I’m not for long distance relationships. Well, only if it’s a temporary situation while one of you moves to close the distance. Missing someone constantly when all you want is to be close to them just stinks. Some people build distance into their relationships, be it physical or emotional. Don’t get too close and you can’t get hurt, right? If you’re not the one who prefers the arrangement, take it from me: it can make you VERY unhappy. I looked into my past to try to understand if long distance relationships are something I’ve done frequently. They are not.
I may not have had lots of long distance relationships but I definitely have a pattern. I have a history of pursuing or being involved with unavailable men. And it wasn’t until I read about the issues of pastor Dr. Charles Stanley that I had my own aha moment. I admitted to myself that I have father issues. My Dad left the house when my parents separated in the early eighties. I was 9 – 10 when they divorced. We saw him once a week or spent the occasional weekend but the honest truth is he wasn’t an emotionally connected man. I loved my Dad like crazy and I don’t doubt he loved me but he could be aloof. I don’t think he knew what to do with emotion. Not that it can’t be learned but It wasn’t how he was raised. I’m not the only one who has struggled with this.
Fast forward to high school. My friends were dating and had boyfriends but I had never dated. I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 19. That sounded like, “Dear Diary…I kissed a boy today.” I can laugh now but I had no clue as to how my relationship with my father would affect my relationships with men. I would look for comfort, acceptance and love from men who were incapable of giving it. I would keep doing the same thing, having the same relationship with the same man with only slight differences and expect it to turn out differently. Only, it never did. I was stuck for years because I was totally unaware of how needy I was. I didn’t think I was enough for someone. That I somehow needed to be more… smarter, thinner, better-looking, richer, more creative, more romantic, etc.
My take on patterns? It is impossible to break them if you don’t know they exist. You have to get really honest with yourself and answer questions you may not want to answer. Did I want to admit that my Dad was not super affectionate or that I always felt like I was silently jumping up and down saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” every time I brought home a stellar report card or an award for art or music? Hecks no. I know he was proud of me even though he couldn’t express it but I still wanted to hear him say it. I needed that approval. And it is only now, in my forties that I realize my Dad never learned to use his words! He knew when he was angry or happy or annoyed but recognizing complex emotions was not his strong suit. He did the best he could but my Mom was the one who normally voiced encouragement. She’s still that way and it’s been a tremendous blessing to me. Again, I don’t fault my father for not being able to show me love in a way that I expected but it sure jacked up my outlook on relationships.
But yes, I believe you can break free once you identify the problems although some long-term habits and beliefs take hold in our lives and aren’t so easy to eradicate. I have friends, both male and female, who encounter the same issues over and over but refuse to look at their childhood, upbringing and familial relationships when they find themselves repeating certain patterns. They’re sometimes aware of the pattern but aren’t willing to fully acknowledge the (negative) role a parent, sibling or relative played in the formation of their beliefs. Maybe you had a sibling that tortured you relentlessly and though you may be cool as adults, you secretly resent that they were mean to you. You harbor that resentment or think you must have been inherently “bad” to be hassled without provocation. Years later, as an adult, that pain manifests itself with you over-accommodating and over-compensating with everyone in your life so that no one is mean to you. You try to do as much good so that you won’t have problems (hint: you can’t avoid struggles) but eventually become so stressed from doing so much that you become bitter and resentful because no one seems to appreciate what you do for them and you just give up. While total apathy isn’t an ideal scenario, it could deliver you to the precise moment you realize you have to take care of yourself first. YOU are number one and you can’t help anyone else if you aren’t taking care of you. It could result in a breakthrough and the beginning of the end of a destructive pattern.
You’ve heard the, “if you always do what you’ve always done…” statement, right? Well, going back to unavailable, I can tell you that I dated men who were physically unavailable, emotional unavailable and on one occasion, BOTH. If you think this is happening to you, run for the hills! All I know is they were never fully present in our relationship. It’s how they protected themselves. They weren’t ready to admit that they had a pattern they knew would repeat itself and leave you heartbroken, that something about them appeared to be “broken.” Um, we’re all broken in some way. We’re human. It’s one thing when one partner is struggling with their patterns but when both partners have issues – everything from father/mother issues to poor examples of love to follow – ends up with hurt people hurting people. I believe there are times when trials come to reveal our patterns so we can address them. God puts us in relationships with people who reflect us or show us something that we are or don’t want to be so we can dig deep and see if we need correction. I’ve learned that this is usually something we are unable to correct for ourselves and we have to rely on Him to do it.
I didn’t ask for a father who had difficulty showing his love for his children but again, I accept that he did what he could within his emotional capabilities. Yes, capabilities. Emotional expression is a skill. It’s not something we are born with. I won’t blame him for my failed relationships because they showed me my patterns. Now that I know I have Daddy issues, I can work on learning to trust others. As I’ve said before, you have to fix the emotional issues you have in your life if you want to have a close relationship with God. If you don’t trust people, how can you trust God? I’ve vowed to do my best to explore and repair destructive behaviors that stem from trust and abandonment issues but it’s not easy or quick. I am willing to do the work by understanding my flaws and being courageous and adventurous despite my past disappointments.
What patterns or beliefs do you need to break free from?