Doing What You Want

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In life, we are individuals first and foremost.  And as individuals, we are able to do anything we want.

Other people can suggest things to us, and they may have a level of influence over us; but we ultimately control our own choices and actions.  No one can force us to do anything we don’t want to do.

So my question is should we ever have to do anything we don’t want to do?

 

At first glance, the answer seems obvious:

No, of course not.

If you don’t want to do something, why in the world would you do it?  Right?

Unfortunately things aren’t that simple.

 

Your Life is Not Your Own.

We are individuals.  And yes, we CAN do what we want.  But we do not live in a vacuum.

Our choices and decisions impact others.  If you are in a relationship, or have children; your actions often have a significant impact on those people (whether you like it or not).

There’s no escaping this.  Even if we are single, living on our own and fully independent – there are still going to be times that our actions impact others.  Maybe it’s co-workers, or neighbors, or even just friends.

So no, I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone can ever just do what they want.  Short of removing ourselves from civilization, moving to an isolated island and returning to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, our actions ALWAYS impact others.

 

Most of us don’t want to live on an island by ourselves though.  We are social creatures, and we all crave social connection.

Actually, even if we WERE on an island by ourselves we would still desire/need connection.  In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks was stranded for years, and the only thing that kept him sane was having his volleyball buddy Wilson to talk to (for those that haven’t seen it, Wilson actually was a volleyball).  Yeah it was a fictional movie, but it struck a chord because people are social animals – I suspect that’s why solitary confinement is considered a form of punishment.

So we seek out connection.  We look for people who we can talk to and listen to.  People who make us feel valued, seen, and heard.

And for many of us, this is what leads us to look for a partner in life.  Someone to build a life with, and someone we can envision one day “growing old” with.

 

Building a Relationship

Looking at romantic relationships (marriage/partner), one of the unwritten rules is that the other person has to matter to you.  Your choices affect them, and their choices affect you.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change anything about the way you live or the choices you make.  After all, for the relationship to work you still need to be you and your partner needs to be able to accept you as such.

Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you aren’t an individual anymore, but it does mean you are more than just an individual.

Because of this you need to keep in mind how your choices will impact your partner.  Relationships require caring, empathy, and accepting influence.  And taking your partner into account is part of that.

 

This brings me back to my initial question:

Should we ever have to do anything we don’t want to do?

If your partner wants you to do something and you don’t want to do it, should you be willing to do it for them?  Or do you just say I don’t want to, or that’s not my thing?

It’s a difficult question.

 

Clearly that depends on what it is, and on the perceived expectation from your partner.

If your partner wants you to be their getaway driver for a bank heist, then it’s pretty easy to just say no.  If they want you to have an orgy with the neighbor and a goat, again, pretty easy to say no.

But what if it’s a fairly reasonable request?

 

Let’s say your partner loves opera and wants you to join them, but you don’t like it.  Should you go with them?  How about if you are planning a vacation and struggling to find a place you both want to go, or even just trying to pick a movie to see?

Are relationships only about finding a person with similar interests, and then only doing things together that you both enjoy?  Or are there time that you should do things you may not really be interested in doing?

 

In my opinion, for a relationship to be successful there HAS to be give and take.  You need to be able to go outside your comfort zone and do things with your partner that isn’t necessarily your thing.  If I go to the opera with my partner (and I don’t enjoy opera), it has nothing to do with opera.  Instead, it’s about sharing moments and experiences with your partner that are important to them.  You aren’t showing interest in opera – you are showing interest in your partner.

It doesn’t mean you should have to go with them all the time.  But sharing moments that are important to them is about accepting influence from them.  In some ways you can think of it as investing in your relationship, and in your future.

 

 

Doing Your Own Thing

In relationships, the balance between individual and part of a couple can be hard, and there are often conflicting messages.

Sometimes you hear things like “happiness is found in doing things for others”.  Other times you hear things like “there’s nothing selfish about putting yourself first, taking care of yourself and making yourself a priority”.

So which is it?  Is it best to do things for others all the time or should you just look out for yourself?

The challenge is, both of these are true.  Looking out for yourself may SEEM selfish, but in some ways it’s not.  YOU MATTER!!!  Your needs, your wants and your desires are important.  They need to matter, whether you are in a relationship or not.

Once in a relationship however, the other person needs to matter too.  And when needs and wants conflict, it can’t just be about you.

Relationships aren’t just about getting your way, and doing what you want.  They don’t only apply when both people’s needs/wants happen to line up.

 

If you don’t want to do something and feel you shouldn’t have to do anything you don’t want, then that’s fine.  That’s an individual choice that you can make.

But if someone in a relationship feels they should be able to do whatever they want without taking into account how it will impact their partner, then that’s not a relationship.

They are looking for someone to be there on their terms only, and to care of their needs.  What they really want is to pick and choose the parts of the relationship that work for them.

In that situation there isn’t much accepting influence, caring or empathy.

And without that, there isn’t much love.

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Doing the “Right Thing”

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A little while back someone at my work was fired for theft.  I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time everywhere in the world, but I was still a bit shocked by it.  I work for a pretty good company (benefits, wages, environment), so I didn’t understand why someone would put their job at risk; especially when this guy lost his job over theft of an item worth around $25.  I mean, really?

I was talking this over with one of my co-workers, telling her I didn’t understand why someone would do it, especially when this will now be attached to his employment record and can impact his future.  My co-workers response was that this guy simply figured he wouldn’t get caught.

 

The Fable of Gyges Ring

This situation made me think of The Fable of Gyges Ring, from Plato’s Republic.  Just to be clear, I don’t normally go around reading things like Plato.  I HAD to read it for school years ago (but have to admit it was actually pretty good).  The Republic presents Plato’s ideas on justice and morality, and the part I remember the most is the fable of Gyges Ring.

In this story a shepherd finds a ring that makes him invisible and somehow this invisibility means the shepherd can take actions without consequences.  Ummm, invisibility means no consequences?  That seems like a bit of a stretch (and perhaps inspiration for Tolkien).  But hey, the story was written over 2000 years ago so I guess we’ll have to cut it some slack.

Anyhow, with his newfound power the shepherd seduces the queen, kills the king and takes over the kingdom (because of course, that’s what we would all do if there were no consequences, right?)

Now here’s the interesting part.  In discussing this tale, Plato theorized that if two of these rings existed, and one was found by a “just” man and the other by an unjust man, the ability to do what he wanted without consequence would cause the just man to become corrupted.

His suggestion was, it’s really only consequences that keep us in line and at our core we are all unjust.

 

What is Justice?

Are we inherently unjust?  And what exactly does that even mean?

Merriam Webster defines justice as “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals”.

I’ll acknowledge that sometimes there is a disconnect between law and justice, but for the moment let’s accept that law is an attempt at placing rules around what is “right” or “moral”, and setting consequences for the violation of those rules.

Based on that, is Plato right?  Is it really only the threat of consequences that keeps us in line and makes us act in a moral way?

Without consequences will people really just do whatever they want?

 

Learning Right From Wrong

In some ways I think Plato was right.  After all, I do think we are born selfish.  If you think about it, as infants all we understand is our own needs and other people are basically vehicles for this need fulfillment.

As a parent, my experience has been that right and wrong needs to be taught.

Children initially don’t understand why they can’t just do what they want, or take something they want.  They need to learn about boundaries, and ownership.  They need to learn the concept of exchange.  Hell, even empathy seems to be something that is largely learned.

I may wish my children would just “understand” right and wrong, but they don’t.  And while learning this, consequences are a practical way of helping them understand why they need to do the right thing.

Eventually I think people have to get to a point where we are no longer doing something to avoid consequences.  Instead, they need to do something because they have come to believe it’s the right thing to do.

There’s a distinction between these two things (avoiding consequences vs. doing what we believe is right); and although it may seem subtle I believe it’s extremely important.

When we are doing something because we believe it’s the right thing to do, we have internalized that value.  It has become part of our belief set.

At that point, the consequences from other people for violating that value aren’t important anymore.  Because overriding any fear of what other people will think is the betrayal of our own core valuesThe disappointment in ourselves far outweighs any concern about being caught.

After all, we can hide things from others – but not from ourselves.

 

Integrity

Which brings me to one of my favorite topics – integrity.

Integrity is all about how we live our lives.  It’s about whether we actually live the values that we profess.

It’s really easy to SAY things.  But to walk the talk, and to do it consistently?  That’s a lot harder.

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Now, I’m not trying to push my sense of morality on anyone here.

I readily acknowledge no one is perfect.  We all have a darker side to us.  We all have moments that we do things we later regret.  We are all sometimes petty, selfish, stupid, ignorant – whatever.

Having integrity doesn’t mean you never do those things.  Instead, it’s about how frequently do we stick to our values, and how badly do we stray from them when we don’t.

And because we know we ARE going to screw up sometimes, an important element of integrity is accountability.  When we screw up (and yes, it’s a WHEN and not an IF) how do we handle it?  Do we try to hide it?  Do we blame?  Justify?  Or do we own it, accept any consequences from our actions and then try to use the moment as an opportunity for growth?

 

Shared Values

In relationships, it’s important to find someone with whom you share similar values.  And I think a mistake people often make is they don’t actually get to know who their partner really is.  Instead, they just assume their partner shares a lot of the same beliefs.

Unfortunately, the world isn’t black and white and right and wrong can at times be subjective.  So when it comes to core values, simply assuming someone shares them can often lead to disappointment.

Here’s a little rule of thumb I have.  If someone does something “bad”, and you are shocked because it seems so out of character for them – that’s probably a good thing.  It means they either don’t do things like that often or they just rarely get caught (I’m a glass is half full kind of guy, so I’ll take it to mean they don’t do things like that very often).

If they do something and you find yourself going “sigh, again?”, then maybe that’s just who they are (or more accurately who they CHOOSE to be).  And in that case, you’ve got to ask yourself if that’s a person you really want to be with.

Of course, WHAT they do is also pretty significant.

If someone is “mostly” awesome, but oh yeah they also happen to be a serial killer?  That MAY be a problem for you.

Or maybe not, after all different people have their own boundaries on what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Murderer/sex offender/drug dealer are fairly universally accepted as “deal breakers” for relationships.

For many, finding out their partner is an adulterer/cheater is also a deal breaker (though many who believe that find things are a bit more murky than expected when actually faced with that situation).

 

To me, affairs show a complete lack of integrity.  I see them as the ultimate selfish act, as they are all about choosing “me” at the expense of “we”.

I understand the conditions that lead to affairs.  I understand when a couple is struggling, when someone feels unhappy in their relationship and/or with themselves.  I understand that having other people show interest in you feels good, and when in a bad spot mentally/emotionally people want more of that feeling.  I understand the dopamine rush that comes with new relationships, and the sense of freedom that comes with being able to do what you want, and not have to worry about the restrictions that come with relationships.

When you hear stories of people who have affairs, there are a lot of things they are feeling and a lot of reasons they do what they do.  And I think I kinda/sorta get that.

Even still, I KNOW I would never have an affair (even if I had Gyges ring allowing me to escape consequences).

Because if you truly care about and respect the person you are with, an affair is completely disrespectful to that person.  So I would NEVER do that to someone else.

And beyond that what I would be doing to someone else, I simply think that it’s wrong.  And I know I could never live with ME if I were to do that.

 

Being You

I guess that’s the point of doing the right thing.  It’s not about someone else.  It’s not about consequences, and what other people would think if they found out.

It’s about you.

It’s about what you truly believe, and what beliefs you are willing to stand up for.

In the past while I’ve written about being authentic, and being true to yourself.  Well, integrity and doing the right thing is a huge part of that.

Not saying one thing, yet doing another.  Not hiding parts of yourself and presenting a different version of yourself to different audiences.  Not denying fault, blaming or rationalizing your actions when you screw up.

But knowing who you are, and owning your choices and actions.  Being who you are in all aspects of your life, and living a life you believe in.

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This Is Just Who I Am

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Recently I was looking at my kids’ baby pictures (nah, not my kid up top), and it got me thinking about growth and maturation.

It’s amazing how much children change in those early years.

In one year they went from toothless chubby little babies who did little more than sleep, eat and poop; to little people who started to expand their world, learning to walk on unsteady little legs and exploring everything around them (often by trying to eat whatever it is).

Their photo albums are a window in time, showing milestones and transitions as the years go by.  They became toilet trained, learned to talk, went off to school, learned to ride a bike, gained friends and went on vacations.

With the turn of pages I saw them change, and grow.

Look at my kids, the changes in the past 10 years are significant and impossible to miss.  They have gone from babies to pre-teens.

Thing is, it wasn’t just my kids that were changing during this time.

In the pictures there are others.  I see myself, my wife, parents, siblings, cousins, friends, grandparents, etc.  We’ve all changed, and some of those people are now even gone.

When I look at pictures of me, the changes aren’t as readily apparent as the changes in my kids.  I’m definitely a bit older, with a bit more grey in my hair, and a few pounds heavier.  But I look largely the same.

 

Growing Up

At a subconscious level, I think there is a notion that most of our growing is done in our early years.  As children, we are in the process of becoming adults – with everything that means.

We finish high school, and probably go to university.  These post high-school years are very important, as we are young adults and the world is a blank slate.  We have a few years to figure out “who we want to be”, and decide on our future path.

By around our mid-twenties, we usually have this figured out.  School is done and we are starting careers, and often families.

We’re adults now, and we’ve made it!!!

We’re on a path (whatever it may be); and we are a finished product – or at least pretty close.  At this point who “we” are internally is seen as set.  We have established our identity, and any changes from here on are incremental and largely superficial, more the result of age than of any real growth.

I’m not sure if most people have really thought through this idea that our identities are established by our mid-twenties, but I think at some level most of us believe this (I know I did).

And I think this idea is totally wrong.

 

Who Am I?

One of my recurring themes in these pages is identity, and the question “who am I?”

I think this is a really important question, with far reaching implications on our lives.  But at the same time it’s a question for which there aren’t any easy answers.

What exactly are we?  Are we just a collection of the different roles we play?  Are we a combination of interests and hobbies?  Of habits?

All of these things make up components of who we are, and if we strip those away then what is left?

Our personality?  Our moral core?

Even these things don’t really seem “fixed”.  Sometimes peoples personalities have dramatic changes due to traumatic experience.

While trying to understand what we are, it truly seems to me that much of what we are is learned.  In fact I often think of people as the sum of their experiences.  We are shaped by everything we go through, and if our experiences had been different we likely wouldn’t be the same person we are today.

And our experiences never stop, no matter what age we are.  So although it may feel like we’ve stopped changing and growing when we became an adult, that’s not true.

We’re still changing all the time, sometimes in big ways and other times in small ones.  The changes just aren’t as easy to see as when we are kids.  We may no longer have noticeable physical changes, but the changes inside of us are always happening.

 

Relationships and Change

This idea of change as adults can have adverse impacts on relationships.

Sometimes couples get into a spot where they wake up one day and feel they no longer recognize the other person, and you hear things like “He/she isn’t the person I married.”

If you feel that way guess what, you’re right.  And guess what, you aren’t either.

As the years go by, you each experience things that change you.  Hopefully you are able to change and grow together, and hold onto the love and bond that brought you together.  But it’s also possible for you to change in ways that pull you apart.

Change is going to happen. 

To stay together you need to find ways to continue to learn each other, and continue to fall in love with each “new version” of your partner as the years go by.  You may not like everything, and you don’t have to.  But you need to accept that they are growing, not expect them to always be the exact same person they were when you first met.

Paradoxically, although we are always changing we have a tendency to get “stuck” in routines and patterns that are unhealthy for relationships.  And once in these routines, it often feels like things are hopeless and things will never be able to change for the better.  We get into these downward spirals where it can feel like the only choice left is to leave the relationship.

Often this is because we feel like the issues are due to fundamental differences between people.  Things that are “just the way they are”, or “just the way WE are”.

 

 

Embracing Change

Change is a funny thing, because it can threaten us if someone has changed too much or in ways we don’t like.  But it can also restrict us, as we can feel stuck in situations where change doesn’t seem possible, and where there is no hope of improvement.

Part of us wants stability.  We have visions on what we want things to look like, and we want it to be that way forever.

But really, the one constant in life is change so we need to accept it.

And when situations feel hopeless, we have to recognize that change CAN always happen.

Much of what we “are” is learned, and that means it can be unlearned and new paths can be found.

Change is hard though so often it won’t happen until we have real reason for it to happen, because someone has to WANT it to happen.

 

In relationships, much of how we act and interact is actually skills that we have developed subconsciously over time.  But instead of thinking of them as skills, we think of them as personal characteristics or traits.

How we communicate, how we deal with conflict, how we cope with stress.  These things aren’t inherent.  They aren’t who we are.  They are “part” of who we are, and they are part of who we have been.  Additionally, after many years these learned behaviors can be difficult to change.

 

Is This REALLY Who I Am?

To anyone who says “this is just who/how I am,” I say no – this is who you are today.  Tomorrow has yet to happen.  It’s a blank slate, and it’s up to you to decide how you want it to look.

Anything can change, and anything can get better.

If we feel stuck, our relationships can improve, and we can also improve.

We shouldn’t have to change for someone else, but that shouldn’t be how we look at change.  If we take a hard look at ourselves and are able to identify attitudes or aspects of our personality that are causing us problems, why would we want to improve?

Shouldn’t we always strive to be the best possible version of ourselves?  And if those improvements also help reduce conflict in our relationships, all the better.

 

We aren’t a constant – we are always growing and always becoming.  Being an adult doesn’t mean our growth and development is done.  It never stops, it just slows down a bit and becomes harder to see.

So instead of saying “this is just who I am” ask yourself, who do you want to become?

Why “Nice Guys” (and Girls) Finish Last

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Nice guys finish last.  Girls like “bad boys”.  This is something all guys hear or think at one point in time or another.

We hear this often enough that guys are often led to believe we have to be cocky, act like jerks and treat women badly.  This idea is used in romance movies, which depict scenes of guys worrying about how long they should wait before calling someone, or how to show they are interested in someone without coming across as too interested.  Maybe they should play hard to get, or appear interested in someone else in order to try and make the person jealous.  We are taught that if we learn to “play the game” we will be able to get the girl we want.

And if we don’t get the girl we want?

Well, then we either don’t know how to play the game or it’s not really our fault.  It’s because we are “a nice guy”, and that’s not what she really wants.  After all, nice is boring, and she wants a bad boy.  So nice guys finish last.

 

Is this really true?  I guess there is some element of truth to it or the perception wouldn’t exist.  But do women really want to be treated like crap, or have guys treat relationships like some sort of game?

Disclaimer here – I’m not a woman so I really don’t know.  But for some reason I doubt it.

Maybe there are some women who do, but even if that WERE the case, as a guy would you really want to be with a woman who wants to be treated badly?  If a woman respects herself, why would she put up with that kind of treatment?  Does she believe she deserves it?  If so, why would any guy really want a woman who thinks that poorly of herself?

No, I don’t think it’s treating someone badly that matters.   Maybe I’m naive, but I think women do want to be treated with respect and kindness.

However they probably also want someone who is confident in themselves.  Someone who knows what their values and boundaries are, and is willing to establish and enforce them.

 

What Would You Do For Love?

Have you ever heard the saying “I would do anything for you”?

Sounds great right?  Sounds romantic?  Maybe it makes someone feel special, or important; and let’s face it – we all like to feel special and important.

But if you would do anything for the other person, what is that REALLY saying?

It’s saying that YOU don’t matter.  It’s saying that what the other person wants and needs is more important than your own wants and needs.

And that is really unhealthy.

This does actually happen in relationships.  People try to be what they think the other person wants instead of just being who they are.  And maybe they don’t actually know who they are, so they are trying to find that through someone else.

But to be in a healthy relationship you need to love and respect yourself first, because you matter too.

 

What do you want?

We are all driven by wants and needs, so what do you want?  What do you need as part of your relationship in order to be happy?  What is your primary love language?  What level of closeness are you looking for in your relationship?

How do you want to be treated, and more specifically what are some things that bother you, and are things that you simply can’t accept in a relationship?

These are things that are part of what makes you YOU, and they are independent of who you are with.  They would apply with any partner.

These are your boundaries, and they are important to your own sense of identity.

 

We don’t often think about what our boundaries are, and I suspect most people can’t articulate theirs.  At some level though we all have them and know them.  When we are hurt, or disappointed it is often because someone has violated or not respected our boundaries.

I think people who have a strong sense of identity have a better idea of what their boundaries are, and are more willing to enforce them (than people who don’t have a strong sense of identity).

And that’s the part where the stereotypical “nice guys” get it wrong.  They either don’t have strong boundaries, or they don’t value themselves enough to enforce them.  They want to be loved, and they want to be accepted (which I suppose we all do to some degree).  But “nice guys” are so eager to please someone else that will constantly put the other person’s needs ahead of their own.

 

But wait a minute…

Aren’t we supposed to give?  Aren’t we supposed to put our partner first?

Yeah, not so much.

I mean, we ARE, but not at our own expense (at least not consistently).  Instead of putting our partner first, I like to think of it as we should be putting them on the same level as ourselves.

Their needs and wants had damned well better matter to us.  At the same time though, their needs and wants don’t trump our boundaries.  For a healthy relationship, we need to find a way to make both of these things work together.

It makes sense in theory (to me anyhow), but in practice finding that balance can be very difficult.

 

What About Nice Girls?

If the negative connotations of being a nice guy come from someone trying to be what they think the other person wants (due to a lack of self-confidence, assertiveness and poor enforcement of boundaries), is this just a problem for guys?

Aren’t there women out there with the same issues?  If so, why do we hear about “nice guys finishing last” but we don’t often hear something similar about nice girls?

It seems clear that there are women out there with the same issues.  But “well, she’s nice” is usually guy-code for “she has a nice personality” aka “yeah she’s nice but I’m not attracted to her at all”.  So the issue there seems to be more one of attraction.  Maybe it is the same thing though, because a lack of confidence, boundaries and assertiveness really isn’t very attractive.

Perhaps another reason you don’t hear as much about “nice girls” is due to differences in the way guys and girls are raised.

Quick note – generally I don’t buy into gender differences (they exist, but I see them as more resulting from socialization than from any core differences).  Plus, I don’t believe anything can be painted with broad brush strokes – so I’ll think of this more as gender “trends” than actual differences.

That said, I think women are commonly raised with more of an expectation of being nurturers than men.  It doesn’t mean they necessarily lack self-confidence, but I do think women are likely to be less assertive and have more fluid boundaries.  They are more likely to make personal sacrifices “for the betterment of the relationship, or the family” than men – often to their own detriment.

Due to this, I suspect those traits are just as common with women as they are with men, but for some reason they are less likely to be seen as “a problem” with women.

 

Just Be Yourself

Personally, I think genuinely being a nice guy is largely a good thing.  It means you actually care about those around you.  But being someone who lacks self-confidence and either doesn’t know what their own personal boundaries are or doesn’t enforce them is unhealthy; as it means you don’t have a strong sense of self.

For any potential nice guys (and girls) out there, a few unsolicited words of advice:

No one wants a doormat.  Sure people want to be loved and supported, but I think people also want to be challenged.  And they want someone who is willing to call them out (nicely of course) when they are wrong.

Be yourself, whoever that is (and if you aren’t sure who you are, then that’s a bigger problem).  There’s really no point in trying to change yourself to be what you think someone else wants.  If someone doesn’t like you for who you are, how in the world does it help you to try and be what they want?  Because that means what they want isn’t actually you.

For a relationship to be successful you will ultimately need to grow and accept influence from the other person.  But if you are trying to be what you think the other person wants, the relationship is really being built on false pretenses.  Eventually you will grow resentful for having spent your time playing a role (though it will largely be your own fault).  And your partner may not be very appreciative when they find out your aren’t who you were portraying yourself as.

And lastly, remember that loving someone doesn’t mean doing anything for them.  Wanting to do things for someone else is great, but you matter too.  Know what your boundaries are, and be willing to enforce them.  Saying “no” sometimes doesn’t mean you love the other person any less.  It just means you love yourself more.

Fitting the Mold

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When I started this blog, I was trying to come up with possible answers to the following:

Everyone who gets married wants and expects it to last.  So why do so many fail?  And for those that don’t fail, why do so many people end up unhappy or in a marriage that isn’t satisfying?  What are we doing wrong?

 

As I’ve explored these ideas, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no “magic reason” that causes them to fail; however there ARE a lot of common contributors.

One or more of the following show up in most struggling relationships:

  • Not making time for the relationship
  • Taking each other for granted (hedonic adaptation)
  • Focusing on the negative instead of appreciating the positives
  • Confusion over the relationship when “feelings” fade
  • A lack of empathy

But another, less talked about area that I feel is a significant contributor to relationships problems is “fitting the mold” (yeah the term sucks, but bear with me and hopefully it will make sense).

 

The Process of “Growing Up”

If you are married or in a long term relationship and living with someone, why did you do it?  If you have kids, why did you do it?

Did you ever even think about it?  Of it is just something you “knew you always wanted”?  And if you knew you always wanted it, how did you know?

 

Often, it’s something we always knew we wanted because it’s what we saw modeled to us growing up.  Through parents, friends parents, grandparent, media etc; we see this template of what it looks like to “be an adult”.

We’re supposed to finish high school, and probably get a post-secondary education.  After that it’s off to a career.  While we’re doing this we date a few people (with the intent of finding the person we can see building a life with).  Marriage, maybe a couple of kids (not necessarily in that order), we probably buy a house, and hope we have enough money to go on vacation every once in a while.  We raise the kids, see them move out on their own, retire, and shift from parent mode to grandparent.

Oh yeah, then we get old and die.

Overall, it’s not a bad story.

 

There is one fairly important thing that gets lost in this story though.

Who exactly am I?

In media, we are constantly bombarded with messaging telling us we need to be different, be unique, and be who you want to be.  And the underlying message here is that “normal” is bad.

So if we’re all more or less following the template, what makes us “us”?

 

Losing (and Finding) Yourself

When I was a kid I thought midlife crisis was a bit of a joke.  I would see it in movies, and it was usually portrayed as a man (usually a fairly pathetic one) trying to recapture his youth.  He would divorce his wife, get the red sports car and a girlfriend half his age.

As I’ve aged, and hit these supposed midlife years my perception has changed somewhat.  Now I think midlife crisis is a real thing, but it’s not the way Hollywood portrays it.  Yeah, sometimes there’s the sports car and the girlfriend.  But those are the extreme cases.  More commonly I see that at anywhere from 35-45 years of age men and women seem to hit a point where they take stock of their lives.

Some find themselves generally content, and continue on happily.

Others find that marriage, parenting and simply being an adult isn’t quite what they were expecting; and they find themselves asking is this all there is?

Lastly I see a group of people who seem to come to the conclusion that they have been living the life they thought they were supposed to live.  They’ve been following the template, and fitting the mold.  And suddenly they aren’t sure if the life they have is actually the one they want. 

To outside appearances, they may have a pretty good life, and find that the people around them are unable to understand why they aren’t happy with it.  Hell, THEY may not even be able to understand why they aren’t happy with their life.

When this happens it often has very little to do with the actual conditions of their life.  Rather, this discontent with their life is about choice, and belief.

 

Making Choices

In life some people actively make choices.  They get a job because they wanted that job.  They pursue that guy/girl because they were interested in that person.  They get married because the want to build a life with that other person.

Other people are more passive.  They aren’t sure of what they want, so life just kind of happens around them.  They get a job because the job was available.  They are in a relationship because they don’t want to be alone, and the other person seems like a pretty good option.

I believe your enjoyment and satisfaction level in life is directly related to whether or not you have actively made choices.  People who actively make choices tend to be happier overall then people who are just along for the ride.

 

If someone hasn’t actively chosen their path, it’s understandable they would experience discontent, and question whether the life they have is actually the one they want.

Sometimes people take a look at their life and decide it’s not what they actually want.  So they go in search of something different.  Sometimes people find it and are happier.  Other times people spend many years in search of something they can’t even define, thinking they may not know what they want but they will know it when they find it.

Another approach is to try and make some changes and grow as an individual.  When someone either isn’t sure what they want or has been living the life they thought they were supposed to live, this can be a time to try and find what they actually want.

And this doesn’t have to mean throwing away the life they currently have, as personal growth can often bring back a sense of fulfillment that has been missing.  By making a few changes and growing, some people are ultimately able to re-embrace the life they had.

A degree of caution should be taken though, as life doesn’t stop while someone tries to find themselves.  And there’s a risk that during their search the life they had is now gone.

 

Making Your Own Road

In life, there is no one right path.  Getting an education doesn’t guarantee a job.  Getting a job doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it.  Some people are happier staying single, and being a parent is much, much harder than anyone ever tells you.

So instead of fitting the mold, it’s best to find what works for you.

That’s not always easy though.

Personally, I think the mold exists because it does have a number of strengths and advantages, and for many people it provides a good path for finding happiness in life.

Even if you embrace it though, you shouldn’t go through life just checking off the boxes in a soulless way (got the job, yup.  Got the girl, yup…).

Maybe it’s best to think of it as a guide instead of a map.  You still need to put your own mark on things, and do the little things to make your life “yours”.

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.

treatingothers

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

What Do You Want?

Wishlist
Every day businesses undertake projects that are intended to guide and shape their futures. Considerable effort is put into these projects – countless person hours and dollars.
But studies show that these projects often fail. And for those that don’t fail, a relatively small percentage can truly be considered a success.

Most projects fall into this “other” category where they aren’t outright failures; but they didn’t really achieve what they had set out to do. For these projects, their success is measured in relative terms.

Because of the costs involved, a lot of time and effort has been spent trying to understand this problem.

Why do projects not have a higher level of success? Is it due to shortcomings in the people involved? Is it the approach organizations take? And what can we do to try and improve the level of success in the future.

Often the failure of projects can be boiled down to one basic problem:

The business didn’t know what it wanted, or what it was trying to accomplish. It had a pretty good idea of what it wanted; but it didn’t truly understand its own needs, or requirements.

What exactly is a “Requirement”?

A requirement can be thought of as an action or property that something must have in order to have perceived value.

This definition of a requirement came from a business book. But really, it applies to anything.

When you buy a car you expect certain things from it. There’s an assumption that at the very least you will be able to start, stop and steer a car. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, then it doesn’t perform the activities we expect and therefore you wouldn’t buy it (it doesn’t have perceived value).

Of course you may buy a broken car as a hobby project or as a collector. But if either of those are your intent then you come in with a specific set of requirements for what you are looking for.

Going back to the business world, it is estimated that as much as 60% of (business) problems come from incorrectly identifying requirements. From not truly knowing what it is that a business wants, or is trying to accomplish.

See, businesses often don’t actually know what they want. And to actually achieve success in getting to what you want, having a *pretty good idea* isn’t nearly enough.

Can You Describe What You Want?

Not knowing what you want is a common business problem, but it’s also a common people problem.

I see this as something we all face, in all aspects of our lives. And like business projects, this is probably one of the main causes of failure people have in their personal relationships.

Not knowing what you want happens in a few different ways.

First, like businesses people often only have a general idea of what they want but they don’t really understand the specifics of it.  To a degree this is understandable, but it makes it very difficult to know if something has actually achieved its requirements. How can we determine if something is successful if we don’t even know the criteria we are measuring something against?

In relationships people often use “happiness” as their measure of success, and I constantly see/hear things like “I just want to be happy”, or “people deserve to be happy”.

Fair enough. But what does that mean?

Saying you want happiness is like saying you want to go on vacation somewhere; and then jumping in your car and driving randomly figuring you’ll see where you end up. You could do it, and it might even be kind of fun. You’ll definitely end up “somewhere” and will probably have some new experiences along the way (of course, some of them may be experiences you later wish you never had).

Something like happiness can be elusive if you don’t know what it means to you.  People seem to figure they will know it when they find it; but that’s kind of like driving randomly without a map and expecting to get where you want.

It *may* happen. But if it does it’s probably more luck than anything.

One problem is, it’s very difficult to say what constitutes happiness.  It’s not status, beauty or wealth – as many who seem to have everything are miserable while many who seem to have nothing profess to be happy. And it’s not just something you can “feel”, as there are a number of things and conditions that can make people depressed and struggle with the feeling of happiness.

So chasing happiness doesn’t work.

But you can have other things you want out of life. You can try to accomplish things for yourself, and for those around you (such as wanting to support your loved ones in the things they do).

To truly be happy in life and in love, you need to have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for.  And you need to be able to articulate those things.  Because if you can’t, how will you ever know if you find them?

 

A second problem is that sometimes people believe they know what they want. But once they get it, they realize it’s not actually what they were looking for.

This happens all the time, and I think it is an important and valuable experience. It happens when people think they understand their problem, while in reality they have come up with a possible solution. And it turns out not to be the solution to the right problem.

There are countless stories where someone wasn’t happy, and they attribute this unhappiness to *something*.  Maybe their job, or their appearance, or their relationship, or…

…the list can go on.

So they change things. And often find they aren’t any happier. In fact, sometimes they are even less happy, because they threw out one of the positives in their life in an attempt to find what was wrong.

When this happens, they thought they knew the solution to their problem.  But they were searching for a solution to a problem they didn’t truly understand.

Knowing Yourself

I titled this post “What Do You Want?”

We all have things we want out of life and love; and if we don’t, we should. But often, we aren’t really sure what those things are.  And when we do, it’s sometimes viewed as a negative thing.

It’s easy to say you have goals in life.  But love involves two people (generally). So wanting something out of love means that you actually have expectations of the other person.

And this can cause resentment.

Often I see people saying things like:

Why can’t someone just love me without expecting anything in return?

We seem to live in a world that thinks it’s bad to expect things from people. There are all sorts of sayings like “the best way to avoid disappointment is to not expect anything from anyone”, or “true love begins when nothing is looked for in return.” I understand the sentiment behind these sorts of statements, but feel it is a dangerous way of thinking.

Love has expectations. To me that’s a simple truth.

If it didn’t, people could marry and be happy with anyone, and clearly that’s not the case. Somehow it’s alright to say that people can have standards, but expectations are “bad”. Is there really a difference?  Expectation is an important aspect of any healthy relationship, as they are simply a way of articulating your requirements – the actions and properties you feel you need as part of the relationship.

Of course it is important that expectations are realistic, and there is a difference between expectations and entitlement.

We all have things we need from our friends, our families, our careers, and yes – even our partners.  And understanding yourself and what you want is extremely important for your own happiness.

Often the people who are chronically unhappy are people who just kind of slide through life, rarely making decisions, and rarely having goals. They’re like the person driving randomly, hoping to find a place to end up.

Personally, I don’t want to be happy. I mean I do, but I don’t see it as a goal.  Happiness is really part of an experience, or a process.  But the journey is the important part.

There are things I want out of life, and out of love, and I have expectations for all the people I care about. My parents, siblings, friends, children, and my partner. And I think it’s only fair that they in turn have expectations of me. But most importantly, I have expectations of myself.

The people in my life won’t always be able to meet my expectations, so yes at times I will be disappointed in them. And I’m sure there will be times that they will be disappointed in me.

That’s life though.

I won’t always be happy, and that’s alright. When I’m not, it’s not necessarily a reflection on the quality of my life, or of the people around me.

Instead of happiness, I want a life where I can be both happy and sad. Joyful, and angry. Curious and afraid. I want to live a life that combines the mundane aspects of day to day life with the bigger experiences, those moments you look back on and remember.

Sadness is part of that. So is anger, hurt and disappointment.  I’m not saying I look forward to them, but I accept them as part of my journey.

In the end, all I hope is that the good moments outweigh the bad.