build our own families of choice (which for many people – tho not all – includes a primary romantic partner).
Applying thought work to my romantic relationships has been and continues to be a huge area of growth for me.
In 2015, I had what I’ll kindly refer to as “extreme crazy dating brain.” It’s in the DSM under that name, I’m sure.
I was dating my last long-term partner in an on and off-again relationship, I had a ton of scarcity thinking around my relationship, and when my partner and I were “off again,” I experienced excruciating anxiety around dating. I basically turned text message anxiety into an olympic sport.
Why all the drama?
I had a very deep belief that my love life was not going to “work out,” that I wasn’t “normal,” and that I couldn’t have the kind of relationship I wanted.
This belief took various forms, but it persisted over the years.
In my 20s, I believed there was just something mysteriously wrong or different about me that wouldn’t “entrance” a partner (side note: that is a terrible goal for a relationship).
In my early 30s, I worked through that belief and it shifted to believing I was intimidating or too much.
And in my mid-30s, I worked through that around the time I stopped dieting and gained weight, so I promptly started believing that my body was to blame, and that if I didn’t basically starve myself or punish myself with food, I wouldn’t attract the men I wanted to attract.
Of course, no amount of evidence shifted these beliefs. I was dating this whole time and often in serious relationships, but even when I was *in* a relationship with someone great, I found reasons to disqualify that relationship from “counting” in order to prove my belief that I couldn’t be in a “normal” relationship true to myself. (We call this the “model” that shows how you create your own results with your thoughts and it’s something we get deep into in the Clutch).
Fast forward five years.
This is still an area of deep work for me, but I am LIGHT YEARS from where I was.
I now fully believe that I can have the partner and relationship I want.
I no longer take all the nonsense of early dating personally.
I’ve gotten to a place of great abundance, where my dating rule is “if it’s not a hell yes then it’s a no.”
I actually chose to take a break from dating in 2019 and put in the work to prove to my brain that being single can be just as rich and wonderful as being partnered.
And you know what happened about 15 minutes after I reached full belief in my ability to find a partner and started to date again?
I was able to engage in an entirely different kind of relationship.
I think that when I fully changed my relationship to dating and to myself, I was finally able to relate to people who were emotionally stable, had good boundaries, and prioritized their own life balance in a healthy way.
Before, I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate any of that because I would’ve made it mean something about them or their interest in or commitment to me.
In other words, I’m sure MANY good candidates had come alone before, but I wasn’t attracted to them because they weren’t confirming my beliefs about myself. My brain literally filtered them out. (Looking back, I can actually even identify some of them, which is so fascinating.)
Of course, I don’t know where my current connection will lead, but that’s really beside the point. As I often say when I’m coaching on dating, every relationship ends either when you break up, or one of you dies before that happens.
The bottom line point is that you can find a person and relationship that’s exactly what you thought you wanted, and it does not change anything about your brain.
It just brings a whole new level of shit to work through. There is no “end point” at which you get to stop managing your mind. Other than death. I think. Who knows, maybe we have to manage our minds after death too!
Which brings me to my final insight about relationships.
You may think you want to work on your relationships to find love or to connect with your family.
And that’s all true and possible with thought work.
But the real root of any relationship work you do is about yourself.
Unpacking patterns in your relationships, uncovering beliefs you’ve had for decades, and learning to allow those around you to have their own beliefs and desires and ways of being will serve you everywhere in your life.
You will take these skills into every single relationship you experience, because really? You are learning how to feel secure and safe with yourself.
I want you to think about the most challenging relationships in your life right now, and then I want you to consider how those may be presenting you with an opportunity to grow your relationship with yourself.
Will you take it?