Trigger warning: Child abuse, sexual assault, family and domestic violence
Growing up, I was not surrounded by healthy versions of love. I was sexually abused by a family member for years. My first depiction of love was family and domestic violence, punches being thrown in glass doors, incessant arguing after family dinners, and heads being smashed against the wall for changing university courses.
I never knew any different.
But worst of all was not what I witnessed but what I was told. What I was told was by one of the people I relied on to love and protect me – was a very distorted sense of reality.
Whilst I was barely a teenager, I was told:
“Be with someone who loves you more than you love them. That way you know that they will never leave you.”
The reason I define this as the worst piece of relationship advice I’ve ever received is because it is problematic for a multitude of reasons.
1. You should never start or maintain a relationship with someone simply because of how they feel towards YOU – if your instincts are telling you something is off, whether it be red flags or simply because you do not feel you are a good fit, don’t ignore them. Don’t let someone else’s insistence or pressure dictate whether you continue. You need to be able to trust your own judgement!
2. You can still love someone and choose to leave them. Love is not perfect, love is not all rainbows, love does not disappear all of a sudden when you realise you are better off apart. You can love someone but still love yourself enough to know that both of you have done all you could for the relationship. Furthermore, love alone is not enough to keep a relationship going – making time for someone, taking the time to really understand another person’s point of view, having the ability to set aside ego and apologise, really taking on board your partner’s concerns – that is what helps to nurture a relationship.
3. How can you assume that someone simply loves you more than you love them? Love is complex and different people with different upbringings, experiences, culture, religion, sex etc define love differently. You can FEEL unloved but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t loved. This is where it is important to really delve into whether the problematic behaviours in your relationship can be fixed. And if not, then of course, it’s time for you to let the relationship go so you can find your peace.
4. What about your own self-worth? Are we meant to just accept “good enough” because we’re worried we will never be able to find someone who loves us the way we really want to be loved? You need to love yourself enough to set the standards you want from a relationship. Being scared to be alone is understandable – but remaining in a relationship that doesn’t truly cater to your needs is not healthy for either of you.
Why do I feel so able to comment constructively on this advice given to me? Because I believe with 100% uncertainty that it kept me in a toxic situation for years on the unhealthy premise that I could never be treated any better.
The person who gave me this advice was my own flesh and blood. They would remind me often that their advice was true, that I could live my life by it. That person was utterly wrong.
Someone can tell you that they love you but it doesn’t mean that their version of love is enough for you. It doesn’t mean that it will be enough to empower you to be the best version of yourself. It does not mean that they can emotionally support you in the ways you need. It does not mean that your relationship will sustain the test of time.
I am in an incredibly healthy relationship now. My partner and I have almost identical definitions of love – one of our core values is that no matter how busy we are, we should always make time for each other. He knows that there is more to life than working and making money – that time with your family and friends is what matters most. He really, really listens to what I have to say. And he learns from our disagreements and always strives to be a better version of himself. And when I am triggered, he does everything in his power to understand and to help me see that I am not my trauma. He knows exactly when to make me laugh (well, most of the time. hahaha) and knows when I need a cuddle or a touch on the arm to help ground me. And most of what he does to help me and to show me love, are natural ways for him to behave. He is 100% himself around me and I am 100% myself. We not only love each other immensely, but our relationship flows.
I am writing this on a laptop that he gave to me. I am sitting on a blanket he gave me because he noticed my previous one was way too thin and it was a cooler month back then! Next to me, I have photos upon photos in frames of him smiling next to me – his words the other week were, “I’m normally not very photogenic but I like how happy I look in these photos with you!”. I have a CD case of a personalised song he had written for me for my Christmas present. I have a necklace he gave me as an inside joke when we first got together.
And whilst all those reminders are healthy indications that he loves me and cares for me – the greatest love of all he has shown me has nothing to do with anything physical.
It is free choice.
It is and was my ability to choose.
Even when we were just friends and I had an inkling he might want something more, he never pushed the idea. Even when I was available, he never forced me to be with him – he gave me time. In fact, he strongly suggested I do what I feel is right and would make me happy.
He told me that no matter what I chose, he would support me.
To me, that is love. Love is not conditional. It is not conditional on whether someone does what you want, agrees with you, or agrees to be with you.
You love someone because of who they are, their values, how they make you feel, the person they encourage you to be.
So, true love isn’t about being with someone who you believe won’t leave. It’s being confident in the love you have, nurturing that love every day, and trusting that no matter what challenges come your way, you will face those challenges together.
After 30 years of trauma throughout different periods of my life, I feel happy that I finally have the healthy love I have always wanted.
I am ecstatic that I stopped listening to that person’s horrible relationship advice. That I finally started listening to what I felt was right for me.