“To attempt to love someone who cannot benefit from your love with spiritual growth is to waste your energy, to cast your seed on arid ground.” —M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Traveled.
On the sometimes-painful road to self-compassion, there are many lessons to be learned along the way. Some of the most valuable often come in the form of relationships.
If you struggle with self-worth, remaining in a romantic relationship in which you are not valued will only exacerbate the problem. While you cannot control another’s behavior, you can control your reaction and your choices. This includes the choice to stay in a relationship that no longer serves you or to walk away. As difficult and as painful as it may be, sometimes walking away may be the greatest gift of self-compassion you can offer yourself.
Be your own best friend.
Imagine that someone close to you, either a good friend or family member, is describing the details of your relationship as if it were their own. As you listen, what is your gut reaction? Do you suddenly become fiercely protective of them? Are you outraged at the way they are being treated? These are important clues. It’s hard to be objective when strong emotions are involved, especially when it comes to love. Be your own best friend. Listen to your intuition. It is often right.
Remember that you can’t love potential.
The blinders of love and lust are powerful detractors, and delusion can be seductive. For example, if your partner is non-committal, it can be tempting to believe that you will be the one to change them. To make them see the error of their ways. That once they discover how special you are, they’ll have a come-to-Jesus moment and finally see the light, and the two of you will live happily ever after and ride off into the sunset.
Unfortunately, life is not a rom-com. The truth is that if someone doesn’t love themselves, they may simply not be capable of loving you back — as wonderful and amazing as you are, and as much as they may want to.
Let’s assume your partner never changes. Can you live with that? Can you love and accept them exactly the way they are today? Those are the questions to ask yourself. You can’t love — or marry — potential.
More questions to ask yourself about your partner:
- Do they appreciate you?
- Do they respect you?
- Do they make you a priority?
- Do they express curiosity about you and about your life?
- When you are sad or in pain, do they empathize?
- Do they let you know you are important?
- Do their actions align with their words?
- Does the positive outweigh the negative?
- Finally, supposing nothing were to change, could you live with the status quo?
Getting honest with yourself about these and other important questions is essential. If you express your needs and still nothing changes, you may want to consider the costs of staying — the cost to your emotional and psychological well-being, the cost to your sense of self, and the cost to your future. Perfect relationships do not exist. However, trust, respect, and a sense of physical and emotional safety are the basic fundamentals of a healthy partnership and should be non-negotiable.
When you begin to truly love and value yourself, you will no longer be capable of tolerating sub-par treatment from another human being. Consider this metaphor: Over time you’ve developed an allergy to a once-favorite food. For a while, that food gave you joy, but now you realize that while you still may crave it from time to time, all of the undesirable consequences now outweigh the transitory moments of pleasure. With a new appreciation of your body and your health, you’ll begin to choose foods that nourish and sustain, rather than those that deplete.
The same goes for relationships. Once you have internalized your inherent worth, you will no longer tolerate behaviors you may have once considered acceptable. You will know what a healthy relationship looks and feels like, and you will begin to attract people into your life whose values align more with your own. When you’ve learned true self-compassion, you will settle for nothing less.