How to Start a Relationship Safely
Five “Protectors” to Prevent Loss of Self
After years of consistently hearing about the misery, and the sad after effects of bad relationships, Joann and I decided that it was critical to write a guide to help people prevent the pain of these easy to avoid situations.
When you read this Relationship Guide you will be prepared to experience a safe and healthy relationship…and never lose “YOU” in the process. You’ll be able to enjoy that special someone to the fullest! Read on…
Amber couldn’t believe how she felt about this man! He was nothing like her previous relationships. When she was in the same room as Jason there was chemistry. Her friends could feel it too…and were jealous.
And it wasn’t all just passion. They had a lot in common too. From spiritual compatibility to intellectual pursuits; music and food, finances and sports – they were so compatible. Well…except for he wanted to have a baby within a year and she didn’t want kids. He didn’t like going out with her friends and she was more into the group party. You know…“little things.”
It wasn’t long before Jason was answering her phone when he was with her. He wanted her to call him every night and at least twice a day, “…or he was hurt because she didn’t care.” She needed to tell him where she was at all times or he would be so jealous! “How loving…” But her friends didn’t think so.
In fact, Amber’s friends were getting to the point where they were begging her to break up with him. They could see the signs. The clues were screaming the truth, “This guy’s not safe!” They constantly told Amber that she was losing her very identity in this relationship. SHE was the one giving her all and HE was the one demanding it.
But Amber? Well, she began to wonder about the relationship when they were out dancing. Jason grabbed her cell phone out of her hand when she went to answer it. He shouted at Amber’s friend who called and told her she shouldn’t be bothering Amber. “She is on a date with me! She cannot be disturbed!” then hung up on Amber’s friend.
To our knowledge, Amber is still in this relationship. She talked to us about it, wondered if it was a good relationship, wondered if Jason was the right one. And even though Amber finally got to the point of understanding that she was in an unsafe relationship, for reasons only known to her subconscious, she rationalized staying with him – sort of. She actually broke up with him about 6 times, “…but Jason would have none of that!”
So Amber continues, in love and in confusion, in passion and in fear, in feeling like she is finally being taken care of and in feelings that she is being “somewhat” controlled. All the rest of us? We can see it clearly. Amber has lost her “self”!
Have you ever been trapped in a lopsided relationship? You know, one where you seem to be giving more, wanting more or compensating more – just to make the relationship work. This kind of relationship is inconvenient to say the least, often unfulfilling and sometimes it is not even safe. It’s not “safe” because you tend to lose too much of “you,” of your “self” to make the relationship work.
Any time there is a danger of losing “you” (your “self” or even your life) the situation is unsafe. It’s unsafe to drive a car with bald tires. It’s unsafe to dive into shallow water. It’s unsafe to eat mayonnaise that’s been left out too long. And it’s unsafe for you to be in a relationship that consumes you. Just like the danger of losing your “life” in the first three illustrations, you can lose “YOU” in the last one. That’s unsafe!
“Safe” from our perspective is a relationship of mutual responsibility, mutual giving, and mutual understanding. A “safe” relationship is one where neither person is violated, each person is free to be completely themselves, and neither person loses any of “self” to maintain the relationship.
Unsafe relationships tend to have one person or the other compensating and losing a bit of self in order to make the other person “ok.” An unsafe relationship endangers a person’s identity, drains too much energy and creates blind spots – denial about certain aspects of the other person or the relationship that, if addressed, would change the relationship, maybe even to the point of dismantling it. Unsafe relationships are where you lose “you.” Safe relationships protect and preserve “you.”
We’re not talking about occasional sacrificing of self for some act of love like burning the candle at both ends to take care of a sick loved one, or where you help the other person get through a job crises or educational pursuit. Certainly, in good relationships there are times when you give, serve and sacrifice. But both of you give, serve and sacrifice. There is a balance. One person doesn’t substantially give more than the other.
We believe in being other’s-centered and selfless in the act of giving to one another. Other’s-centered giving is a part of a safe relationship. But in an unsafe relationship, it’s typically only one person who is giving. The other person is selfish or self-centered. So we’re talking about protecting from the loss of self not the acts of selflessness.
Often an unhealthy or unsafe relationship is obvious to others looking at the interaction. But the people in the relationship can’t see it. They have been numbed by inertia or blinded by feelings of obligation, or fear. Sometimes there is an important need being met for one of the persons. In Amber’s case, it was her need for a strong partner who would take care of her that was being met. So she, like so many others, put up with a bunch of “@#$%&” so her need could be met.
So often, people seem to look through rose colored glasses at their relationship, putting up with so much – too much – to get some core need met. We’ve seen it so many times, helped so many couples find the truth about their relationship. Then, they can either “fix” the relationship or find freedom from it if there is no hope.
Not all “lopsided relationships” are doomed. Though this guide is designed to protect you from a bad relationship, there is hope if both people in a relationship realize there is a problem. If both persons acknowledge the problems, that relationship has the possibility of improvement.
We have always found this to be true: In a troubled relationship, if there are three core ingredients in place, the relationship has a chance – but both persons in the relationship have to possess these three ingredients:
- Awareness of the issues or problems
- Willingness to change
- Capacity to change and grow
And the only way you can know if these three ingredients exist is to talk to your partner, alone or in the presence of a counselor, to assess the presence of these three important, critical ingredients that can give your relationship hope. But be careful. One of the characteristics of unsafe relationships is the presence of blind spots. Give a lot of weight to the input of others. Use the eyes and ears of those around you – your counselor, your family and your friends. This will give you a more realistic perspective.
A friend of ours had tons of blind spots in his relationship. “Tom” just couldn’t see what was wrong. Everyone around him saw how unsafe his relationship was, but he didn’t. He didn’t have a clue. He was completely oblivious to his girl friend’s controlling tactics. You see, inertia happened. Gradually, so very gradually, the relationship devolved into dysfunction. Finally, when Tom “got it” and we were able to talk about his relationship, he realized that each of the five protectors below had not been in place when the relationship started. It’s no wonder there were problems.
How do relationships get like this? The problem usually starts when the relationship starts. Then “inertia” is seen as the “relationship.” In other words, you keep spending time with that other person out of choice or because life sort of throws you together, or because the other person continues to pursue you. Time together starts building habits or how you relate to each other. Then those habits or how this relationship functions takes on a life of its own and, before you know it, you find yourself in one of these lopsided relationships.
To say it differently, no one chooses to be in an unsafe relationship. An unsafe relationship, a lopsided relationship, sneaks up on you. It doesn’t come knocking on your door, introducing itself then you invite it in. No. A lopsided relationship sneaks in an unlocked window late at night when you’re not awake. You have been lulled into sleep by a “drugged” relationship – disguised as something better than it is. But when you finally wake up, you find a relationship living with you that you didn’t choose and you don’t want.
One woman we know about had a honeymoon life until 1 year and 4 months into her relationship. She’ll always remember the day her boy friend, “out of the blue,” called her some disgusting names and threw his plate of food against the wall leaving her shaking in disbelief and fear. How could this be happening? What did she miss? Either her boy friend was really good at acting out the “perfect mate role” or she missed, or didn’t pay attention to, the warning signs that indicated she might be in an unsafe relationship. Whatever happened, she found herself stuck in a fearful, unsafe relationship for many more years until she had the courage to take her “self” back and get on with life.
How do you prevent this from happening? One way is to employ the five protectors listed below. Make sure you consider each one at the beginning of the relationship. Address each protector in the order listed. One builds on the previous one, like sequential steps. This will help you build a safe relationship and keep you protected from losing “you.” Then after you’ve built a safe relationship, you can use each of these protectors as “check-up” points to ensure your relationship stays safe and healthy. The minute it isn’t safe, you’ll know.
There are many methods for building better relationships and fixing troubled ones. This guide is designed to help you before problems escalate to become that problematic. And the first sign of trouble is when you start losing self.
Each of these protectors is designed to give you a dynamic or behavior to watch for. The protector will help you spot a problem so you can address it. If it can be changed, the relationship is saved. If it can’t change, you can get out – something easier to do before the relationship gets too established. That’s how the protector protects.
However, if you spot something and don’t try to change it or stay in the relationship after you’ve tried and failed to change it, you’re on unstable ground that’s truly unsafe. The real “YOU” may be lying dormant as you complain about your situation to your friends. But that’s like staying on a sinking ship complaining about the lower part of your body getting wet and cold. You know the outcome of that scenario – “you” drown.
Use these protectors to keep you safe – and alive! Safe relationships are fun! They are fulfilling and they give you a source of happiness you can’t find anywhere else.
Five Protectors to Prevent Loss of Self
1. TRUTH: Ask what is truth?
At the beginning of a relationship it is important to have some time alone, apart from the other person to ask yourself, “What is the truth about this relationship?” When you are with that other person you can have so many distractions: fun, romance, sensual stimulation, attractions, compliments from others about the person you are with (“YOU, get to date HER? WOW!”), and myriad of other influencers. Then there’s the excitement of a new relationship. All of this can be wonderful, meaningful and appropriate. But it can also serve to hide the truth.
The stimuli that occur at the beginning of a relationship can be so engaging that you can’t or won’t see a truth that is negative. At this stage some signs of an unsafe relationship include:
- Living on the surface
- Never talking about the deeper issues of life
- Obvious incompatibility
- Trust issues
- Differing ethics, values or belief systems
- An attitude of selfishness
- Only focused on the temporary with a seeming unwillingness to look at anything other than the moment
- You find yourself excusing or rationalizing bad behavior or attitudes to get some need fulfilled
- And there may be an intuitive “gut” feeling that something’s not right
These dynamics can be subtle but at some point, in a moment of fatigue or honesty, you’ll hear the questioning voice within, “what am I doing?” You may hear your friends make comments that cause you to question. Or you may ask them for input and find some honesty there.
At this point in a relationship be as honest as you can with yourself. Be as objective as you can – or, at least, listen to the outside objectivity of your friends. The occasional jealous person’s input can be disregarded. What you don’t want to ignore are consistent themes.
You are protected if you always look for, listen to and acknowledge truth – then make a conscious choice about what you find. You are unprotected if you live in denial, ignore-ance or an unwillingness to see the truth.
2. INVESTMENT: Make sure there is mutual investment.
As a relationship progresses there is going to be a need for investment of time, and energy. There will probably be investments of money like long distance phone bills, lunches, dinners, and gifts. Emotional investment is going to be there too. A lopsided relationship has one person giving more time and energy. You may find that you’re the one who always has to make the longer drive and the one to plan for dates or outings. A lopsided relationship has one person paying an unequal share of the financial needs – always being the one to call long distance, pay for dinner, buy the gifts; maybe even loan money for the new “crisis.”
If one person is always needy, always having the trauma or drama that requires the other person to be supportive, that may be an indication of emotional lopsidedness. It’s always about the other person. One sign of this dynamic is when you don’t feel like you can tell the other person if you are down or have an emotional need for fear you might upset them. “After all,” you reason, “he (or she) has so much to deal with already!”
Inequality of investment can feel so noble. You are always there for the other person. In fact, if it weren’t for you, that person couldn’t function as well. How could you dare leave this person or burden them with your needs – all of which is part of the definitions for enabling or co-dependency. And the worst part of it is you lose your “self” – you may even stop taking care of yourself like you need to for personal health.
You are protected if you watch for, ask for, and maintain mutual investment. When you start to lose “you” by having to give far more than your share of time, energy, money, or understanding – you are in an unsafe relationship.
3. CLARITY: Maintain clarity and objectivity – never “oh well” anything.
Sometimes it can take time for an unsafe relationship to reveal itself. You may have used the first protector and you completely understand the truth about the relationship and have made conscious choices. The second protector is functioning well too and you are making mutual investment(s) in the relationship. Protectors 1 & 2 didn’t pick up anything negative. But if you rely on just the dynamics of the first two protectors, you can get a bit lazy or blinded to “new” issues that come up.
You may experience this: After time goes by, you may see subtle changes beginning. You may find out something about the other person you didn’t know before that is an obvious difference in actions, ethics, value or belief. The person’s words (current or previous words) aren’t matching up with actions. You may find out something that troubles you or makes you uncomfortable. You may find out something that tests or threatens your trust in the other person.
And now that time has gone by and you begin to think about the beginning of the relationship, you may realize that it was too good. The other person may have been so forthcoming with “truth” that you saw them as completely open and vulnerable. (Protector #1…check!). the person may have been so “you-centered” in the investment mentioned in the second protector that you were showered with time, energy, money, and the willingness to connect and listen to you. (Protector #2…check!).
But now, for a variety of reasons, you are giving much more than your share. The “you” side of the relationship seems to be diminishing more and more as time goes by. Things are changing.
The first protector helped you build a foundation of truth. The second protector established equality. This third protector is about “maintenance” and keeping you clear and honest about the current reality of your relationship. The third protector says to hit new revelations head on. Talk about the differences you notice. Talk about the new discoveries or the inequalities of investments. You may find that they are temporary or explainable. You may find that they were blind spots in the other individual and he or she is happy you brought it up.
Or you may find anger, defensiveness or retaliation begin as you discuss the “new” realities. The person may even start criticizing or blaming you. He or she may continue the downward trend and not be willing to change back to acknowledging the “truth” or supporting equal investment. These are signs of an unsafe relationship. You now have to give/lose more of your “self” to maintain the relationship.
The worse attitude you can take at this point is to say, “Oh well,” and let it go. Some people get so comfortable in a relationship that when this protector is needed they don’t take advantage of it. Instead, they simply let inertia take over with an “oh well” attitude and actually perpetuate the problem. They may even excuse their actions by saying they are “only focusing on the good in the relationship, and not the bad” – which can be a form of chosen denial.
If you do this and allow the other person to continue to practice the dysfunction it will leave you with nothing to do except complain about it to your friends and family and have an attitude of “oh well… I guess I have to just put up with this.”
The third protector protects you if you simply acknowledge and address any new issue that comes up that is substantially different, uncomfortable or difficult. To allow a new revelation to continue and get ingrained in the relationship is unsafe. If you see something, talk about it – completely – to closure: if you don’t you’ll start to build an unsafe relationship with dysfunction and heavy with baggage.
4. RESPONSIBILITY: Maintain mutual responsibility, and initiative.
This is a subtle protector. It speaks to the sense of ownership and responsibility in the relationship and anything that belongs to the relationship. If one person consistently gets all the glory and/or all the blame, for what happens in the relationship, that’s a signal of an unsafe relationship. Here is the reason.
It’s highly unlikely that one person in a relationship can have so much power that he or she is the instigator of all success or is the one to blame for all of the problems that come up. If it were actually true that one person caused all of the successes or one person (even the same person) caused all of the mistakes; that kind of consistency suggests a deeper problem in one or both persons in that relationship and it’s going to take a counselor to figure that one out.
If you find that you’re the one looked to for all successes in your relationship or blamed for everything that goes wrong, well…that’s just unfair and simply untrue. And what’s worse is if you accept all the blame or all of the responsibility for all of the success in the relationship. If you do, you’ve bought into that “lie.”
In any case, if there is one person who feels responsible for the relationship, who is the one expected to take the initiative for all aspects of the relationship; if success or blame is clearly lopsided – that’s an unsafe relationship. You have lost “YOU.”
A healthy, safe relationship has both parties mutually accepting each other, mutually taking initiative in the areas of responsibility such as bills, social events, relationship needs, holidays, etc. and mutually taking responsibility for the successes and mistakes. In a safe relationship you can feel mutually able to share praise. You can feel free to talk openly to the other person about some negative dynamic – and you don’t feel like you are going to the principal’s office. You both know that issues are just that – issues – that need conversation to closure.
Watch for any lopsidedness in blame or glory. Don’t take all of the responsibility or “ownership” of the relationship on your shoulders – or put it on the other person’s. Protector number four protects you from losing self that comes from taking too much initiative, responsibility or blame. Mutual responsibility and initiative is a part of a safe relationship.
5. TRUST: Have faith and trust and give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
If all of the other protectors are in place it is important to have faith and trust in the other person. As Scripture says, “Love always protects, always trusts, always preservers, love never fails.” And, of course, we’re not necessarily talking about romantic love. We’re talking about the “love” and care one has for another person in a relationship – commensurate with the type of relationship. The “love” for a fellow worker will undoubtedly be different than the “love” for a spouse or significant other.
An unsafe relationship has a person taking one incident – something that disappoints, disturbs or frightens – and makes that a defining moment. In an unsafe relationship, a person allows a moment to characterize you. You’re late to one date and you are “not who you say you are!” You don’t call on one evening, and “you can’t be trusted to ever follow through with anything!”
No matter what the other person knows about you, no matter how much history he or she has had with you the current situation defines you. That is certainly a loss of self. No one moment reveals a complete composite of truth about a person.
In those potentially “defining” moments, it is important to think positive, give the benefit of the doubt and talk to the other person. Find out the perspective, purpose and context of the issue. Find out what really happened and why it happened. Then you can make a decision. Being reactive or over reacting can cause a wound in the relationship that is not soon healed. It creates baggage that becomes heavy to carry.
If you are treated with a negative value judgment about your person because of your “out-of-character” behavior, it is unsafe. Of course, consistent negative behavior must be considered. This protector is dealing with episodes not consistency. If you are judged because of an out-of-the ordinary mis-deed, that’s unsafe. The other person is not looking at or accepting “YOU” – instead, it’s your behavior that is being judged or considered. “YOU” are lost in your partner’s reaction about your action.
You and your partner are protected when you have faith and trust, when you have love and can accept “what is” and make choices about it. In a safe relationship, you define the moment. In an unsafe relationship, the moment defines you.
Putting It All Together
Each one of the five protectors is really about not being in a lopsided relationship where you lose “YOU” – that’s unsafe. If you lose a bit of “YOU” so as to compensate for the other person in any way – that’s unsafe. The five protectors help maintain a sense of equality where you never lose “YOU” at any time in any relationship.
In reality, you can only be in a healthy relationship if you truly bring all of “YOU” to it and the other person does the same. Any situation where either person gets lost is not a fulfilling relationship – and it’s simply unsafe!
Let’s summarize the five protectors and their core message…
Five Protectors to Prevent Loss of “YOU”
- TRUTH: Ask what is truth? You never lose “YOU” and your integrity by ignoring or denying the truth, including all positive and negative issues in your relationship…
- INVESTMENT: Make sure there is mutual investment. You never lose “YOU” by making an extensive investment in the relationship while the other person goes along for the ride…
- CLARITY: Maintain clarity and objectivity – never “oh well” anything. You continue to acknowledge any “new” negative or uncomfortable discoveries and not rest on “inertia” or get lazy as the relationship continues…
- RESPONSIBILITY: Maintain mutual responsibility, and initiative. You make sure there is mutual responsibility for all aspects of the relationship never accepting all of the responsibility or all of the blame…
- TRUST: Have faith and trust and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. You base the relationship on the foundation of faith, trust and love not allowing yourself to be judged or defined by a moment…
You must have protection! Don’t have unprotected relationships! This Relationship Guide is a way to protect and build a relationship more safely: Go ahead, date with freedom. Enter into a relationship with confidence. You are protected. Keep your eyes wide open. Use the five protectors. Enjoy the precious beauty of a healthy relationship knowing you’ll never lose “YOU’ in the process.
“YOU” are worthy and deserving of a relationship that is filled with faith…and trust…and love – a relationship that is safe – a relationship that is FUN!