I was in a traditional romantic relationship with my partner, Sean, for the first of the nearly four years we've been together.
During that first year, we were both in mourning, though not always aware of it.
He was recently separated from his marriage, and my identity was slowly being eclipsed by an onslaught of mysterious symptoms depleting my health and spirit.
Despite these circumstances, we attempted to play out the normal dating roles. We had dinner and drinks at NYC's finest restaurants, went to shows and parties, met each others families and discussed our ideal future.
Then, one morning, I awoke from a dead sleep bawling.
I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but I knew something was deeply wrong. Though everything appeared to be on the correct trajectory, neither one of us were fully addressing what needed healing in order to truly move forward into the kind of life we thought we wanted.
Though his panic attacks were a frequent event, he wasn't ready to face his pain underneath them. But, as a therapist, I refused to allow it to distract me from facing my own.
It was in that moment I knew I had to remove the focus off of us and return the attention back to myself. I was determined to find out the cause of what was making my body so sick. It was up to Sean if he wanted to support that or not -- which he did.
Slowly, conversations once had over candlelit dinners turned into chats under fluorescent lighting in doctors offices. Every week we met a new specialist, a new diagnosis, and a new treatment. I received injections, operations and countless drugs forcing me into a bedridden state.
Eventually, I could barely recognize myself, let alone this relationship we were supposed to be having.
When I finally uncovered the root of all this, late-stage neurological Lyme disease, I thought our life would go back to normal after treatment. But treating any disease is not that simple. It involves going into all of the hidden layers that perpetuated this unhealthy state on every level-physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the start of my journey into learning the true meaning of love. It had nothing to do with being in a relationship with Sean, it was entirely about creating that relationship with and for myself.
I needed to fully understand and take responsibility for circumstances I created in my life. This meant sinking into the depths of my humanness and owning all the traumas I previously blamed on others with complete awareness.
It's true that I explored many of these experiences in years of therapy, but there was still some aspect of me living as a victim of circumstance rather than being empowered through them. In order for that to shift, my consciousness had to expand to provide new perspectives. I had a lot of learning to do if I was going to uncover and heal those previously unconscious parts of my being.
So, I became a student of all things healing and hoped that Sean would do the same.
But, he didn't.
He continued playing the hero/caretaker he thought he should be, distracting him from himself. Despite my encouragement that he use his time to address his own needs, he kept his focus on the role I never asked him to play. With that part came the pressure to be something he wasn't, and to be something we weren't.
When illness becomes the strongest presence in a relationship, it changes everything. It forces both parties to grieve expectations of what society tells us is normal, which only reinforces the pressure we already feel just trying to recover.
It wasn't until my health finally started to come back to me that I realized I no longer cared to buy into any of these traditions. I knew that doing so was part of the reason many of us remain sick. When we attempt to live our lives inside these traditional boxes and labels, it creates separation from our true selves, and, therefore unnecessary pain. These pains slowly accumulate the more we deviate from our true feelings.
After a lifetime of these restrictions, I wasn't about to live one more day confined by limits. This included addressing all relationships in my life with radical honesty. It didn't matter if it was a friend, family member, or Sean, I refused to waste any more energy hiding from the truth, even if that hurt.
These are the real conditions that keep us from true love, which is a state of allowance of all things to be as they are. It's an unwillingness to compromise ourselves in order to be responsible for another's happiness. I didn't require Sean to be anything other than exactly who he is in this moment, but he still had the expectation that we fit into that old paradigm of what relationships should look like.
It wasn't until this week that his lightbulb went off: He had a choice. He was the one putting limits on himself and us.
He doesn't have to be the hero. He doesn't have to be the committed husband. He doesn't have to be the father. He doesn't have to follow the path of his family's or society's expectations -- not if he didn't truly want those things anymore.
Focusing so much on those future ideals was overshadowing who he was in the present moment.
So, I asked him if we could finally drop those concepts keeping us from authentically living in our own skin. We had evolved into companions who share a life. That is the truth of where we are and trying to put any label other than that truth on our lives would only cause suffering.
"What does this mean for our future?" he asked me.
"I don't know because I don't live there anymore. I'm here in this moment. And it's time for you to come join me in it. I never expected you or us to be anyone or anywhere else -- you did," I replied.
People will always put judgements on what they don't understand. But, ultimately, it doesn't matter if anyone else gets it as long as we know, understand, and accept ourselves.
Currently, for Sean and I, our relationship has evolved into something without a label. Honoring this evolution is what frees us from the confines of conditional love and truly opens up the space needed for healing to occur.
This healing can only happen in the present truth.
This means accepting our reality, knowing how we created it, and what we want to create from this point forward. It's living in absolute honesty in every area of our lives.
For me, this meant speaking to Sean about writing this blog and asking if I could share the vital lessons we've learned because I believe it's more important that we do not hide from them. He agreed, and even encouraged the idea.
However this moment evolves for us, will be. There is no right or wrong way for this to go when there's no judgement or expectation on each other. Removing the expectations allows clarity for what we need right now as opposed to what we are taught our futures should be.
If that means he wants to see someone else, he can share that if and when that time comes. If that means we no longer live together at some point, or it means that we do, it doesn't matter to us. We are not in a place of having the future dictate our present reality anymore.
The only thing we are committed to is our own evolution, which is the only way true love is possible.
Jamie Rautenberg is a holistic life coach & Licensed Clinical Social Worker. After a lifetime of medical misdiagnoses, she discovered that she was living with late-stage neurological Lyme Disease in March 2013. While receiving intense daily IV infusions, Jamie reframed her healing experience by creating [TheDailyInfusion.com], a wellness blog where people can learn how to reclaim their lives through chronic illness & pain. Her passion is to empower others wherever they may be along their path through virtual private coaching sessions. Follow Jamie at [twitter.com/JamieRautenberg].