Guest blog | Prepair NZ Founder & CEO Irene Wakefield on the lessons she learned from an abusive relationship
I first met Irene in 2017 and was blown away by her gentle vulnerability, her ability to articulate herself with an emotional maturity far beyond her years, as well as her dedication to educating young women on healthy relationships -- a mission that came about after finding herself in her own abusive relationship.
Some months later, when Irene was in Auckland we met for breakfast and I watched her give a talk to 1000+ young people at Festival for the Future, on her story of being in an unhealthy relationship. Inspiring doesn't quite cut it to describe Irene, so I knew that I wanted her to share her insights with us for February - the month of love. Here she is.
"When I think about self-love, I don’t actually think about yoga, meditation, journalling or lush bath bombs. Nope, I think about the way I treat myself, living in alignment with my values and being comfortable in my own company. It’s a practice that feels good - for the most part.
I wasn’t always comfortable in my own company. The truth is, I was once in an abusive relationship.
I dealt with things like control, manipulation, gaslighting, lying, cheating and put-downs.
For some reason I wanted so desperately for this relationship to work that I would move mountains to keep my partner happy. I’d never skip a beat, revolve my plans around him, stay
at home, attempt to be a domesticated goddess and never ever look another boy in the eye.
It wasn’t until I left, that I realised my relationship with myself needed work.
I always thought leaving an abusive relationship would be the hard part. But, I learned very quickly it was actually figuring out how to be alone and be happy.
The first few weeks were rough. I couldn’t sit still. I didn’t know how to, because I was so used to running around after someone else. Suddenly I had all this spare time, no expectations upon me and nothing to do.
This fuelled my commitment to do the inside work; starting with a promise to stay single for at least two years.
Was it easy? No. But it was absolutely worth it!!
I read books, made new friends, set some mammoth career goals and worked my butt of to smash them. I lived with strangers, fell in love with poetry and started drawing again.
I went on a ten day trip to a tropical island by myself and enjoyed it. I began to realise that I had shut down so many elements of who I was in my bid to be loved.
I vowed never ever would I do that again.
Today, I am three years into a relationship that I absolutely adore. I truly believe that because of the work I put in, I was able to attract what I have now.
But, what’s the work?
I know my core values.
Values help us create a blueprint for our relationships. If you meet someone who doesn’t respect or honour your values - kick them to the curb.
I have my own hobbies & goals that energise me.
You need something for yourself to keep you going. Having your own goals and hobbies means you have something for yourself to turn to.
If you haven’t got a hobby then try a few things out that you wouldn’t normally do. My love of poetry came about when I stumbled across spoken word poetry.
We can’t rely on our partners to make us happy 100% of the time.
I have a great circle of friends.
Our partners cannot be our lover, advisor, counsellor, shopping companion and coffee date. Different people bring different energy to your life. There’s a type of energy a romantic partner will bring you that you’re likely not going to look for in someone else.
Then there’s a type of energy only our friends can bring. Think about why you love your best friend, your mum and your favourite colleague at work. Chances are they bring something to your life that you dig. Let’s not expect our partners to be everything and look for some of the energy we need in our friends and loved ones as well.
I say what I mean and mean what I say.
If you need something, ask for it.
People are not mind readers and our partners are not here to decipher code.
What’s the point in silent treatment, beating around the bush or being grumpy if instead we can just speak up and ask for what we need?
In the early days of my current relationship I struggled.
The tiniest things would trigger old fears and anxieties from my previous relationship. I had to learn to ask for what I needed and not feel silly for it.
I remember having to ask my partner to check in when he was out with his friends. I explained that not hearing from him triggered old memories that I wasn’t sure how to manage yet. I wanted him to have fun and enjoy the night, but I also wanted to feel secure. My partner was so supportive and now it’s not an issue at all.
We should be free to speak up and ask for what we need.
Be open to receiving.
If you’re anything like me - you’re independent and like doing things yourself.
I’ve had to re-train myself to let my partner be in charge sometimes. To allow him to help me, even if it’s something as simple as carrying the groceries to the car.
These little things matter.
Your partner gets to feel good for having opportunities to take care of you and of course you get to enjoy it. I know you could probably do it yourself, but go on, be open to receiving.
If you’re single - you can still practice this. Say yes to the offer to cover the fuel cost. If someone offers to pay for your coffee DO NOT push them away from the till. Accept the offer for help.
Be open to receiving!"
Irene Wakefield is CEO & Founder of Prepair NZ.
Prepair NZ educates young women about healthy relationships, emotional abuse and self-love. Irene delivers workshops in schools, universities and businesses nationwide. Prepair was launched following Irene’s experience with relationship abuse which you can hear about in her TEDX talk.
You can connect with Irene through Facebook.
I absolutely love sharing these stories with you guys and as you can imagine, a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into this blog. If you would like to support me and support my work so that I can reach you on a larger scale, I hope you would consider buying me a cup of coffee by clicking on the link below.