The Identity Gap

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Identity is a big topic for me in my writing.  Who are you?  Who am I?  How well do we really understand ourselves as a person, and perhaps more importantly, how well do we accept ourselves?

Along this lines, one idea I’ve had rolling around in my head for a while is the idea of an “identity gap”.

To me, an identity gap is the gap between who we ARE and who we WANT TO BE.

 

Related to my post on fantasy, we all have an idealized version of self; this picture of who we wish we were, and how we wish our life looked.  This ideal is related to our dreams, and may be influenced by the things we see around us or the expectations that were placed on us growing up.

 

However this is just an ideal, and I don’t think ANYONE is their idealized version of “self”.  And for that matter, I don’t think anyone ever achieves it.

This concept of an identity gap has huge implications for the level of happiness a person has in their life.  And I think this happiness is directly related to three questions:

  1. How big is the gap between who you want to be and who you are?
  2. Do you accept that your idealized version of self is simply an ideal, and not reality?
  3. What are you doing to improve yourself and close the gap between who you are and who you want to be?

 

What is your Ideal Self?

This is a tough question to answer.  But I guess another way of look at it is, when you were a teenager who did you think you would be?  What did you think it actually meant to be an adult?

This is an area where man oh man, I think a lot of us screw up something fierce.

On one hand, we have all these adults all around us modelling what life as an adult looks like.  So you would think we would actually learn something from that.

On the other hand, we have tv shows, and advertising telling us how amazing we are, and how special we are, and how we “deserve the best”.

I’m not sure about this, but I suspect that even when all the evidence around us is telling us life as an adult is pretty mundane, there’s also a part of that expects life to look like a beer commercial.

 

I don’t think many teenagers/college students take a look at their parents and say “yup, that’s who I’m going to be when I grow up”.

For some reason we think we are different, and special, so of course our life will be different.  We will set goals, and achieve all of our wildest dreams.

 

A few posts back used a line I found:

What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.

That line seems simple at first, but it’s also one of the most profound things I’ve ever read.

How things are “supposed to be”.

What life is “supposed” to look like.

What “love” is supposed to look like.

Who we are “supposed” to be.

 

I’m reminder of a scene from movie Boyhood.  It’s kind of a bizarre film, as it doesn’t really follow a traditional mold; but it’s also really powerful.  It was filmed over 12 years, and during the film you actually see the characters age and grow up.

In it Patricia Arquette starts out as a young mother with little education.  And during the 12 years of the film her children grow up, she is married and divorced twice, and gains an education and becomes a college professor (I think).

Late in the film there’s a scene where her son is leaving for college and she breaks down.  She reflects on all the things that have happened in her life, all the things she has done and accomplished.  And then she says:

I just thought there would be more.

 

I just thought there would be more.

Life hasn’t matched up to the picture she had in her head.  There was an identity gap, and when comparing reality to ideal, life ended up being a disappointment.

 

I think this happens often.

For some reason we expect “more”.  And real life isn’t able to measure up.

In our society right now, depression rates are up.  Anxiety rates are up.  People talk about happiness as if it’s this magical thing that they can achieve.  This goal in life that will make everything better.

So how do we make this better?

 

An Ideal is a Dream

I think one of the first things we need to do is accept that our ideal is simply something to strive towards, and not something we are likely to ever achieve.

And that’s alright.

We are all just “regular” people.  We aren’t any better than anyone else, and we do not deserve special treatment.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have goals – because we should.  We need them, as goals give us something to strive towards.

Instead of just looking at our imaginary end state, we need to be able to set small milestones or goals, and celebrate the little successes we have along the way.

Because sometimes our ideal isn’t actually realistic.

So we shouldn’t measure our success in life against it’s end state.  We need to be able to look at where we are now, and appreciate it each and every day.

 

How are you Trying to Improve?

Let’s say I want to make a fence.  What do I need to do?

Does it help me to wake up everyday, look in my yard and think “man, I wish I had a fence”?

Ummm, no so much.

How about if I buy some wood and some screws, and put them in my yard and just leave them there?

I suppose that gets me a bit closer, but again, it’s not very helpful.

 

Instead, a few things need to happen.

  • First I need to understand where I am today.
  • Next I need to understand where I want to be.
  • Then I need a plan to get from point A to point B.
  • Lastly (and perhaps most importantly) I need initiative. I need to be willing to do something about it.

 

So everything starts with accepting yourself for who you are TODAY.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, good sides and bad sides.  And until we accept ourselves for who we are today (warts and all), we can never move forward or improve.  We are never able to live in the present moment, and able to appreciate the life we DO have.

When people are focused on their identity gap, they are focused on who they are not instead of who they are. And when THAT is the focus?  If someone is focused on what they are missing or who they are not, I don’t think they will ever be happy.  Because it doesn’t matter how much you improve, you can always get better.  And people who are focused on what they are not are unable to live in the moment and appreciate the things they DO have.

So any improvements need to first start with self acceptance.

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Once you have accepted who you are today, you are now in a position to better understand the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Ironically, once you have accepted yourself it may not matter as much.

Because although we can always be “more”, when we have accepted ourselves we know we are “enough”.

Empty Love

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Relationships are hard.

That’s a simple fact – borne out by divorce rates which continue to hover around the 50% mark.

And then there’s that additional question – for every relationship that “makes it”, how many are actually happy?

How many people get up each and every day, and actively CHOOSE their partner?  How many are grateful for what they have?

Instead of that, I really wonder how many are just going through the motions and living day by day.  Still married on paper, but no longer in mind or soul?

 

All couples are different, but I think the story of a failing marriage is all too familiar.

A couple meet, and fall in love.  Everything is great, or at least good enough that they decide to get married.  And those first few years they are pretty happy.

Then over time, life starts to get in the way.  Jobs, mortgages, bills, kids, extended families.  All the stresses of “everyday life” happen, and this person who started as your friend and lover morphs into something more like a business partner.  Instead of fun and exciting, things become safe, and mundane.  And instead of actively showing each other how much we care about them, we often start to take each other for granted.

Fact for you – MOST couples don’t do a very good job of keeping the romance and the fun alive.

And then one day they wake up, and realize the passion is gone.

 

What Makes a Couple a Couple?

Let’s rewind a bit, to the early days of a relationship; and think about what it actually is that makes a couple a couple.

Is a couple defined by two people who live together?  No, you can live together and just be roommates.  Conversely you can be in a relationship without living together.  So living together has nothing to do with it.

Is it because you are close friends?  Again, no.  Yeah, friendship is an important *part* of a relationship but being a couple implies something more than that.

The term “friend zone” is used to describe when one person is looking for a relationship with another person, but in return they are just viewed as a friend.

When you have feelings for someone and you are stuck in the friend zone, this is seen as a bad thing.

Having it happen with someone you are hoping to have a relationship with is one thing – if things don’t develop into anything more you can just move on.  But when it happens when you are already IN a relationship (or worse, married)?

Well, that sucks all around.  And realistically, I’m pretty sure it’s not what anyone thought they were signing up for when the relationship started.

No, when you are a couple it is implied that each person views the other as something more, something special.  There is a degree of connection that exists, and often this connection is tied to feelings of closeness, affection, and trust.

 

Triangle Theory of Love

A while back I came across the idea of the “Triangle Theory of Love”, and I think it’s brilliant.  Love is a really difficult concept, and if you ask people to describe love, you are liable to get a different answer from every person you ask.  That’s because there are different elements to it.

triangular_theory_of_love

 

This diagram breaks love down into three basic components:

  1. Passion
  2. Commitment
  3. Intimacy

 

When we look at “romance novel” or “movie” love, the focus is always on the passion.  THIS is the part of love that people are often led to believe IS love.

But it’s not.

It’s a starting point, and a component of love.  But passion on its own does not make a sustainable relationship.  If a relationship is based only on passion, eventually it will burn itself out.  So there has to be more.

 

Although passion is great, I think Intimacy is actually a MUCH more meaningful part of love.  Intimacy is vulnerability.  This is where you have let down all the walls, and truly let the other person in.

Passion is a physical connection, which often seems emotional as well.  Intimacy however is something deeper.  I think of intimacy as almost a spiritual connection.

 

Lastly you have commitment.  People talk about commitment as if it’s this great thing, but I’m not so sure if it is.  Commitment is simply saying “I will always be there for you, no matter what”.  It’s the “in good times and in bad times” part of a relationship.  And that part IS important, because there will always be bad times.  There will always be challenges.  So commitment is what keeps you together, even when it’s not easy.  Even when maybe you don’t even want to be.

 

Empty Love

Common complaint for couples in trouble is that they feel like nothing more than roommates.  They are still together, but they are more two individuals occupying the same space.

The passion is gone.  The intimacy is gone.  And the connection is gone.

All that’s left is commitment.  And when that’s all you have left, it’s a very hollow and lonely way to love.

 

Robert Smith (The Cure) sums it up beautifully in the song Bare

 

But holding onto used to be

Is not enough

Memory’s not life

And it’s not love

 

Think about that for a moment – memory is not life, and it’s not love.

When all you have left is commitment, you have empty love.  You have history, memory, and nothing more.

I think THIS is the biggest challenge in long term relationships.  THIS is the problem that happens to SO many couples.

And THIS is why so many relationships fail.

Empty love.

Commitment, when both the passion and the intimacy have gone.

 

Choosing Love

When you have Passion, Intimacy AND Commitment all together, you have a beautiful, incredible thing.

But it’s something that is SO easy to lose.

How does this happen?  WHY does this happen?  And what can we do about it?

 

A while back, one reader (apensiveheart) gave me this comment, and I think it sums things up beautifully:

Love isn’t a feeling. Love is a verb. It is action. It is work. Part of the reason it is so successful and feels so good in the early part of a relationship is because we are willing to put in the work and make the effort to do what our companion desires. Over time, we lose that need or that desire to put that same level of effort in, and things begin to deteriorate. I think we forget just how hard we tried in the beginning simply because the feelings made it feel so easy and natural. We go from asking what can I do for you, to instead asking what can you do for me. The whole dynamic changes because our perspective changes from caring about them to caring more about ourselves.

This is one of my core beliefs about love – it’s an action, a choice.  If we want to maintain intimacy and passion, we need to work on it.

And I guess this is the real value of commitment.

Commitment ISN’T about staying together no matter what.  Commitment does not mean accepting empty love.

Commitment means always choosing your partner, each and every day.  And not just choosing them, but also putting IN to the relationship.

Working on it – working on intimacy.  Working on passion.  Making ALL aspects of love a priority in your relationship, and doing your best to prevent it from failing.

 

When relationships fail, couples often say that they “fell out of love”.  Or they still love each other, but they were no longer “in love”.

I think they are talking about empty love.  Commitment, without passion or intimacy.

When that happens, I think the fault lies with the person who fell out of love.  Because love is not supposed to be passive.  It’s not just something you “feel” one day, and not another day.

Instead, I believe each person in the relationship is responsible for their feelings of love for their partner.  Part of that commitment involves nurturing that love.

Waking each day, and looking at the good side in the relationship.  Appreciating their partner for who they are, instead of who they aren’t.  And working together to improve the things that need to be improved.

When people “fall out of love” they often believe it’s some sort of incompatibility with their partner.  Or it’s a sign that something is wrong in the relationship.

But love isn’t just a feeling.  It’s not supposed to be passive.

So if they aren’t actively choosing love, each and every day; the person they should really be blaming – is themselves.

Sorting Things Out

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In the past I’ve written about relationship doubt and some of the things that can cause it.  Broken trust, anxiety issues, a belief that there may be someone out there who is *better* for you; all of these things can cause doubts.

Doubt is understandable but it’s also very dangerous, as belief is tied to effort.  At both a conscious or an unconscious level, the more someone doubts the less they put INTO the relationship.  As a result, if doubt is not dealt with it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, destroying the relationships.

 

In this post I want to look not only at the person having doubts, but also how it impacts the other person in the relationship.

 

 

If someone is having doubts about whether or not they really want their relationship or if it is the right one for them, there are a few things to think about.

First is the nature of the relationship.  It’s one thing to have doubts if you are casually dating, as those doubts are part of determining if it’s a relationship you actually want to commit to.  Once you have committed, things change a bit; and if you are living together, married, and/or have kids together then the complexity of the situation increases significantly.

Even in complex situations it is important to remember that a relationship involves two people.

If you are having doubts, you owe it to your partner to be honest with them.  Any problem or doubts you have affect them too – they NEED to know about it and they need to have an opportunity to be part of any solution.

 

I can understand the idea that sometimes we want to keep our thoughts to ourselves, especially when periods of doubt can be times when we don’t even really know what’s going on in our own heads.

However it’s pretty common to hear stories where one person thought that things were going pretty well, until one day they find out their partner has decided they want a divorce and they have already made up their mind.

To me, that should never, EVER happen.  Relationships are based on communication.  No one should ever be blindsided by these types of things.  If there is a problem, they have a right to know about it, and to at least have an opportunity to try and work on things; instead of being faced with a position where by the time they know it’s too late.

When someone doesn’t share their doubts, those doubts tend to grow and deepen.  And when that happens a distance will form, as the person with the doubts will naturally tend to withdraw and detach themselves from the relationship.

Some people may claim that their partner knew there were issues.  They had to, because they obviously saw the changes in behavior.

Well yeah, maybe.  I’m sure they did know something was up.  But unless it was communicated to them they had no way of understanding the severity of the doubt.  Relationships go through ups and downs all the time, frequently someone thinks they are just going through a down time – and then one day they wake up to find they are facing a divorce they never saw coming.

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Time to Figure Things Out

Relationships change, things happen, and sometimes people question whether the life they have is really the one they want.  When it happens it sucks for everyone involved, but it’s part of life.

And when this happens, the person with doubts often wants some time and space to “figure things out”.  I get that.  It’s understandable that they can’t be fully engaged in a relationship if they aren’t sure they want it anymore.  And depending on the source of those doubts, I think most people’s partners will try to be understanding and give them a bit of time.

Here’s the problem though – a (committed) relationship isn’t a part time gig.  It’s not the sort of thing where you can just take a sabbatical, and come back when/if you decide that yeah, you are actually committed to it.

There has to be some empathy and understanding on both sides, but people need to find a way to continue the relationship even during this time.

If they can’t?  If they really need to “take a break”?

In my mind, that is what separation is for.

It is completely unfair and selfish for someone to expect to be able to “stay” in the relationship that they aren’t committed to it anymore.  People can’t just pick and choose the parts they feel like dealing with (usually the security of home, and family) while checking out on the parts they don’t want to deal with (usually emotional and physical intimacy).

To the best of their ability they need to find a way to do both.

 

In these situations the person with the doubts often wants time to figure things out in their own way, at their own pace.  They want their partner to give them time and space with no pressure.  To wait for them.

In a way there is something romantic about the notion of waiting for someone.

It brings to mind stories of WWII, where soldiers would go off to war and their girlfriends would promise to wait for them.  And the joy they would have when they were finally reunited.

This is different though.

In those cases the relationship was separated by circumstance; and the person waiting believed they would be coming back.

In the case of someone having doubts, why should the other person wait?  They are essentially being told that the person they love is “no longer sure if they want to be with them”.

Think about that for a moment.

No longer sure.

So they love someone and have committed to them, but that person isn’t sure they want things anymore.  Instead of being committed to getting through anything together, the person they love sees them as simply an option – not a priority.

Yet they are expected to just put their life on hold and wait, in the hopes that maybe their partner will continue to choose them.

And if they don’t?

Then that time spent waiting was time wasted.  Time of their life they will never get back.

 

You Can Never Go Home Again

Doubts happen, and as noted there can be all sorts of reasons that aren’t even directly related to the relationship.  Identity issues, depression, anxiety – all of these can cause doubt.  And sometimes those doubts will never go away.

But you need to identify the real cause of the doubt and actively fight back against it.  Because when someone checks out of a relationship because of those doubts they fundamentally alter the relationship forever.

Once you have been made to feel like an option, things are never the same again.  They can still be good, or even great.  But that magic of knowing that you will always be there for each other no matter what life throws at you?

Once that has been broken it’s gone forever.

 

I recently read a blog written by someone who’s partner had checked out on the relationship, and he wasn’t sure what to do.  One of the commenters told him that he should use this time to show his wife how much he loves her, because (in her words) “women like to be chased”.

Sorry, I can’t disagree with this more.

Maybe he had been taking his partner for granted and that was contributing to her doubts.  If so, and those doubts made him realize he had been taking them her for granted (sadly something that is natural in relationships), that’s one thing.  Then he should use this as a wake up call, and adjust his behavior appropriately.

We all want to feel valued, and appreciated (that applies to women and men).  But “chasing” accomplishes nothing.  Someone has to be there because they want to be there – not because they like the thrill of being chased.

It’s like an addict chasing the next high.  If someone is only there when they are being chased, how long will it be until they check out and are gone again?

No, if someone needs that thrill and that rush, then I would say let them go.

 

 

All sorts of things can cause doubt, and at times they can be crushing.  But if you are in a relationship the worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself.

It may seem like a deeply personal thing but it doesn’t just affect one person, so both people have to be involved.  The doubts may originate with one person, but both people need to be part of the solution.

Doubt can destroy relationships but it doesn’t have to.  In fact love can be strongest when it can accept those doubts and continue to thrive in spite of them.

DoubtingLove

When Roots Run Deep

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One of my earliest memories of moving out from my parents and into my own place is of buying a plant.

I’m not sure if it was actually my first plant (as people may have given me some previously), but it was the first one that I bought.  I had stopped at the mall on the way home from school, and there were some tables set up with a couple of old ladies selling things as part of some church fund raiser.

I was initially drawn to the table for the baking (because really, who doesn’t love cookies), but while there I also bought a small fig tree.

When I bought the plant, it was a twig with a few leaves on it.  I loved that little tree, and it came to represent a change in my apartment.  This little touch of green added some life to my apartment, and as I changed apartments a few times over the next few years it was one of my constants.  It continued to thrive and grow, eventually hitting around 4 or 5 feet tall.

Wherever I was, this tree helped me feel that my apartment wasn’t just a little concrete box that I rented.  Instead, it was my home.

 

 

I live in a diverse climate with four distinct seasons.  Our summers tend to be sunny and hot.  Our winters on the other hand, well, they’re pretty damned cold.

Unfortunately one of my many moves in those years happened during winter; and even the trip from apartment to moving vehicle back to new apartment is not kind on plants.

Over the next few days my fig tree dropped all of its leaves, until there was nothing left but branches.  And then, even they started to wither and die.

I was pretty upset.  Most things to me are just that – “things”, and easily replaceable.  But this tree had come to mean more.

My roommate told me it was dead and said I should just throw it out.  But for some reason I didn’t (I’m still not sure why, likely just stubbornness on my part).  I continued to water it, and as branches died I trimmed them down.

Then one day I saw green again.

The tree as it was had died.  It was gone, and wasn’t coming back.  But from the roots a small shoot had come up.

Above ground the tree had died.  But the roots were still alive, and were strong enough to support new life.

 

 

I believe this happens in relationships all the time.

Long term relationships are difficult for a number of reasons, but hedonic adaptation is probably the biggest killer of all.  It’s human nature for the good in our lives to become our new normal, and when this happens we start taking the good for granted and instead start seeing the flaws.

If you think of the relationship as a living entity (such as a tree), it’s very common for people to stop putting in the effort that nurtures growth.  We put all this effort into building the relationship, but once we actually have it we feel safe, and we stop putting the effort in.

Instead we neglect the relationship and put our energies into other things.  The kids, our jobs, our hobbies, our friends, maintaining a household.  All these things are important, and “have to be done”, and with a crunch on time our relationships are the most common casualty.

feeling of love

We stop putting in effort.  Then one day we find ourselves both surprised and hurt to find that our relationship has “died”.

The passion is gone.

The love is gone.

The simple enjoyment of being around each other is gone.

We find ourselves asking, is this all there is?  Is this what marriage really looks like?

Some resign themselves to this, believing this is just what happens over time.  Others withdraw even further into individual pursuits, not realizing they are just making things worse and laying a foundation for potential affairs (on one or both sides).  Others accept that things the relationship has run its course, and split up.

 

I don’t believe any of those options ever has to be the outcome of a struggling relationship.  Loveless relationships aren’t just what happens over time.  You should always be able to find enjoyment and joy at continuing to build your relationship with your partner.  No matter how things are, they can always be improved.

 

 

My old fig tree IS dead.  It’s gone.

But I was able to bring it back to life (In fact, that’s a picture of it at the top).

Because under the surface the roots were still alive, and from those roots a new tree has grown.

This new tree is not the same as the old one, and that’s alright.

It may not be the same, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

It’s been over 15 years since my fig tree “died”, but the new one is vibrant and thriving.

 

 

When relationships “fail”, rebuilding it is often the hardest choice.

Because in order to rebuild, you need to believe that it can be beautiful again.  And depending on what you’ve been through, that can be very hard to do.  It becomes almost impossible however, if you are unable to let go of your visions of how it used to be.

Truly, it will never be the same.

But it doesn’t have to be.

The question is, is there still life in the roots of the relationship?  Do both people still care, and are they willing to put in effort?

If so, a new relationships can be built.

 

When a couple is able to put aside hurt, ego, and still choose each other, the new relationship they build can be even stronger than the one they had before.

 

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What Do You Remember?

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The first time I experienced death, it was the passing of my Grandfather.

My phone rang late at night/early in the morning, and my brother give me the news.  My Grandfather hadn’t been well, but it still came as a shock to me.  My brother lived close at the time, so he picked me up we went to my Grandparents house to be with the family.

I remember seeing my Grandmother when I came in, and not really knowing what to say.  I just gave her a hug and told her I was sorry.

It’s been over 20 years, but I still remember a lot of details of that night.  And it’s not just that night, I also remember other details of that time in my life.

For example I remember what music I was listening to at that time in my life, and there is a song from that time that I have come to associate with his passing.  Whenever I hear that song now, I think of my Grandfather.

 

Remembering Experiences

Memory is an interesting thing.  When I look back on my life there are all sorts of moments that stand out in some way.  I remember a lot of “firsts”, and other significant occasions.

Like my Grandfathers death, they aren’t all happy moments.  Some are happy, some are sad, fun, or silly.  Hell, some are moments that I wish I could forget.

The one thing these moments have in common is that they all had an impact on me in one way or another.

 

Now, contrast this with the things we don’t remember.

What are those?

That’s a trick question I guess, asking you to think of the things you don’t remember.  But what we don’t remember is the mundane.  I mean, can you tell me what you had for dinner a month ago today?  I doubt it – unless a month ago today was a special day like a birthday or an anniversary (and even then I doubt it).

We don’t remember cleaning the house, grocery shopping, doing the laundry or putting gas in the car.  These things are important and need to be done; but they don’t impact us.

The routine moments of life tend to blur one into the next, and during those moments we’re kind of on autopilot.

That’s not to say these impactful moments are necessarily any better, or more important than the routine moments of our lives.  But they stay with us when the other moments don’t.

 

“Firsts”

Why is this important?

It’s important because memories and experiences matter.

When a couple meets, they share all sorts of firsts.  Their first date, their first kiss, meeting each other’s families and friends for the first time, the first time they have sex, the birth of a child, etc.

All of these moments matter, and as a couple builds a life together they are also building shared experience.

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Over time though many couples find themselves in a rut, where life has become nothing more than routine.  Routine is important, and necessary; but when this happens it can make it seem like all they have left is shared history; and memories of the time when things were better and happier.

(Interestingly memory can be faulty, and our brain can rewrite our past in order to justify our present – but that’s another post for another day)

Often a big part of the problem is they have stopped sharing these impactful moments.  Life becomes all about nothing more work, kids, and maintaining a household.

With all these competing needs and limited time, they stop nurturing and growing the relationship.  After all, they already have each other right?  They’re already committed to each other, so why MAKE time for the relationship when there is another event to bring the kids to, or another load of laundry to be done.

But when the relationship stops being a focus, they stop building meaningful moments “as a couple” together.

Somewhere along the way, what started as comfortable familiarity turns into apathy, and eventually a recognition that the spark has been lost.  This realization that the spark is gone is a painful one, and can lead to questioning what it means to the relationship.

 

Pulling Away

Failing relationships are often characterized by two people who still love each other, but no longer know how to connect with each other on a deeper level.

And when couples find themselves in this rut, they often make a big mistake.  They each desperately crave the connection they “used to have” with each other.  But they don’t know how to get it back, and that hurts.  So in response to that pain, they shut down and withdraw.

They stop building meaningful moments together, because they have stopped engaging each other.  And without continuing to grow their relationship, all that is left is memory of “when times were better”.  And without effort, they are virtually guaranteeing the relationship will not succeed.

 

Building in Experience

I think this notion of remembering experiences is important to keeping your relationship alive.  And these moments don’t have to be big, elaborate or expensive.  We remember “firsts”, so add some novelty.  Take a class together, try something you’ve never tried.  Whether you like it or end up hating it, it’s still an experience you are sharing together.

Life can’t be just about work, kids, domestic chores (with some time taken out to watch TV).  Sure that stuff matters, but for the health of your relationship, you need to spend time on it.  And if you’re too busy, you need to make time

I’ve said before you can have anything, just not everything.  There are limits to the amount of time, energy and money we have.  We can’t have everything, so we need to focus our priorities on what’s truly important.  If we want our relationships to last, that should be reflected in the amount of energy we put into them.

If the relationships is always taking the hit because other stuff gets in the way, it should be no surprise when it starts to struggle.  As the saying goes, garbage in garbage out.  What you get out of something is directly correlated to what you put into it.

So show that.  Don’t let your relationship become nothing more than a memory of better times.  Make your relationship a priority.  Take time out each day to let all the distractions and busyness of life fade away, and focus on each other.

And never stop building experiences together.

 

 

What if Life had a Rewind Button?

rewindHeader

A few weeks ago I sold a car.

I’ve never sold anything worth more than a couple of dollars before, so the experience was actually a little bit intimidating.

To get the car ready to sell we needed to bring it to a shop for a safety check, and then address any issues that came from that (thankfully there’s weren’t many).  Once that was done and the car was cleaned up inside and out it was time to put it up for sale.

All that was left was the little question of price.

What was an appropriate price?  Truthfully, I had no idea.  So it was time to do some research.  I looked up other ads for the same model and year, talked to an insurance company for an estimated value, and checked a website with estimated values for cars.

I took all these numbers, factored in the condition of the car, and made a judgement call on what seemed “right”.

I posted the ad on Friday morning, hoping that the car would go within a few weeks…

…and then my phone started to ring.

I had a number of people interested in coming to take a look at it, and when I got home from work I had two people show up at my place right away.  Both were interested in the car, and I ended up selling it for exactly what I asked.  No bargaining, no haggling.

Pretty good, right?

In most ways, yeah.  But the response also makes me think I could and probably should have charged more.

I kind of wished I could have gone back in time 24 hours and added another $500 to what I was asking.  I mean, I could definitely use the money and I’m (now) pretty sure I would have got it.

Thing is, I can’t.  There is no rewind button.

Pricing the car was based on a decision that seemed like the right one at the time.  And that was all I could do.

 

 

That’s pretty much how life goes.  We are constantly making decisions, both big and small.  And when we make them, they are the decisions that appeared right to us in that moment.

Why?

Who knows.

Maybe our choice was based on careful deliberation or maybe it was an impulsive action.  Maybe we did something because we thought it was the altruistic thing to do, or maybe we were only thinking about ourselves (basically being a selfish asshole).

In some ways, our “intent” doesn’t matter as much as the result does.  Was that decision actually a good one?  And more importantly, if presented with the same choice in the future would we make the same decision?

Even if we later realize that the decision was a terrible one, we can’t change it.  Life doesn’t come with a rewind button.

Once we’ve made choice, it’s happened – and it’s up to us to own our decisions and live with the consequences – good or bad.

 

In psychology, rumination is a term used to describe being:

compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solution

– Wikipedia

 

Generally speaking, rumination is a BAD thing.  Getting caught up in would’ve, could’ve, should’ve and what if? can trap you in the past.  Sometimes people spend so much time and energy worrying about the things they’ve done and how they should or could have done them differently that they are unable to move forward in life.

The way I see it, time spent in rumination is nothing but wasted time.

No matter how much we may wish life came with a rewind button we can’t change it.  It doesn’t matter if you would do something differently with what you know now, you didn’t.

It’s happened.

A choice we made, and now all you can do is live with the consequences.

 

That’s not to say the past doesn’t matter.

We are still the owners of our own decisions.  So we need to own them, and be accountable for them.

This is well summed up by the late Muhammad Ali:

LearningAndGrowth

Learning is the key here.  Life doesn’t have a rewind button.  We are always moving forward, whether we like it or not.

 

We should always try to learn from our choices.

I’m not the same me that I was at 20.

I’m not the same me that I was at 30.

And I shouldn’t be.

 

Our past is important because it shapes us.  And it provides considerable value if we look at what we’ve done, what was good, what was bad, and try to be better next time.

But it should never trap us.

We make choices, good and bad.  But we only become trapped in our past when we refuse to use it to grow.

Are You and Your Partner Compatible?

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I’m a big believer in marriage, and I’m pretty sure most people go into marriage with the belief that their marriage will succeed.

Yet roughly 50% or all first marriages fail.

And in the vast majority of divorces is North America (and presumably more of the world), the reason given for the divorce is irreconcilable differences.

So, what exactly are irreconcilable differences?

Yeah, the words tell you this means the couple has differences they can’t figure out, but what does that even mean?

I tried to find a good explanation for irreconcilable differences, and at this site (a divorce law site of course) I found the following:

 

What that this means is that you and your spouse’s basic fundamental differences make it impossible to stay married. For some couples, arguments over child discipline, politics, finances, or religion are severe enough to drive a permanent wedge in the marriage. Other couples may want a divorce because they fight a lot, have personality conflicts, or simply don’t trust each other. Whatever your differences with your spouse, they must be permanent enough that your marriage has become irretrievably broken.

 

So basically, at some point in time a couple comes to a determination that they aren’t compatible, and this incompatibility is significant enough that they can’t handle being together anymore.

 

How Does Compatibility Break Down?

You know, I’ve never gone to a wedding where the couple said things like “I’m looking forward to the start of our next few years together, until we realize our differences are so significant we have to hire lawyers to break down the life we will be building together.”

Guys supposedly aren’t very good at listening though, so that could be on me.

Realistically though, when a couple gets married they believe they are compatible.  I’m pretty sure they know they have differences, but when they stand up there and pledge forever to each other, they believe they have what it takes to make it.

Yet almost 50% of marriages fail.

What the hell are we doing wrong?

How does compatible become irreconcilable?

 

I guess at least part of it is change.

People are constantly growing and evolving, so the couple who stands there and exchanges vows is likely quite a bit different from the couple who later find themselves dealing with divorce lawyers and legal fees.

They changed.

They may have believed they were compatible on the marriage day, but as the years went by they were no longer those same people.

Another problem could be they knew they had differences, but thought they could “get past” them.  On the wedding day they figured those differences weren’t a problem, but over time they were proven wrong.

Thing is, people are different, and people change.  Those two things are among the few constants in life.  So unless we are willing to accept the idea that the institute of marriage is broken (and I’m not willing to accept that), we need to figure out how we can do a better job of accepting change, and find ways to stay happy together in spite of it.

 

Accepting Influence

A little over a year ago I wrote a post called Accepting Influence, and although my thoughts on it have changed a bit in the past year I think accepting influence is probably the most important thing you can do in order to have a successful relationship.

In fact, I think accepting influence is what relationships are really all about.

A marriage isn’t just a way of sharing living expenses, or having someone there to take care of you.  A marriage is not just about having your needs fulfilled.  In fact, it’s not about a “me”, and it’s not about a “you”.

It’s about an “us”.

When two people meet, it’s often some of their shared interests that bring them together.  They have some things in common, and these common interests give them things to talk about and experiences to share.

When talking about compatibility it is often these common interests that are talked about.

Hey, we both like to travel, we both like similar foods, movies, music… whatever it is.

But no matter how similar you are, people also have differences.  AND, they change over time.

 

Accepting influence is all about learning to navigate those differences, and expanding your world so that you start to care about things you normally wouldn’t have – BECAUSE they matter to your partner!

At a superficial level this can be things like activities and hobbies.  You aren’t trying to become your partner, or force yourself into all aspects of their life.  But you ARE trying to understand them, and have more common ground to share with them.  Maybe to be able to hold a conversation with them about one of their passions, even if you don’t share it.

At a deeper level this is something as important as love languages.  Couples don’t always share the same love languages – the things that make one person feel loved and valued don’t necessarily match their partners.  But it’s important to try and understand what matters to your partner and give them what they need to feel loved – even (and perhaps especially) when it doesn’t match your own.

This is a form of accepting influence.  Really, it’s about saying to your partner YOU matter to me.  I care about you.

On the flip side, refusing to accept influence is kind of like saying “Sure I care about you and your needs – as long as they line up with mine”.

Relationships shouldn’t be just about your needs.  You should derive happiness from seeing your partner happy and from contributing to that happiness, even when it doesn’t line up with something you personally need.

What if the happiness of your partner doesn’t matter to you?  Well, if that’s the case you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship.

 

Building Compatibility

The reason given for most divorces is “irreconcilable differences”.  Aka “we weren’t compatible anymore”.

However compatibility doesn’t just happen, it’s something you build into the relationship every day.  Every time you accept influence from your partner by putting their needs at the same level as your own and trying to do things for them, you are building compatibility.

And every time you put me ahead of we, you are building in incompatibility.  I’m not saying you should do everything together or never have time to yourself, as individual time and space is important to the health of a relationship.  But the needs of your partner should always matter.

 

When people cite irreconcilable differences, I think what they are REALLY saying is “I was no longer willing to work with you and try to meet your needs.  I was no longer willing to try and find a solution that works for both of us.”

Personal boundaries are good, and are a healthy part of relationships.  When those personal boundaries collide however, often the inability to find a solution together is more a testament to one or both sides wanting things their way.  To putting me before we.

Sure, they want to get to forever and they want the happy ending.  But they want it on their terms, and aren’t willing to move their position to meet their partner and find a place where both people can be happy.

And if you are in a relationship for you?  Then you’ve already failed.

 

Successful relationships aren’t about you, and they aren’t about me.  In successful relationships there is a recognition that both you and me matter, and the only way to do that is by putting we first.

If requires communication, negotiation, and accepting influence.

I think it’s best summed up by a line in this article:

Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

We start with a certain degree of compatibility, but after that it doesn’t just happen on it’s own.  It’s up to us to maintain it, and it’s up to us to build it.

So irreconcilable differences doesn’t mean there was an inherent problem with the couple. A lack of compatibility really means the couple couldn’t, or wouldn’t, build it in.

Your Most Important Relationship

When you think of all the roles we play in life, we have different relationships with many different people.

All these different relationships make up different facets of our life, and have varying degrees of importance. Often the most important relationships in our lives are the ones we have with our children, our partner, our parents/siblings and our closest friends.

These relationships are all important, and shape us in different ways. Because they all affect is, is it fair to say that any of them is more important than others? If you had to pick one relationship in your life and say it was the most important one, what would it be? Your partner? Your children?

In some ways it’s an impossible question. But at the same time, I do think there is only one correct answer.

The most important relationship you will ever have in your life is the one you have with…

You.

Who are You?

When thinking about relationships, the one we have with ourselves is often ignored. But it’s very important because it sets the tone for virtually everything in your life.

Think of the following:

    • How well do you know yourself?
    • How well do you understand yourself?
    • How honest are you with yourself on your strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities?
    • Do you love, and value yourself?
    • Do you believe in yourself?

In many ways I believe your success in life (however you define that) and even your own happiness depends on the answer to these questions.

In the past I’ve asked do you love yourself?, but in this post I want to approach this in a different way.

Knowing who you are, being honest with yourself about your strengths, weaknesses and insecurities but still accepting and loving yourself in spite of them is perhaps the most important thing you can do.

A Distorted Lens

One of my core beliefs is that we are the sum of our experiences. Everything we go through in life affects us. Sometimes in small ways, and other times in larger ways. And as a result of this, we are incapable of seeing things objectively. Everything we see is filtered through the lens of our own beliefs and experiences.

what we see

That’s not to say that the same experiences will affect two different people in the same way.

Take an affair for example. When people have affairs, common reasons are that they weren’t happy, or they were looking for something that was “missing” in their relationship (At least that’s what they say.  To their partners it usually seems like they are narcissists who don’t care if they hurt others in pursuit of their own hedonistic urges).

I’ll acknowledge that there are a narcissists out there, but I would like to think that for most affairs people really were unhappy and trying to fill a gap of some sort – just in a very selfish and unhealthy way.

However many people aren’t as happy as they could be, and feel they are missing things in their relationships – and they don’t all have affairs.

So what will cause one person to do this and another person not to?

Psychologists say that affairs (and other behaviors like this) aren’t really about what is wrong with the relationship or their partner. Sure, there are likely issues that contributed. But really they are all about the person who engages in the activity, and what they are lacking inside.

I truly believe this comes down to a person’s relationship with themselves. We often can’t control the things that happen to us in life. But we DO have control over how we respond to these things.

So when you accept yourself (flaws and all) and are at peace with who you are, you are better equipped to deal with adversity. When you can’t accept yourself, then you look for that acceptance through validation from others.

needingValidation

 

Self-Acceptance and Happiness

Why is this relevant? Because it has everything to do with your relationship with yourself.

When you can’t accept yourself for who you are and instead need to find validation of your worth from others, it leads to unhappiness. And when you can’t accept yourself, it is easy to look for reasons why you are unhappy.

But when someone is chronically unhappy it has more to do with them then it does with anything external.

We all have fears and insecurities, and it’s natural to build up walls and try to hide them.
To be truly happy and authentic to ourselves, we need to be willing to face the mirror and accept all of ourselves, both good and bad.

That’s not to say we have to accept the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. Change may not be easy, but it IS possible. However it’s impossible to change when we hide our insecurities and blame others for our own problems. It’s only when we can accept who we actually are that we can truly change.

ChangeParadox

 

Impacts on Relationships

I usually write about relationships, and I think the success or failure of relationships is greatly impacted by a persons identity, or sense of self.

The idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else is very true, as how you treat others is often a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself.

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I have heard countless stories where a relationship fails not just because because of an incompatibility between the couple. But because one person never really knew who they were or loved themselves.

So they sublimated who they were and presented the “self” they believed was expected of them.

Over time this causes strain, as they aren’t being true to themselves and may come to resent playing a role.

Their partner has never seen their authentic self; but that’s not the partners fault, it’s because of walls they have built and what they have allowed them to see. And those walls were built out of fear. In some ways it’s due to fear of being rejected by that other person. But that fear is truly driven because they were unable to accept themselves.

Facing the Mirror

I think the strongest relationships are ones that are built on truth and authenticity. Where you have allowed yourself to become vulnerable and let the other person in. Where you have allowed them to see all of you – good and bad; and you know that they accept you and love you all the same.

That involves allowing them to truly see the authentic you, and for that to happen until you must first accept and love yourself.

self love

Relationship Doubt

 

Conflict between the man and the woman

Most single people hope they will one day find someone that they will be able to share their life and grow old with. And most people in relationships hope they have already found that person.

I think this is a natural desire for people. And it’s understandable, as relationships can be great. Ideally they are places of safety and trust; where you are partners who care for and support each other, while simultaneously growing individually and as a couple.

They are also full of challenges though, as you are two different people trying to build a life that works for both. And this will naturally give rise to highs and lows.

Beyond the normal challenges and conflicts though, there is one thing that can completely derail a relationship:

Doubt.

Doubt can come in many forms, such as doubt that the other person really loves you, doubt that you can trust the other person, doubt that you still love the other person, and doubt that they are “the right person” for you.

It doesn’t matter if the couple has been together 2 months or 10 years. No relationship is immune to these feelings.

If and when this happens, it’s important it is discussed and addressed. Because when it isn’t, doubt can often cause the relationship to fail.

In life, belief or “buy in” is very important.

When people buy into something they understand the value of it. They understand its place in their life and their place with it. This is always valuable, and especially so in relationships.

Doubt is corrosive to buy-in, and puts a relationship in limbo, preventing it from moving forward in a positive manner.

doubt

The One?

I believe one of the leading causes for doubt in a relationship is unrealistic expectations and understanding of what a relationship is; or an immature understanding of love.

We are frequently exposed to the idea of a soul mate, or “the one”, the idea that every person out there has a perfect match somewhere. This idea may seem romantic at first, but it is ultimately destructive.

An unspoken extension of the idea of “the one” is that if/when you find this person, the will complete you and everything will be happy and wonderful.

This becomes an issue when relationships invariably run into problems or conflict, or when they fall into a rut where the spark has faded. When this happens, it’s easy for the attitude to become:

Hmm, we have problems. Maybe he/she isn’t the one. Maybe this isn’t the right relationship for me. Maybe I would be happier with someone else.

This sort of thinking can create doubt about the existing relationship.

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Newsflash for you – there are millions of people out there in the world, and you have varying degrees of compatibility with every single one of them. Even if you filter this list down to your gender or preference, age (plus or minus some sort of tolerance level), and some sort or radius from where you live; it’s a pretty safe bet that no matter who you are with, at any given point in time there is *someone* out there who is a better match.

To that I say, so what?

Who really cares if there is someone out there that is a better match?

The question I have is, are you largely happy in your current situation? If you are having doubts, then probably not. But if not, what are you doing about it? Is your partner aware of your concerns, and are they taking actions to improve things? Or are you just letting the doubt fester?

When you doubt, it impacts your buy in. And over time, this impacts your body language and the effort you put in. Sometimes the mere seed of doubt can actually be the catalyst that causes the relationship to fail.

Reasonable Doubt

If you have doubts, you need to be able to articulate what the source of the doubt is.

There are reasonable doubts. Things like your partner being controlling, cruel, aloof, coming home at odd hours or being inconsistent or not forthcoming in what they say. There are all sorts of “warning signs” for relationships, and it’s important to not turn a blind eye to them when they occur.

But doubts can also be of your own making.

We all have our insecurities, and it’s important to understand ourselves and our insecurities in order to get a handle on them and prevent them from poisoning our relationships. Especially when we carry the hurts of past relationships into new ones.

For example, someone who has been cheated on in the past may be hypersensitive to any actions that could suggest an affair, and they may see things that aren’t there.

It’s important to communicate these things to your partner. If they understand where you are coming from, they may be a bit more conscious of how their actions appear. But over time trust needs to build. If someone is constantly doubting a person who hasn’t given them cause to doubt, this will damage the relationship.

One of the big problems with doubt is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone has doubts, and as a result they start to hold back and build walls. Often this is done as a way of “protecting” themselves from potentially being hurt.

However building walls and holding back creates distance, and this distance will take a toll.

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Making a Choice

It’s one thing to doubt if you are compatible, or doubt if you will make it. These are normal doubts that can crop up from time to time.

But if you are having doubts about whether or not you really want to be with the other person anymore, I believe you need to make a choice.

You need to choose to accept them for who they are, and commit to making the relationship the best that it can possibly be; or get out of the relationship and move on.

Some people stay in a relationship they “aren’t sure about” because they are scared to be alone. Or they feel they have invested a lot of time into the relationship, and they don’t want it to have been wasted.

But being in a relationship where you are not fully committed (and likely holding back) due to doubt is completely unfair to the other person.

If you have doubts about your relationship ask yourself this; what is the one thing you never get back?

Time.

Time wasted on doubt is just that.  Wasted time.  And it’s time you never get back.

Sometimes people have doubts, and they want space or they want time to figure things out. And to a degree that is reasonable request for someone to make.

But it needs to come with a limit.

If someone has doubts – they don’t know what they want. So for the person who is “waiting”, the person they are waiting for is trying to figure out if they want a life with them or not.

Taken another way, they are an option to this person, and not a priority.

So why? Why should someone wait?

Why would someone possibly want to waste of their life – time they will never get back, over someone who isn’t able to commit to them?

There’s a saying, Get busy living, or get busy dying. And in the case of relationship doubt I think it’s very relevant.

Doubt destroys relationships. So the person who has the doubt needs to make a choice. They need to get busy living, or get busy dying. They need to either accept their relationship and make it the best it can be, or they need to let it go and move on.

Either way, they need to make a decision and then take action.

Limbo helps no one. It just results in people wasting their lives. And life doesn’t magically get better on it’s own.

So although doubt can be normal, if you have doubts you really need to make a choice. You need to be able to commit in spite of the doubt, or you need to move on.

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Letting Go

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When feelings are gone, how do you (and your partner) convince yourself to like one another again?

This question was posed to me recently by a buddy, it’s a loaded one.

He’s married, and longs for the “old days” when there was love and passion and the time they had together was special.

He and his wife have been together for many years, and one day he woke up and realized things weren’t the same. They were friends, and companions; and although there was a lot of good in the relationship still, his feelings for her just weren’t there anymore.

This lack of “feeling” led him to question what was wrong, and to start distancing himself from her (which in turn just increased tension in the relationship). He felt they had become a couple who were just going through the motions of day to day life; and although he felt it *could* get better, his heart wasn’t really in it.

And that recognition hurt.

I wish I could help him, I really do.

I wish there was a surefire answer that could solve his problems and make him fall in love with his wife again (and she with him if she’s feeling the same way).

Of course if I knew the answer to his problem, it’s a pretty safe bet I wouldn’t be writing this blog anymore. Or maybe I would be but it would look a lot more professional, and be full of product placement for my “revitalize your marriage with these quick steps” self-help program.

How Do We Get There?

My buddy’s problem isn’t unusual. He’s in a spot I think many, many people find themselves in. And often these people wish things were different, but don’t know what to do. They don’t necessarily want out of the relationship. But they aren’t happy in the spot that they are in, and they don’t know how to make it better.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking and writing about this type of thing, and although there is no “one size fits all” explanation for how people get there I think there are some common patterns that emerge.

Unrealistic view of love

I believe part of the problem comes from an unrealistic view of love. Love as depicted in the movies/media is all about passion; and when people remember back to the “old days” there’s a pretty good chance they are remembering those passionate times.

Here’s the thing though – excitement is based on unpredictability. When you are still learning each other there’s naturally more of a sense of excitement, because everything is new. One of the strengths of long term relationships is a sense of security, of knowing the other person will be there. There is comfort in knowing the other person completely, but comfort often comes at the cost of excitement.

That’s not to say anyone should ever accept the loss of passion. It should never completely go away in long term relationships, but it changes. And it’s up to both people to keep it alive.

More than a Feeling

Related to the above point, another problem people face is searching for a feeling.

I’ve always hated this one, because to me thinking of love as a feeling is saying that love is a passive thing. It’s something that just happens to us (or doesn’t). So if it fades, you are left feeling lost. After all, what can you do if you have no control over it?

I’ve never viewed love as just a feeling. Yeah you start with feelings, but it’s your actions that determine how well your love will be sustained. It helps when you partner is kind, caring and shows affection. But ultimately, staying in love is your own responsibility. Love isn’t passive, and keeping it alive is based on our actions.

ChoosingFeelings

Learning to Love

I’m a big believer in continuous improvement, and I think that’s another area where people get love wrong. Love isn’t just a feeling or a choice. It’s also a skill. We may have some inherent capacity to love, but we can always improve on it. We can always strive to understand each other better, and learn new ways to show and express that love to each other.

Learning to love each other is important, and we should never think that because we’ve been together for a while, we “get it”.

When I think back to what I though “love” was at 18, 20, 25, I’m struck by how little I understood it. I’m not saying I get it now, but I definitely have a better understanding of love now than I did a few years ago. And most importantly, I accept that I still have a lot to learn, and I can be better tomorrow than I am today.

Making Time

A huge issue relationships face is taking each other for granted. I think every couple probably goes through this, and some never get out of it.

Repeat the following after me:

Your relationship is important.

Seriously, it should be. And if it isn’t, why are you in one? Yet couples continually find ways to take their relationship (and each other) for granted. And we do this by not spending enough time on it, and not making it a priority.

Life will always get busy. There are always other stresses that can get in the way of taking time to focus on each other if you let them. And because they know their partner “will always be there”, many couples let their relationship slide while other things take precedence.

And then they end up surprised and saddened when they start to realize the connection has broken down. I mean, really? What do you expect?

If your relationship is truly important to you, show it. Make it a priority and put in a bit of time each and every day.

Not Accepting Each Other

In my mind, a relationship should be a partnership. Both people should feel valued, and appreciated, and feel like they are contributing to something larger then themselves.

But behind the scenes there are often power struggles. People often need to be right, or to have things work “their way”. After all, their way is clearly the best. So they put their opinions and beliefs above those of their partner.

Here’s the thing though – we’re all different. We all have different backgrounds and experiences. And what works for one person necessarily work for the other.
It’s possible for two people to walk away from the same experience with completely different understandings of it, and when that happens it’s also possible that both people are right.

Power and control have no place in a relationship, and insisting things need to be a certain way is guaranteed to cause conflict.

All of these issues contribute to couples finding themselves in a bad spot. And like my buddy, many one day wake up and ask themselves what went wrong, and where the love they once felt has gone.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One of my core beliefs is we are the sum of our experiences. If your relationship is currently in a bad spot, it is there because of whatever has come before.

Maybe you’re hurting. Maybe you’ve felt ignored and not valued for a long time. Maybe bad things have happened – apathy, cruelty, cheating, whatever.

No matter what the past is, if you want to move forward you need to let go.

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When people talk about letting go they often talk about letting go of the relationship. Walking away, and starting fresh.

That’s one option. And truly, sometimes it’s the best one.

But it’s not the only one.

Accepting Who You Are Today

My buddy longs for the old days, when he and his wife were younger and everything was better. He needs to accept that those days are gone. Things will never be the same as they were when they first met. He’s not the person he was then, and neither is his wife. They are the people they are now, today. A little older, and perhaps a little more disillusioned.

That’s not to say he needs to accept the emotional disconnect between them and say it’s just part of getting older. They can rebuild closeness and connection. But it’s only when they accept their current reality that they can truly move forward.

Letting Go of Past Hurts

A big part of moving forward is allowing your past to remain in the past. Couples go through a lot of different things, and often they hurt each other very badly, and do things that break down trust. Sometimes those things cause relationships to fail, and I totally understand that.

But if someone truly wants the relationship to work out, no matter has happened they need to let it go. Holding onto anger and resentment will never allow a couple to heal, and move forward.

Think of your past hurt like a physical wound. The human body is an amazing thing, and left alone it will try to heal. Over time it will form a scab, and eventually that scab will fall away leaving a scar as a reminder of what happened.

Holding onto anger and resentment is like picking at the scab. When you pick at it, it can never truly heal. And worse, the constant irritation can cause the wound to fester and become infected, making the problem worse.

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Letting People Back In

A while back I came across an interesting study that found one of the biggest roadblocks for couples in trying to rebuild their relationship came not from a lack of effort or desire to rebuild. Rather, it came from an unwillingness to recognize and trust genuine attempts at rebuilding.

When you’ve been hurt, it’s natural to try and protect yourself from being hurt again. And if your trust has been broken, rebuilding that trust is something that takes time. But putting up walls and not letting your partner back in ensures that any attempts to improve the relationship will fail.

Accepting Differences

Another way to let go is to accepting that you (and your partner) are both different, and that’s alright. Your partner will likely have traits you don’t like, and they will likely do things differently than you would.

Maybe you’re a neat freak and they are a slob (to you). Maybe they like to live for today while you like to plan for the future. There are countless ways that people are different.

Accepting differences is about letting go of control. Accepting that “your way” is not the only way, and that different doesn’t mean less or worse. In fact sometimes differences are complementary, and accepting them can allow each of you to grow in different ways.

Holding On by Letting Go

My buddy believes he has lost the feelings of love for his wife. My guess is, he probably still loves her but his love is buried under feelings of hurt, resentment and neglect that have built up over years.

He needs to decide if he wants to make it work, or if he wants to move on. Every situation is different, and there is no right or wrong answer. Well, other than waffling forever and trying to avoid making a decision – that’s not fair to anyone.
If he decides he truly wants the relationship to work, then he’ll have let go in order to give it a fair chance.

For anyone in a bad spot, the past may be what brought you to where you are today and there may be a lot of hurt. But to truly move forward you need to let go.

The past can’t be changed. Learn from the past, but don’t let it define your present.