Tag Archives: relationship
One of my sweeties has a policy never to get involved with someone who has never had his heart broken. She believes quite strongly that there are certain things about yourself that you can only learn when your heart is broken, and that having your heart broken is the only way to discover whether or not you’re the sort of person who can pick himself up, put himself back together, and move on with courage and joy, or if you’re the sort of person who is destroyed by it.
I think there’s some value to that notion, though I don’t use it as a rule.
A few years back, I had a really painful breakup with a woman I fell very hard for and then, after investing a great deal in the relationship, discovered was a very poor partner for me. That relationship really brought home for me a lesson that I knew intellectually but didn’t know emotionally, which is this:
It is possible to deeply, sincerely love someone and still not be a good partner for that person.
That relationship also caused some nontrivial damage to one of my other relationships, and ended up changing the course of my life in ways that I still feel. I can’t say that if I had to do it over, I would never have gotten involved with that person at all, though I can say that I would have made different choices about what to do with that connection. But I digress.
There’s a socially sanctioned myth that says that love conquers all. It’s a deeply and profoundly silly thing to believe; love is a feeling, and a feeling can no more solve problems than it can refinish the sofa or put a new circuit breaker box in the attic. A feeling can impel action, can influence the way you make choices, but it can’t, of and by itself, do anything on its own. And making a relationship work requires more than just a feeling. It requires that the people involved make choices that are compatible and work toward a common end–which is extraordinarily difficult to do when those people have different goals, different priorities, different expectations, or even different internal templates about what they want their lives to look like. No matter what they feel.
And the feeling of love isn’t the only thing that influences our decisions. Other feelings, like fear or anxiety or anger, have a vote, too, and it’s not always the feeling of love that casts the deciding vote–even when that love is genuine.
The lesson that I can really, deeply love someone and we can still not be good partners for each other was probably the most expensive relationship lesson I’ve ever learned, and it’s completely rearranged my approach to choosing partners.
The approach I used to use, and I suspect the approach that many people use, was to keep a sort of internal list of “dealbreakers” that I’d refer to whenever I met someone who seemed interesting to me and who seemed interested in me. I’d kind of run down the list– Is she giving me the psycho vibe? Nope. Does she hold conservative ideas? Nope. All the way down the list, and if I didn’t hit a dealbreaker the answer would be “Cool! We should totally start dating!”
That isn’t the way I work any more. The dealbreaker approach “fails closed;” it assumes that if no dealbreakers are hit, then we should start a relationship, so if something later comes up that I didn’t know was a problem…well, I find out about it after I’ve already started to invest in a relationship with this person.
The approach I use now isn’t to keep a list of dealbreakers. Oh, there are some, to be sure; I’m not likely to date someone with a history of violence against her past partners, for example. But instead of keeping a list of dealbreakers these days, I keep a list of things that I actively look for–things that light me up in another person.
If I meet someone who seems interesting, and seems interested in me, I am more likely to ask the question “Does this person really light me up inside and bring out joy in me?” than “Does this person have some disagreeable trait that I don’t like?” That approach tends to “fail open”–the default is *not* to start a relationship unless there’s something very special about the person, rather than to start a relationship unless there’s something disagreeable about her.
That approach takes care of a lot of “dealbreakers” on its own, because a person who has the qualities that really shine isn’t likely to have the qualities that would be dealbreakers for me. For instance, a person who has demonstrated to me that she favors choices that demonstrate courage and integrity isn’t likely to be a liar.
It’s more than just taking the dealbreakers and flipping them on their heads, though. There are a lot of qualities on my “must have” list that wouldn’t have been reflected on my “dealbreaker” list.
So all of this is kind of a longwinded way to get to the qualities that DO light me up about someone. The things that really attract me to a person, without which I’m unlikely to want to start a relationship with her, include things like:
- Has she done something that shows me she is likely, when faced with a difficult decision, to choose the path of greatest courage?
- Has she done something that shows me that, when faced by a personal fear or insecurity, she is dedicated to dealing with it with grace, and to invest in the effort it takes to confront, understand, and seek to grow beyond it?
- Does she show the traits of intellectual curiosity, intellectual rigor, and intellectual growth?
- Has she dealt with past relationships, including relationships that have failed, with dignity and compassion?
- Is she a joyful person? Does she value personal happiness? Does she make me feel joy?
- Does she seem to be a person who has a continuing commitment to understanding herself?
- Does she seem to be a person who values self-determinism?
- Does she approach the things that light her up, whatever those things may be, with energy and enthusiasm? Does she engage the world and the parts of it that make her happy?
- Does she seem to demonstrate personal integrity?
- Is she open, honest, enthusiastic, and exploratory about sex?
- Does she communicate openly, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so?
There are probably more; the things that attract me to a person are in some ways a lot more nebulous than my old list of dealbreakers used to be.
In some ways, the approach I use now is an approach that relies on a model of relationship that’s based on abundance, not on starvation. A person who holds a starvation model of relationship, in which relationships seem to be rare and difficult to find, is not likely going to want to use an approach that fails open, on the fear that if he doesn’t take a relationship opportunity that presents itself, who knows when another person might express interest? If relationships seem rare, then why not jump at an opportunity if there seem to be no dealbreakers standing in the way?
The approach of seeking positive reasons to start a relationship, rather than looking for reasons NOT to start a relationship, means that I say “no” to opportunities that come by more often than I say “yes.” I have found that, for whatever reason, I tend to have a lot of opportunity for relationship, so there may be something to the notion that I have adopted this model of relationship because I can afford it.
But I do believe that holding an abundance model of relationship tends to make it true. I think that people who hold a starvation model of relationship often seem to be always searching for a partner, and that can really be off-putting; whereas in an abundance model, if you simply live your life with enthusiasm and joy and instead of seeking partners you seek to develop in yourself the qualities that you desire in a partner, then other people will tend to be drawn to you and relationships will be abundant.
So often, I hear couples wanting to come in to learn communication skills. They say they can no longer talk to one another without fighting. In truth, it is the rarest of couples that I actually need to teach how to communicate. In fact, it is because they are communicating so well that they are fighting so much.
Couples have figured out what the other person is thinking and feeling (never mind if it is actually true), that they have given up listening. They just wait and respond with contempt, anger, and resentment. This is nothing new, we have seen the classic couple portrayed as fighting it out for as long as we can remember.
Still, why do these people stay together? Well, overall because they love each other. They haven’t stopped loving one another typically, it is that they are no longer know how to share their bigger dreams and desires. This has been documented time and time again by researchers like Dr. Gottman and Dr. Schnarch (who are both experts in the field). The bond hasn’t been torn apart but it has been broken down by snide comments, non follow-through, and unrealistic expectations.
You may read this and think “yep, that is my partner” but here is the catch, it is each and every one of us. We are human and we experience the whole realm of emotions and responses. This includes even when you do and say really crappy things to the people around you that you love.
As a therapist, I’m not here to stop anyone from feeling anything. In fact, I encourage every single feeling you have. I don’t think that suppressing feelings helps anyone. I think that being brave enough and honest enough to say that you hate, love, like, dislike, lust, and admire all different aspects of your partner is important. Our society doesn’t allow us to express these emotions, as in a healthy relationship we are “only supposed to do the happy parts” but that isn’t real. At least this approach isn’t real for something long term.
If you want to pretend that you don’t have times where you hate your partner AND pretend that your partner never has similar thoughts, then therapy may not be the best place for you. If instead, you want to be real and direct about the full scope of emotions and learn how to handle those feelings within yourself and with your partner in a healthy way well then, therapy is the place for you.
It isn’t easy being honest. Sure we all say we want it, but in truth we want someone to just love us exactly as is while we work to change them in all the ways we want. This is pretty much how it is for all of us, you are not alone in this desire. It also isn’t typically the best way to keep a relationship healthy. However, denying that these feelings exist doesn’t help situations either.
So one of the first places to start, is to sit down with yourself and have a real heart to heart. You don’t have to share your feelings with anyone else, but admit if you have moments where you just dislike your partner a great deal. This reality check helps you realize that you are fully capable of being honest. If you struggle with this step, then the rest might be beyond your abilities currently.
Next, consider what kind of context you currently have with your partner. If you have already established a truly open expression of feelings, then you might be able to express fully. However, most couples I know, even the really healthy ones, have trouble saying things when it is about “hard emotions”. No one wants to hurt another person’s feelings, unless of course you are angry. And that is the catch. We want to learn how to express the hard stuff when we are calm and loving rather than in the midst of a fight/flight moment of reaction.
If you don’t have the skills or the kind of relationship where you can share these tough feelings then therapy might be the next step towards becoming closer. Having a third party there to meditate through the emotions, help keep everyone on task, and someone from the outside to listen to everyone can change the dynamics.
Consider if you can be your authentic self with your partner. And if the answer is no, then look into ways that you can be more fully visible within your relationship. If the answer is yes, then smile and know that you are on the right track to a fulfilling life.
A friend that I admire greatly recently wrote up an essay that is too good not to share with others. So I present to you the wisdom of Franklin Veaux…
Relationship Ideas That Should Be Obvious But Aren’t.
You can’t expect to have what you want if you don’t ask for what you want.
This is arguably one of the most basic rules for all of life, yet it’s surprising how often we forget. There’s almost no greater recipe for emotional turmoil then wanting something or harboring some expectation, not telling anyone about it, and then not getting it.
Next time you get really, really upset about some desire or expectation not being met, stop and ask yourself: “Did I actually let the people around me know about it?” (Here’s a tip: Dropping hints about what you want doesn’t count. Neither does wishing really hard. Nor waiting for the folks around you to become telepathic.)
If all of your relationships go pear-shaped in the same exact way and end badly in the same exact way, then maybe it’s because of something you’re doing.
Seriously. The one common element in all your relationship failures is you. Someone cheat on you? Well, that sucks, but it happens. Every single person you ever date in your life cheat on you? You’re attracted to folks who cheat.
If all of your relationships end the same way, maybe it’s time to step back and take a good, hard look at the kinds of folks you’re attracted to.
If you find that sex always becomes boring after a while in all your relationships, maybe it’s because you’re choosing to let it.
There’s a lot of fun you can have in (and out) of the bedroom. The total range of the human sexual experience is breathtaking–so much so that if you lived to be a thousand years old and did something different in bed every night for that entire thousand years, you’d still never have time to do it all. Seriously.
If you find that your sex life keeps getting stuck in a rut, maybe it’s time to explore something new. (A sure way to make yourself crazy and have a boring sex life is to keep worrying about whether trying something new would be “too weird.” The expression “That’s too weird” has done more to advance the cause of boring sex than all the world’s religions combined.)
Going into a relationship with the expectation that you can get your partner to change is quite likely to end in tears.
Now, don’t get me wrong–people can and do change. In fact, change is the one constant in life. I’m not the person I was five years ago, and if you’re doing this properly, you aren’t either.
But expecting that a person will change in the ways that you want him to, because you want him to, is setting yourself up for suck and fail. Fixer-upper relationships usually don’t work. And if you go into things thinking “Oh, I can fix him!” you just might find your ship of enthusiasm foundering on the shoals of the fact that maybe he likes being the way he is.
A relationship in which you say “This relationship is absolutely wonderful except for…” is not absolutely wonderful. Especially when the part that comes after the “except for…” is something so horrifying it’d make most folks run for the hills.
This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that we’re completely incompatible in bed. This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that she keeps forgetting to take her meds. This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that he can’t talk honestly about his feelings. Look out!
For maximum effect, try combining “this relationship is wonderful except for…” with “…but I know I can change him” and double your suck!
A partner who is kind to you but not kind to the waitress isn’t a kind person.
Seriously. The fact that he’s kind to you might just mean that he wants something from you. (Or that you’re not his property…yet. Marry that person who’s nice to you but not nice to the waitress and you might just find that once the ring is on your finger, he may start treating you like the waitress. Or worse.)
The way a person treats the folks around him reveals a lot about his true self. Pay attention.
It is possible to deeply, profoundly, genuinely, truly love someone, and yet that person might still not be a good partner for you.
It takes more than love to make a relationship work. A person you love, but who is incompatible with you, or who lacks good relationship skills, or who can’t communicate with you, is not going to make for a functional, healthy relationship. Love and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee. Or, to put it more scientifically, love is necessary but not sufficient, no matter how many Disney movies and romantic comedies say otherwise.
Though really, if you’re taking your cues on relationship from Disney movies and romantic comedies, there’s probably little that I or anyone else can do.
Find a way to build a friendship with that person that honors and respects that love without trying to turn it into something unsustainable and you’ll do okay. And as a corollary:
Being in love with someone doesn’t mean you HAVE to be in a relationship with that person.
Seriously. You have a choice. You can love someone, and acknowledge that love, and still choose not to be romantically involved with that person.
That’s one of the cool things about being a human being You get to choose.
You can’t have intimacy without sharing. If you spend your time hiding things from your partner, or worrying about whether or not you can share something with your partner, you’re not going to have an intimate relationship.
Everything you conceal from your partner undermines the foundation of intimacy upon which relationships are built.
No, that doesn’t mean telling your partner every time oyu take a dump (and why is it that folks who don’t cotton to sharing and openness always reach for that example?). But it does mean sharing everything that’s important, significant, or meaningful. Even if it’s uncomfortable.
Especially if it’s uncomfortable, because the fact that it’s uncomfortable probably means there’s something important lurking in there. Communication ain’t for sissies.
What you get out depends on what you put in. Approach every new partner with fear and suspicion, and you’ll have fearful, suspicious partners.
Te best way to have a friend is to be a friend. The best way to have people around you who have compassion and integrity is to be a person with compassion and integrity. The best way to fill your life with suck and fail is to fill other people’s lives with suck and fail.
You know that saying “opposites attract”? It’s rubbish. Honest people look for, and attract, other honest people.
A person who has cheated on someone else to be with you cannot be trusted not to cheat on you to be with someone else.
No, you’re not different. You’re not a rare and unique flower, so totally set apart from that shrill, obnoxious harpy that he’s with right now. You know how he tells you that you’re so much better than that monster he’s hooked up with? I bet he says the same thing about you to the other person he’s shagging. You know, the one that neither you nor his other partner knows about.
Be wary of a person who trashes all their exes in front of you, for someday you’ll likely be on that list yourself.
You know that person with the long list of former partners, all of whom were shrill, obnoxious harpies? Does something seem odd about that list to you?
Best case scenario, it means he keeps getting involved with the same sorts of people again and again, and doesn’t learn anything from any of those experiences. What do you reckon that says about you?
Worst case scenario, it’s a clear sign of someone who doesn’t take responsibility for his own part in all those past train wrecks. Which means he ain’t learning from any of them. Which means…you’re the next train wreck. What do you suppose he’ll say about you to the train wreck that follows after you?
Tell the truth from the start, and you won’t have to worry about any nasty revelations down the road.
Especially about things you worry might scare her off. Seriously, if the truth about you makes you incompatible as a romantic partner, you want to scare her off. You’re bisexual but your new love interest hates gays? You fancy country music and your partner would rather die than listen to it? Hiding those things doesn’t help your cause; it merely makes the blowup that much more dramatic when the truth comes out.
Which it will, eventually.
Be honest, be true to who you are, and you won’t have to worry about what happens if you slip up. On the other hand, make yourself seem like something you’re not, even if it’s to make yourself seem more attractive to the other person (hell, especially if it’s to make yourself seem more attractive to the other person!) is going to end badly, sooner or later. I promise.