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S2 EP172 – The Challenge of Loving Yourself in Relationships

Episode Summary

Loving yourself does NOT mean sacrificing yourself! Giving yourself up is NOT the way to create a loving relationship. Learn how to love yourself and create a sense of safety regarding others’ passive-aggressive behavior, a partner’s withdrawal, a partner’s neediness, a person’s rage, and physical violence.  


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding Podcast. Today I’m addressing the issue of how to love yourself in the face of major relationship challenges.

Learning to love yourself within relationships is what make you feel safe. Your inner child needs for you to learn to show up as a loving adult in order to create relationship safety.

I was having a session with Randy when he said:

“When I am around most people, I am generally fairly relaxed. But the moment I’m around my mother or Gineen (his wife of 12 years), I get anxious and often angry. I can’t figure this out. I love both of them, so why do I feel anxious and angry around them?”

“Randy,” I asked, “there must be a good reason that you are abandoning yourself around your mother and your wife.”

“Oh……..what just popped into my mind is ‘safety’, he replied.

“What are you telling yourself about what makes you feel safe?” I asked.

“That the only way I can feel safe around people I love is to have control over their feelings about me,” he said. “I think I always want their approval.”

“So you are telling yourself that having control over getting their approval is the way to feel safe. But this seems to make you feel anxious and angry instead of safe, is that right?” I asked.

“Yes! But why do I feel anxious and angry?” he asked.

“When you make your mother and your wife responsible for your safety, you are abandoning your inner child. All self-abandonment makes your inner child feel alone and anxious. Then, once you make others responsible for you feeling safe, you feel you need to have control over them. Anger seems to be the addictive way you try to control. But since you can’t control others’ feelings, your inner child ends up feeling even more anxious.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what’s happening,” he said. But I don’t know how to feel safe around the people who are so important to me.”

Fortunately, when Randy was open to learning, he had a deep and powerful connection with the wisdom of his higher power.

“Randy,” I said, “please take a moment to move into your heart and open to learning with your guidance. Then ask your guidance what you can do that would make your inner child feel safe.”

After a few moments, Randy said, “God is telling me that the only thing that will make my little guy feel safe is me loving him.”

“So your wounded self tells you that your safety lies in having control over others, but God is telling you that your safety lies in loving yourself rather than abandoning yourself.”

“Yes, I can see that around most other people, I stay connected with myself and I feel safe, but that around my mother and my wife, I disconnect from myself so I feel unsafe. I get angry at them because I always want to get my way with them, which I think will make me feel safe. I get so focused on things that are not really important, just to have things my way and to feel in control of them. I spend so much energy being angry at them so that I can have things my way, and then I end up feeling awful.”

Our wounded selves have such backward thinking!

“Obviously,” I said, “your wounded self doesn’t know what he is talking about! His idea of what creates safety only ends up making you feel unsafe!”

“Yes! Gineen and I had an argument just before our session that was over something relatively unimportant, and I started feeling awful. I can see that I was trying to control her rather than be loving to myself and that made me feel so anxious and unsettled inside. After our session, I’m going to apologize to her for getting angry at her. I’m sure it makes her feel awful too. I wasn’t caring about her at all. I just wanted to have my way and be right because I thought that’s what I needed to feel safe. I can see that if I had just taken care of myself instead of getting upset with her. I would have felt fine!”

Randy was creating a lack of safety by using anger to control others, but many people use compliance as a form of control. Being loving to yourself in a relationship does not mean giving yourself up.

Marina asked:

“I often go out of my way and do different things for my fiancé. For example if he wants me to stay and do something with him, I cancel what I have to do and stay with him. But he never does the same. He takes care of whatever he feels he needs to. Then I’m filled with resentment towards him. Can you explain what is a loving way to be in relationships? Do we just do what’s best for us or do we have to sacrifice at some point to make the other person happy?”

Marina is operating under the false belief that sacrificing herself is a way to get love. But giving herself up is a major form of control as well as of self-abandonment and will always eventually lead to resentment rather than to a loving relationship.

By giving herself up, she is training her fiancé in how to treat her. Sacrificing ourselves says to the other person, “My needs don’t count. My feelings don’t count. You don’t need to consider me because I’m not considering myself. You don’t need to respect me because I’m not respecting myself.”

Marina is also operating under the false belief that it is her job to make the other person happy, rather than her responsibility to make herself happy and his responsibility to make himself happy, so they can come together to share their love and happiness. In a loving relationship, we don’t give ourselves up and take responsibility for the other person’s feelings, and then expect the other person to do the same. By not doing these things, we prevent unnecessary resentment from creeping into our relationship.

If Marina were loving herself when her fiancé wanted her to stay and do something with him, she would first tune in to what she wants. If she wants to cancel her plans and spend the time with her fiancé, then she would not be giving herself up if she did so, and she would not feel resentful.

If she tunes in and discovers that she doesn’t want to cancel whatever she has to do, then she would kindly say to him something like, “Thanks! I’d love to spend the time with you, but I have things I need to do. Love you. See you later.” By honoring herself and what she wants to do, she is letting him know that what she wants and needs matters.

If he routinely doesn’t support her in what’s important to her, then she would need to re-evaluate the relationship. In a loving relationship, we support our own highest good and the highest good of our partner – which means that we support each other in doing what brings us joy and in what is important to us. It means we can tolerate disappointment without taking the other’s choices personally.

Marina asked, “Do we just do what’s best for us or do we have to sacrifice at some point to make the other person happy?” It sounds to me like she is saying that if we do what is best for us, we are being selfish, so she might want to redefine ‘selfish.’ Doing what is best for us is self-responsible. Selfishness is expecting the other person to give themselves up for us, and not caring about the effect our behavior has on the other person.

I said to Marina, “I hope you start doing what’s best for you, while also caring about the effect your behavior has on your fiancé. If he is sad that you don’t stay and do something with him, you can be compassionate about his feelings without feeling guilty and taking responsibility for them – which is not loving to either of you.”

A major challenge in many relationships is passive-aggressive behavior.

How can we know when someone is being passive-aggressive? We FEEL it – and we need to trust our feelings.

What do you feel when you are being crazy-made with passive-aggressive behavior”?

Madeline, who wrote to me about this kind of behavior, said it gives her “the feeling of being punched in the gut…It’s the under the radar kind of meanness.” She often feels crazy-made by her mother’s passive-aggressive behavior:

“My mom can reasonably deny that she did anything on purpose, and tell other people ‘How sensitive’ I am. Like when she gossiped and I confronted her, she said that she was ‘asking people to pray for me.’ For what? I wasn’t acting crazy…. There have been things she said that I literally felt a pain in my tummy, and I could never call her out on it because she can say, “I didn’t mean that. You’re so sensitive.”

Fortunately, Madeline now realizes that her mother’s passive-aggressive behavior has nothing to do with her. She sees that her mother takes her anger at her father out on her, and she has stopped believing anything her mother tells her about herself.

When people are afraid of speaking their truth to someone, they may stuff their anger and pain, and then it comes out sideways in hurtful ways. Because it’s not direct, it’s hard to comment on.

My mother was a master at passive-aggressive comments. She was threatened by my father’s attention to me, as well as just by who I am, but rather than take responsibility for her own feelings, she would try to covertly squash me. When I got good grades, she would say things like, “Darling, this is wonderful, but really, you don’t need to work so hard.” This made me feel completely unseen, as I wasn’t working hard. School was easy for me, but because my mother didn’t believe she had much intelligence, she needed to diminish mine. She was angry at me because my highly intelligent father was often teaching me important things that my mother couldn’t keep up with, so she needed to covertly diminish and ridicule who I was. I’ve always been a high-energy and productive person, and she would often tell me that I looked tired or unwell as another way to diminish me. Her voice and facial expression looked caring, but the energy felt like, as Madeline said, a punch in the stomach.

I finally learned to love myself around my mother’s passive-aggressive behavior. Here is what I did:

  • I learned to stop taking her covertly undermining comments personally. I realized that they were a reflection of her own self-judgments and had nothing to do with me. Because she couldn’t see herself, she couldn’t see me, so everything she said was a projection of her own self-judgments. I learned to bring much compassion to my own feelings.
  • I learned to lovingly disengage when she started in with her crazy-making comments. I would kindly get off the phone, or, if I was at their house, I would causally walk away and do something else. I learned to limit my time with her.
  • Because I stopped taking her passive anger personally and was able to be compassionate with myself, I was also able to be compassionate with her. I was able to see her very sad abandoned inner child and give her a lot of love. My mother loved it when I held her and mothered her! This helped her back off some of her crazy-making comments.

The most important thing in the face of someone’s passive-aggressive behavior is to understand that this is what it is. Once you name it and understand it, it’s much easier to take loving care of yourself.

What do you do when your partner shuts you out?

Do you know that being shut out and stonewalled is often even more hurtful than being yelled at? Children would rather get yelled at or even hit than ignored. This is why one of the worst punishment for prisoners, other than torture, is solitary confinement.

Yet, along with overt anger, withdrawal is the most common form of controlling behavior in relationships. Just as the fear of anger keeps partners from addressing issues, so does the fear of a partner’s withdrawal. 

Loretta is struggling with this issue.

“I’m in a two year relationship. My main problem is how can I raise an issue without him turning his back on me and walking away? I have to follow him to get my feelings across only to have him ignore me. He says I am never happy with what he does and feels frustrated that he can’t make me happy. The ignoring makes me feel unloved and rejected. I have told him how it makes me feel but he still does it.”

There are a number of issues here that need to be addressed. Loretta is using her feelings to make her partner responsible for her. She wants to tell him her feelings rather than open to learning with him about herself and about him. Her partner feels responsible for her happiness, and since he can’t take responsibility for her happiness, he feels frustrated and walks away. Loretta follows him, trying to have control over him listening to her, believing that if only he would listen and understand, he would change. It’s easy for her to believe that the only reason she feels unloved and rejected is because he shuts her out, but she also feels unloved and rejected because she is abandoning herself by making him responsible for her feelings.

This is a very typical relationship system: Loretta is telling her feelings as a form of control and her partner is withdrawing as a form of control. Neither is open to learning.

What Loretta needs to do is practice Inner Bonding and learn to love herself so that she stops trying to control and instead is able to open to learning with her partner.

Linda has the same issue with her husband:

“When something happens where I get upset as a result of an action my husband did, my husband shuts down. He distances. This can go on for days. So it’s as if he gets shut down because I got upset at him. But it continues even after I calm down and even apologize for getting upset or explaining what it was like for me. When I ask if there is something he wants to discuss he says no. Is anything bothering you? No. What can I do? I know I need to give him time, but I can’t tolerate the coldness and wall between us.”

Again, Linda is abandoning herself rather than loving herself. She isn’t accepting that getting upset with her husband hurts him as much as his distance hurts her, and he doesn’t know how to compassionately manage his pain any more than she does. Linda can shift their dysfunctional system by learning to love herself and take responsibility for her own upset – and then approach her husband with an intent to learn. Her husband could also learn to lovingly manage his pain rather than shut down, if he were open to learning to take responsibility for his feelings, but Linda can’t make him open. She can only do her own inner work, which will likely change their system.

If this is your issue in a relationship, you might be very pleased with what happens in your relationship if you learn to love yourself and heal your end of this common relationship system!

Loving yourself when your partner is needy is another challenge.

Are you an empathic person who feels others’ pain and then takes responsibility for their feelings in an effort to alleviate their pain? Is it hard for you to feel others’ pain without trying to fix them?

Often, empathic people become caretakers to try to alleviate others’ pain so they don’t have to feel that pain. And takers are generally very attracted to caretakers.

This is the situation with Tiffany:

“My husband lays his feelings at my feet often and in my own shame, I feel responsible for his feelings and will ‘pick them up’ most always and abandon my little girl. When I do hold on to myself, and I don’t abandon my little girl, my husband gets angry and manipulative and unkind because his tactics to get me to take care of his little boy are no longer working. It takes all I have to hang on to me, but sometimes I’m able. What is the best response to him when he turns ugly and unkind while I’m hanging on to me? How do I communicate that I’m working on loving myself and that he needs to back off and own his own feelings?”

Tiffany will feel shame and take responsibility for her husband’s feelings as long as she believes that she is responsible for his feelings. If she didn’t believe this, then she wouldn’t feel shame over not caretaking him. Her husband likely picks up her shame, which gives him the green light to pull on her to take care of his feelings.

The fact that her husband gets angry and manipulative and unkind when she doesn’t care-take him indicates that he is very stuck in his wounded self and unable to care about her at that time. His wounded self just wants what he wants, regardless of how this affects her.

Tiffany wants to know the best response when he turns ugly and unkind when she doesn’t care-take him. The first thing she needs to accept is that he won’t be able to hear anything she says to him because the wounded self doesn’t hear anything. The best thing she can do is lovingly disengage – walk away saying that she won’t engage with him until he is open and caring with her. If saying this will enflame him further, then she needs to walk away without saying anything, and perhaps send a prayer that he opens to learning.

The point is to fully accept that when someone is abandoning themselves and stuck in their wounded self, they are not in their rational mind, and they are not capable of caring. There is nothing you can say or do to have control over getting them to open and care.

The more Tiffany accepts her lack of control over him, and the more devoted she is to loving herself rather than caretaking him, the better she will feel. Over time, as her husband gets that pulling on her to take care of his feelings and then getting angry, unkind, and manipulative isn’t going to work, he might start to do his own inner work. Of course there is no guarantee of this, and we always take a chance on a relationship when we move out of caretaking and into loving ourselves, but by taking this risk, we have a better chance of creating a loving relationship than continuing in a dysfunctional system. If Tiffany doesn’t devote herself to loving herself and keeps caretaking her husband, at some point she is likely to be done with the relationship. By loving herself, she gives the relationship a chance.

It is very challenging for many of us to be at the other end of someone’s anger or rage. I hear over and over from my clients how terrified they are of another’s anger and rage, and how often they walk on eggshells to not trigger their partner into rage.

For those of us who grew up with anger, rage or violence, the terror and trauma of this is deeply programmed into our wounded self, and we might automatically give ourselves up, shut down, or step into the fray with our own anger. None of these reactive responses are loving to ourselves.

Before I go into what would be loving to yourself, I want to state categorically that if there is physical abuse or severe emotional abuse in your relationship, you need to end the relationship – at least until the person receives help and there is no longer a threat of harm. It’s not loving to your inner child to put yourself at the other end of abuse.

Loving yourself in the face of another’s rage often takes much practice, especially if you were traumatized as a child.

The first thing you need to fully accept is that when someone is raging, they are not in their ‘right’ mind. They are operating from fear and are in their lower, primitive brain, the amygdala – their wounded self. They have no access to their higher mind – their loving adult. So trying to reason with them is a waste of time, as they can’t hear you and they don’t care about you at that moment. You need to fully accept your lack of control over them and take loving care of yourself. I know it’s very challenging to accept helplessness over others, but we ARE completely helpless over a raging person. However, we are not helpless over ourselves.

This Is What You Can Practice Doing…

  • Breathe. Take a ‘sacred pause’ to give yourself the time to stay in your compassionate loving adult. The biggest challenge is to not be reactive.
  • Thinking of the person as being a five-year old in an adult body might help you stay compassionate with yourself and with them.
  • If you know that the person responds well to touch, gently touch them with love and kindness. This might help them to calm down. If you know from previous experience that touch doesn’t help them or might even inflame them further, then obviously don’t reach out.
  • Lovingly disengage, which means leaving the room or hanging up the phone, gently saying, “Let’s talk about this when we are both calm.”
  • If the raging person throws out a hook, such as “There you go again, always running away. You need to stay here and deal with this,” keep walking away without saying anything.
  • Do an Inner Bonding process to reassure your inner child that he or she isn’t alone – that you are here as an adult and spirit is here. Compassionately embrace your core pain of the loneliness, heartache, and helplessness over them that you will likely feel when someone is very angry or rageful.
  • In 30 minutes, check in with the other person. It generally takes about 30 minutes for people to calm down. If both of you are calm, then you can discuss the issue with an intent to learn.
  • If the other person never opens, then you need to take loving care of yourself in the face of this and resolve the conflict for yourself as best as you can. Obviously if this happens frequently, you might want to consider leaving the relationship.

When you consistently disengage when there is anger or rage and take loving care of yourself instead, you might find that the other person becomes less angry. Anger is a form of control, and if it isn’t working for them, there is a possibility they will stop.

What about loving yourself in the face of physical violence?

If you are in a relationship with a physically violent partner, or even a very verbally abusive partner, please find a way to leave. Do not keep putting your inner child in the face of danger. Just as no one can cause you to be physically violent, you do not cause a violent person to be violent, and you need to fully accept that you have no control over someone being violent. You need to fully accept that no one ever deserves to be abused. If you are rationalizing an abusive situation, then you are abandoning yourself rather than loving yourself.

However, part of the problem in leaving a physically violent partner is that you might then be in even more danger. When leaving a violent partner, you need to make sure that they can’t find you, even if it means moving to a different city. You will likely need help from friends, family, and a local battered women’s (or battered person’s) shelter.

I have had the extremely painful experience of two of my clients getting murdered by violent ex partners. Both of these women were in denial about how dangerous these men were. Had they accepted the reality, they would have made sure to find ways of keeping themselves safe. I know it’s hard to accept that someone who has previously stated that they cared about you might murder you, but this happens all too frequently. Taking loving care of yourself means doing whatever you need to do to make sure you are safe.

I hope you can see how important it is to learn to love yourself in the face of relationship challenges.

I invite you to heal your relationships with my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have so much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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