After traveling almost 3 weeks abroad with my significant other, I am reflecting on our experience and how traveling can teach us so many things about how we interact with one another. It’s like a pressure cooker for a relationship! I’ll be sharing my thoughts and lessons learned (and re-learned) through a mini series of blogs that are applicable to all couples, whether traveling or at home.
Week 1 - Combating Relationship Imbalance with Intention
We hear about balance a lot, mostly in regards to individual work-life balance. We’re encouraged to find this supposedly magical place where everything feels blissful and less stressful and things are at peace. As much as I wish I could provide the perfect equation for balance, I don’t know that it exists. So instead, I want to shift the focus on how we can be intentional with our time to combat imbalance, specifically within a relationship.
Balancing the “Me” and the “We”
There were many times on our trip that what I wanted to do completely differed from my significant other’s desired. While I was happy to compromise, there is value in noting the impact of doing things that aren’t your first choice. Activities that energize my significant other, may drain me and vice versa. For example, my significant other loves to entertain and capture a crowd, while I prefer more relaxed and introspective opportunities. After a couple of nights of him entertaining, I felt irritable, tired, and as though we were on different teams.
My “me” and my “we” were way out of balance.
I hadn’t asked for time alone to recharge my batteries and take care of myself. I was pouring from an empty cup.
Balancing the “We” and the “World”
During the first part of our trip overseas, my significant other and I stayed with family friends and spent all of our time with them. They were absolutely fantastic hosts, and we had the greatest time. After leaving them and traveling to our next destination, we found ourselves feeling distant, exhausted, and disconnected. We were irritable with one another and less patient than normal.
Our “we” and our “world” were way out of balance.
We had spent so much great quality time with other people we hadn’t realized that we didn’t have any alone time with just the two of us. We didn’t prioritize time to reconnect as a couple and realign ourselves without the noise of the world interfering.
Rather than focusing on creating the perfect balance, let’s shift our attention on how to fight imbalance when it happens (because it will!). In both of the above scenarios, guilt and shame got in my way of asking for what I needed. I told myself that asking for alone time from my significant other was selfish and that asking for alone time from our hosts was rude and inappropriate. In reality, these thoughts were untrue and unhelpful! So what do we do when we’re in that state?
Elise Grigg, LPC
Throughout our days and busy lives, connecting with our significant others can become much more difficult than we ever expected. By the time we have the ability to sit down and take a minute to relax, we’re typically exhausted and in need of time to decompress before even being emotionally available for our partner. So how do we even begin building connection into our hectic, over-stimulating lives?
The answer is in tiny moments called rituals of connection.
Rituals of connection become habits and therefore more reliable moments of connection throughout the day. These can include how you greet and say goodbye to one another, how you eat meals together, how you wind down for the evening, how you fill each other in on your days, how you connect while at work, how you initiate sex, etc. The beauty with these rituals is that they are completely yours to create and customize for what works best for the two of you. While it initially may feel silly to focus on these small moments throughout the day, the small moments are the foundation to building a strong and lasting connection in your relationship.
I encourage you and your significant other to sit down and have a conversation about which rituals are important to each of you and how you’d like to implement them in your lives.
Use these questions to help guide the conversation between you and your partner.
Here are some ideas of rituals to get you started!
“Do not look for healing
The term “narcissist" is being thrown around a lot these days. But what does it actually mean? The standard Oxford definition is “a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.” In a clinical context, narcissistic personality disorder or NPD is a rare mental condition marked by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, grandiosity, lack of empathy, and a pathological need for attention. This type of narcissism goes beyond a general self-centeredness and presents as a total disregard for others, or as disingenuous interactions and attainment to others only if it is perceived as relevant to the narcissist.
I like to think of narcissism on a spectrum; we all have narcissistic qualities, it is when those tendencies impair our work, relationships, finances, and general functioning that there is cause for concern—namely, for the victims of the narcissist. Narcissists tend to leave a path of destruction, but are unaware that they have a problem, so they usually do not seek treatment. In a sense, narcissists are addicts; they are addicted to their supply (family members, romantic partners), to provide them with validation and emotional self-regulation as they are unable to regulate themselves. It is usually easier for the narcissist to blame and rage at those closest to them than to admit to or address underlying feelings of inadequacy, imperfection, and insecurity.
Narcissistic abuse is one of the most insidious forms of domestic violence, as abusers are typically charming, attractive, and able to morph into whatever personality is needed for them to get what they want. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it is likely near impossible to describe to others what you are experiencing: the crazy-making, the gaslighting, the emotional and psychological manipulation, the questioning of reality, and sometimes even physical abuse.
The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse is very similar to the standard Cycle of Abuse in most domestic violence situations, with a tension-building phase, an abusive incident, a honeymoon phase, and intermittent periods of calm. There are, however, some distinctions:
Signs You are in a Relationship with a Narcissist
Narcissists often do not see lying or manipulation as damaging behaviors. They may even convince themselves that they are doing what’s best for all involved—the grandiosity of playing God clouds the fact that being dishonest does not allow for others to make decisions that will align with their own rights to autonomy, wellbeing, and sheer sanity. The lack of empathy particular to narcissists makes it very easy for them to continue living their lives with little regard for your discomfort. You will likely notice a general sense of uneasiness as the reality of the relationship makes itself known.
Some signs that you are in a relationship with a narcissist are:
Take an inventory of your experiences and any other feelings of discomfort and begin to write them down. Document what was said during arguments so that you can no longer ignore the issues at hand the next morning if the narcissist enters the honeymooning stage. Tell a trusted friend, therapist, or any other safe person the truth of what is happening when you feel safe enough to do so. Do not ignore your intuition.
Poet Rupi Kaur said, “Do not look for healing at the feet of those who broke you.” The only way to regain your sense of self is to disconnect from the narcissist. You cannot heal in an unsafe environment. Sometimes finding yourself in an abusive relationship is like to entering a room with a bad smell. At first you notice the smell and may even call it out or try to rectify it. Over time you get used to it. After months or years, you may not recognize yourself anymore. Only when you get out of the room, can you start to look back and truly see how trapped and miserable that environment was making you. Some victims of narcissistic abuse find themselves in 20-year-long relationships, remembering the good old days of the first few months of the relationship, waiting for that person to come back! They remember a person they think existed, but who is now showing up as a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Healing starts by removing the threat. You must remove yourself from the physical presence of the narcissist and go no-contact or minimal contact if absolutely necessary (if kids are involved, for example).
In the case of minimal contact, it’s important to manage your expectations. Know that this person may try to hoover you back in to the relationship, and if they can’t, they will likely never exhibit basic levels of empathy, cooperation, and understanding in your interactions, so avoid trying to fix them or fight back. The “Gray Rock” method works well here. Literally envision yourself as a boring, reactionless, gray rock that is unperturbable. Set clear boundaries around your interactions with the narcissist—for example, what are appropriate topics to communicate with each other about (like picking up and dropping off kids), how long your interactions will be, and how you will deal with emotional upheaval caused by these interactions.
A recovery technique called “bookending” may also help here. In the case of a particularly difficult separation, for example, when a court appearance is required, meeting with your support system (friends, family, therapist, etc.) before and after the court appearance can help protect you from the confusing, draining, and frustrating effects of dealing with a narcissist. These should be safe, trusted people who can help you get grounded back into reality and remind you of the pain you endured so that you do not fall for the tricks of the narcissist.
Signs of Healing
Recovery and healing look different for everyone. It may take several weeks of no-contact for you to start to feel relief. The level of communication with the narcissist and your ability to hold boundaries will impact your ability to move on with your life. Further, it’s important to look for other narcissists in your life, as there is/was likely one around before you met your narcissistic partner. Similar boundaries may apply to them. However, you will know you are healing when you start to feel safer and more at ease. Here are some signs that you may be healing from narcissistic abuse:
A Take Home Message
Being in a relationship with a narcissist essentially keeps your sympathetic nervous system activated. You may feel like you are constantly in “flight, flight, or freeze” mode. When you create some distance from the narcissist, you allow your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in to generate a calmer, “rest and digest” response. Many gastrointestinal issues resolve once the body feels like it is safe.
Whatever you do, try not to fall into the trap of attempting to changing narcissists or hoping they will get better. That is not your job. Instead, commit to and accept reality.
As Maya Angelou says, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”