Can we talk about healing in intimate relationships?
There is more awareness around trauma, personal growth, mental health and healing lately. It is beautiful to see more people actively taking part in their journey to healing and mental wellness.
However, as this avalanche of knowledge and positive reinforcement of healing and mental wellness continues to sweep across many communities and generations, misconceptions around “how to heal effectively” have also begun to rise. One of these misconceptions is that you have to be single or even isolated in order to heal fully.
“Part of what we are learning from studies is that…people who are lonely and depressed and isolated are three to ten times more likely to get sick and die prematurely from all causes when compared to those who have a sense of love and connection.” Dean Ornish, The healing power of love and intimacy
You’ll hear this idea spread everywhere: within conversations and on social media: “don’t date if you’re still healing”, “don’t pursue a relationship until you’ve healed”, “if you get into a relationship without healing your trauma, you’ll bleed on your partner.”
This ideology is damaging firstly because it minimizes the other relationships that one enjoys with family, friends and colleagues. Because you are on a healing journey, will you then cut off contact with people in your life who simply want to love and support you? It is also damaging because studies have established the benefits of community in our mental health journeys and the downsides of isolation.
“Throw away the idea that you have to be fully healed to be in a loving relationship with a great partner. Often, we come together with many unresolved issues because healing simply takes time. The couples who shine with harmony are the ones who commit to healing/growing together.” Yung Pueblo @YungPueblo Twitter.
Why it is okay to heal while in an intimate relationship
Healing is a journey not a destination
Healing trauma is not like healing a flu; in which there’s medicine you take for a set period of time and “Viola! You’re healed!” It’s important to note that healing trauma isn’t linear. Sometimes when you think you have worked everything out with specific trauma, something happens that reminds us that there is still work to be done; more unlearning and growth to engage in. Because healing is a journey, waiting until you have completely unravel and untangle the knots of your past, will only mean that you depriving yourself the chance to find love, joy and intimacy in a healthy relationship.
Reminds us of our value.
When you find yourself in a healthy relationship with a partner who is willing to learn and grow with you despite your fears and trauma, you are forever reminded that you are a person of value. Healthy relationships are fertile ground upon which you’re able to grow much more than you would have if you were isolated.
There are parts of yourself that are harder to heal while you’re intentionally isolating yourself. For instance, relearning how to build trust after it was shattered in a past relationship is much harder to do while there’s no one to exercise that new trust on. Healthy intimate relationships hold a mirror up at our trauma we still endure and help us work on them.
Kato and Kirabo have been in a relationship. They have both come from difficult relationships in the past and had been actively creating space to heal while they were single. Kato’s ex used to cheat on him. When Kirabo takes too long to pick up Kato’s calls or reply to his messages, he feels uneasy. Kirabo’s ex was emotionally abusive. During disagreements, when Kato shuts down and goes quiet, Kirabo finds herself subconsciously waiting for him to say something abusive to her.
Even though they were both on their healing journeys, some things still bubble up to the surface: their fears. By being in a relationship, Kato and Kirabo can slowly start to build the awareness of fear and trauma that still needs work.
Creates safety and provides support
Healthy intimate relationships provide safety and support for anyone that’s working through their healing. An intimate partner can protect you from the external environment and from yourself. They can also help you create the systems, boundaries and environment that you need to thrive as you heal.
Gain more knowledge.
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
If we’re willing and open to learning, there’s so much that we can gain from our intimate partners. If setting boundaries was always hard for you but something that your partner has perfected, then you’re more likely to learn how to create your own boundaries.
There’s so much more that we can learn from our partners that nurtures our growth in the best and ever-evolving versions of ourselves.
Tips on how to heal while in an intimate relationship
Once you feel safe and ready to be vulnerable, tell your partner about your healing journey. If you're able to, share what your past experiences were like and how they felt so they can have a fuller understanding of what you went through and what you need. Let them know how they can support you.
Show up with an optimistic outlook
New relationships often get bogged down with the weight of the past. You were cheated on so you expect your new partner to be unfaithful too. You experienced abuse and so you expect some level of abuse in your new relationship. Your brain will spot what you concentrate on even when it's not there. You will conjure the worst aspects of your past relationships in your present ones out of the simplest, most well-meaning conversations or actions. This will harbour your healing process. Prove yourself wrong by opening up and being positive about the relationship and its future.
When you feel safe enough to be vulnerable with your new partner, open up. Communicate when you have been triggered. Have deeper conversations about the root of these triggers. This will allow your partner to learn more about your life and past, and create deeper connections. Ask for what you need when you need it: whether it's space, a hug, or endearing words to reassure you
Stay the course.
Stay in therapy if you've been seeing a professional. Stay on your healing journey. Your healing remains important no matter how beautiful and healthy your relationship is.
You know what your triggers and fears are. Set boundaries around them until you feel ready to face them without being shaken up. Let your partner know what you’d like your relationship to look like.
It’s okay to keep parts of yourself or your past private until you feel the need to share.
Even while in a relationship, there will be times when you need time alone to think, meditate, pray, journal or practice whatever wellness activity you have developed. Create that space whether it’s a physical space or within your schedule to remain in tune with yourself.
We carry more than our love into relationships whether we know it or not.
Love is a beautiful thing. Because we carry our fears and apprehensions, our hopes and dreams, our childhood experiences, the highs and lows of our past intimate relationships, and our trauma, things can get muddled. But this shouldn’t mean that we have to give up on love and intimacy. We can love and be loved despite our trauma and past experiences.