A Story about Toilet Paper to Inspire Positive Change…Really

When I left America to live in Spain for a year, I couldn't always find toilet paper in the bathrooms. Something that most people in the US simply expect to be there could not be relied on, so I adapted. Everywhere I went, I kept tissue in my purse, and eventually it just became normal that I sometimes had to dip into my personal tissue stash. I learned to adjust to the situation. When I moved back to the United States, I had a reverse culture shock -- every bathroom had toilet paper and many also have paper towels. Something that I had thought of as "normal" and an expected convenience before I left for Spain suddenly took me off guard. I had a bit of "reverse culture shock" to something I knew was supposed to be there, but I learned to live without it.

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Why am I telling you about my toilet paper? Because sometimes relationships function the same way I did when I adapted to the loss of toilet paper.  We learn to adapt and live without certain items in a relationship.  The things we know that “should” be in a relationship, people over compensate and figure ways around the missing puzzle pieces.

We should just be used to having some things in our relationships — whether it’s supporting words from our partner, trust, or the ability to laugh at ourselves.  We learn to adapt without certain things when we have to, but if we suddenly have these basic needs again from the same partner or a new one — we experience a reverse-culture shock.  For many couples in my therapy office, when things change they don’t trust it right away, they are uncomfortable with the positive change, and they have a little “culture shock.” Now that we have relationship necessities, we are so used to carrying around metaphorical tissue to take care of ourselves that it can be hard to accept what our partner offers. Here are some tips for getting over relationship shock (as I call the toilet paper) so you can move forward in a healthy way.

Let Yourself Experience the Positive Shock

Suppressing your feelings won’t help your relationship shock. Just like real culture shock, you need to acknowledge your new surroundings and let yourself feel the anxiety or uncomfortable to the new change. You can’t sit with those feelings forever, but to move past them you have to first call it like it is. Think about why the changes are so alarming — what were you missing in the past, and how have you been making yourself self-sufficient without it?

Be Transparent

Let your partner in on what you’re experiencing. If you’ve never been allowed to hang out with your girlfriends before without your boyfriend calling 15 times, you might think your new boyfriend doesn’t care about you because he actually extends trust and lets you enjoy a night out uninterrupted. When you snap at him, he’ll be confused. Let him know “I’ve never had the ability to hang out with my friends before without it ending up in a fight, so I don’t know how to handle this” so he knows where you’re coming from. If you just let your adjustment make you grumpy without explanation, you can’t work through it together.

Remind Yourself That You’re Worth It

Sometimes your relationship shock can happen because you don’t think you’re worth the consistency you get from your new partner. If you’re getting support and a safe place when you’ve always been put down, you can question if you’re really good enough for what you have now. Remind yourself that you ARE worth having a consistent and trustworthy partner in your life. Sometimes going to a counselor will be what it takes to learn how to accept your relationship dynamic as something you are worthy of.

Share your thoughts below about my toilet paper story!  I’d love to get your feedback!


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Jennine Estes

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA.