April 17, 2023

The Binds that can Destroy Us: How to Unshackle Ourselves from Unhealthy Relationships.

Joan Armatrading had a very poignant line in her hit 1981 song “The Weakness in Me.”

She was referring to being in love with two people; however, there is so much more to these words than she would have realised at the time. “This old love has me bound, but the new love cuts deep.”

I’ve pondered these words many times, relating them to my own life and relationships but also to the many conversations I’ve had with people over the years. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that many people stay in relationships because of this sense of feeling bound. An inability to walk away. Perhaps it’s a co-dependent attachment to someone. Maybe a fear of being alone. Scared of choosing a different life. Worried about money or the affect on children. What I do know is the only person who can trap you or put you in a cage is yourself.

Being bound is a difficulty with being separated or escaping each other.

We applaud longevity of relationships in our society, regardless of the quality of them. I think it’s incredibly beautiful when an elderly couple are still together, who have grown through their challenges and are authentic in their love, being able to love each version their partner grew into over the years. I think it’s incredibly sad the number of people staying in relationships because of fear or some warped sense of being duty bound. The ability to be truthful and stay in relationships for the right reason is what we should be applauding.

So what binds us to another, and how do we free ourselves if it’s not healthy?

1. Lack of financial stability is a big one. Knowing that your financial position will most likely change, and for some be really tough, will keep people bound together in some of the most unhealthy relationships. I get it, it’s scary—but if this is your situation, you really need to do some soul searching because at the core, it’s an excuse. Money should never keep you bound in a relationship that’s no longer conducive to happiness.

2. Kids absolutely need to be a priority, but let’s be frank: kids are intuitive, and they will pick up the energy when things are not right. So many people I speak with are staying in relationships for the soul reason of their kids. Kids deserve two fully emotionally healthy and functional parents. They deserve to bear witness to parents who know how to communicate. Who respect one another. Who are loyal to one another. Parents who are authentic and honest. Parents who are the best versions of themselves in that relationship. Binding yourself for the sake of the kids will lead you to all the wrong destinations.

3. Fear of being alone. It saddens me to know that people would rather stay with someone, anyone, even if the relationship is unhealthy, because they fear being alone. It all stems back to believing we are not whole—such a limited belief. What I think people fear is getting to know themselves. Understanding themselves. Who they are if they’re not part of a couple. What would others think? Who would love them? There’s such a huge amazing world out there, full of likeminded people to connect with, but people are too scared to unchain themselves.

4. Unhealthy attachments and perhaps abandonment and rejection wounds. Our wounding plays out on our adult stage, in our adult relationships, in every part of our life. Seeking therapy to get underneath those wounds and beliefs can impact our lives in incredibly positive ways. It’s being aware enough to understand this.

5. Memories of how things used to be. We all have them. Remembering how we felt in the beginning of the relationship, who we thought we were, and who we thought they were. Hoping to get that back. We grow, change, and evolve—sometimes some remain stuck and sometimes we grow apart. We can never get back how things were, but we can if both are willing do the work reconnect knowing we will land in a different space, a newer and different version of ourselves. Perhaps better, perhaps not. Staying in relationships because of our history robs us of our future.

6. Denial, distraction, and rug sweeping. So many people do this. They present the version of themselves they think they need to be, all the while hiding what they truly want and who they truly are. They stay bound to a partner they hide their truth from. There’s no authenticity. Maybe there are affairs. Maybe they are seeking validation elsewhere. They are two shells of themselves staying in the comfort of what they know because it’s easier to pretend than it is to be honest.

Ultimately, it all stems from fear. We fear the unknown. We fear having wasted years with someone. We fear stepping outside our comfort zone. We fear a different life. We fear judgement. We fear we’ve made a mistake. We fear we will make a mistake. We fear the truth.

What if we looked at it differently? What if after seeing our truth, we realise we are bound to someone for all the wrong reasons? We look at the situation without fear. We look through a different lens and explore the possibilities rather than shackle ourselves to the cage of fear.

1. We understand our financial position will be different and accept that it may take time to improve that. We acknowledge that our emotional well-being is more important, and we prioritise that. We look at the big picture and see ourselves years down the track, sitting in our nice home, with a nice car and material things, but in a lonely relationship, disconnected, with a buildup of bitterness and resentment. Or we see ourselves with less material items, possibly alone or with someone new, connected to ourselves and fulfilled. The future doesn’t have to be scary if we accept change.

2. We become the best parent and know that our kids will benefit from doing what is right for us. We ensure our children are the priority and hopefully both parents work together to support the kids. Not always possible, but we can only control our own behaviour. We understand that it will be a difficult transition for the kids, but we ask for help and support to ensure the needs of our kids are met. Of course it’s never an ideal situation, but neither is staying in an unhappy relationship. Teach your kids what a healthy relationship looks like. What boundaries look like. Teach your kids that it’s okay to walk away, and when they are older, explain why. Teach them that compassion and kindness start with being compassionate and kind to themselves.

3. Think of being alone as an experience to get to know yourself. As time needed to go within and self-reflect. To seek professional support to learn more about your journey and why things happened the way they did. See being alone as an opportunity to learn, heal, and grow. Use the fear to inspire you to want to be better. You maybe surprised what you learn.

4. See therapy as a tool to support you on your path. To understand that we all have wounds and that it’s not about blame but rather seeking to get to know those wounds and triggers to make us someone who finds their happiness from within and knows their worth.

5. Use your memories to remind you that those happy feelings are possible. Let them inspire you to move yourself to that space again, with or without a partner. Memories can be a beautiful thing and whilst sometimes reminiscing can be hard, it can also be the catalyst to move us forward, to heal ourselves. To motivate us to grow.

6. What if instead of distracting ourselves and denying our truth and how we feel, we find the courage to actually be honest? It can be terrifying to face something we know could change our whole life, but there is something so grounding and calming with finally seeing and speaking our truth. Once you find your authentic core, you will not ever want to go back to pretending.

We really do have this unhealthy obsession with partnering, no matter the health of that partnership. The unhealthy pride of counting the years of our union, rewarding ourselves and others as the time goes by, regardless of what is happening behind those closed doors. Celebrating the binding of two people, despite them being bound for all the wrong reasons. We have this unhealthy idea we can “fix” others, which we can’t. That it’s our duty to stay because it’s expected of us. That wedding vows should override abuse, neglect, and growing apart in relationships. Don’t get me wrong, wedding vows should be taken seriously and people should work on their relationship, but not at the cost of their physical health, mental health, or spiritual health. Love is organic and whilst we consciously choose to love, there is so much more underneath that, and we should never be bound to that.

Let’s celebrate love in all its forms, but let’s not celebrate the longevity but rather the quality. The authenticity. Let’s remind people that we are in fact not bound to another human being; the only thing that binds us is us ourselves. Let’s teach our children that they are whole and another person should compliment their life and that they should always seek the truth. Let’s teach them that being with someone is always a choice.

So yes, Joan Armatrading was onto something all those years ago. Her words ring so true because they are the beliefs we were raised with “this love has me bound.” In reality, love in its purest form should never have us bound to another. It should simply be.

If we must be bound to something, let’s be bound to self-belief and living our truth. Let’s be bound to knowing our worth. Let’s be bound to loving ourselves, in our entirety, the whole, the wounded, and the parts of us that are healing.

That will be the greatest love story ever told.


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