Embracing Uncertainty

UncertaintyHeader

Recently I have talked a bit about the fact that I’m currently at the tail end of a divorce that has been brewing since late 2012.

Although I am not someone who will ever “celebrate” a divorce, having it finalized will be relief.  It will allow me to finally close the door on one chapter of my life (well, as much as you can when kids are involved), and truly start defining my new future.

My marriage may have turned out differently than I expected, but that doesn’t change how I think of love.  I still believe in marriage.  I still believe two people can allow time to deepen the bond between them, instead of letting it pull them apart.  I still believe you can achieve “forever” with someone, and have that forever be a beautiful thing; where you are actively choosing your partner each and every day.  I still believe it’s possible to one day be part of a couple who after decades together can walk hand in hand, still very much in love with each other.

Any longtime readers will know I’m a big believer in continuous improvement.  No matter what happens to you in life, to me it’s important to take situations and try to learn from them.  To look at what you may have done right, or wrong, and how you can try to improve for a better future.

I would like to think I have learned, and grown from my experiences.  So maybe that learning will prepare me for the future I want.

 

Then I look at the numbers.

For marriage in North America the divorce rates are as follows:

  • First marriage – 50%
  • Second marriage – 67%
  • Third marriage – 73%

Are those number accurate?  Who knows.

When looking at divorce stats sometimes I see those numbers and sometimes I find different ones.  I don’t think the accuracy of the numbers is as important as the trends they show.  And in every set of number I have seen the trend is the same – as the number of marriages increases so does the frequency of divorce.

Statistically at least, it looks like your first marriage is actually your best shot at “forever”.  And if that’s true, maybe people DON’T actually learn.

 

I think that’s a pretty scary thought.

An even scarier thought is, maybe people do learn.

Maybe they are learning, about their own boundaries and about the things they will not put up with in the future.

But if learning that means the failure rate actually increases with subsequent marriages, then what does that tell you about long term relationships?

At that point, why bother?

 

Do we just need to accept that relationships are fleeting?  That we will only have a few good years together and then things will invariably go to shit?

 

Personally, I can’t accept that.

I don’t really care what the stats say.  Maybe it’s the exception to the rule, but I believe it’s possible to hit 20, 30, 40+ years with someone and STILL be in love with them.  To wake up every day and actively choose each other (alright, maybe not *every* day, but most of them).  To accept each other for who we actually are, flaws and all, instead of focusing on what we are not.

Will it happen for me?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But I believe it CAN.

I also think believing gives me the best chance.

 

Here’s the truth – there are NO guarantees in life.

And maybe that’s alright.

 

Maybe one of the keys to lasting 40-50 years is not necessarily caring if you hit 40-50 years.

Wanting to, sure.  As I think that’s an important part of commitment.  Plus you need to have a sense of where you want get to in order to actually get there.

It doesn’t just happen though, and you won’t actually get there if you don’t put in consistent effort.

 

Really, what actually matters?

The past can and should be a learning tool, but beyond that it doesn’t matter.  It’s already happened.

The future gives you goals and things to work towards, but it’s not guaranteed.

All you really have is today.

 

So what really matters is how you treat each other today.

Are you making time for each other, even when life is busy?  Are you trying to listen to and understand each other?

Do you understand your partners needs and wants in life, and are they a priority to you?  Do you feel like you are a priority to them?  If either of those are a no, what are you doing about it?

Do you set goals together, and try to share in each other’s victories and support each other through challenges?

Are you actively choosing them, each and every day?  And not just on the days when things are easy?  If so, do they know it?

 

Things happen.  People change.  The future is never certain.

But I would like to think if we actively choose each other and make each other a priority each and every day, then we always have a great chance at tomorrow.

And maybe that’s all we can really ask.

After all, 40-50 years is really just a whole heck of a lot of tomorrows.

buildTillTheEnd

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Learning to Love

Learning-to-love
Love. We all use the word, but there is no real consensus on what it is or what it means.

One of my first posts was my attempt at figuring out what love is, and looking back on it now I think I had a lot of things right, but at the same time it seems somewhat lacking.

Some say love is a feeling. Others say love is a choice. I think it’s probably a mix of both.

Maybe it’s best to say that love is a feeling that comes with certain choices, and the ability to maintain love (and feelings of love) over a long period is a result of continuing to make loving choices towards your partner.

I don’t think love just happens. Attraction may just happen, but you still have to choose to get to know the other person. To look at them, to listen to them, and to be with them. When you make those little choices, you are letting yourself allow love to develop.

And once love has developed, it needs to be maintained. I’ve talked before about whose responsibility love is. I truly believe that it’s not your partners responsibility to keep you feeling in love with them – it’s yours. You need to nurture your love every day, in countless little ways.

And if you choose not to express love? To turn away from love and not let it in? Or to not accept it when it’s given? They you only have yourself to blame if feelings of love fade away.

Deep Roots

I like to think of love like a tree. Trees need nurturing (sunlight, water, soil) to stay alive. When they are young they are fragile, and need more attention and care. As trees age their roots start to run deep, and they no longer need the same sort of care.

Even when their roots are established though, they still need nurturing. They still need sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil to stay alive. Established trees are strong, and can weather difficult periods. Trees can even be cut down. But as long as the roots are alive, the tree can survive, and come back. It may look a bit different, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Other times the tree can start to die from the roots, and although the tree may still appear healthy at first it has started to rot from within.

The key is the roots, and keeping those roots alive and healthy.

sapling photo

Nurturing Love

So how do we nurture love?

How do we ensure our roots run deep, to allow us to weather the storms of life?

And how do we keep the roots of our love alive?

It seems obvious to me that love requires nurturing. And this nurturing comes in the form of action.

But what actions are needed, to not only maintain but also to grow our love?

A while back I came across a great article on the characteristics of love. Look at the following quote:

Loving involves being in a relationship with another. In a functional loving relationship there are mutual expectations. If I love you and you don’t accept my love then the relationship is dysfunctional because the primary purpose of love is not easily accomplished. If you don’t let me love you, then my love will be squandered on you.

As such, to be in love is to be engaged in an activity that can be done well or not so well. One can be good at loving or poor at it depending on how good (or bad) one is at accomplishing the purpose or goal of loving someone. The statement, “I love you very much” may sometimes be a deep expression of a feeling that comes with being in love; but it can also be uttered by people who do not know the first thing about how to love another. This is because this statement, if it is meaningful, is not simply a report about a subjective feeling going on at the time that it is uttered.

To be meaningful, you must put your actions where your mouth is. This means doing things that promote the other’s happiness, welfare, and safety

So how do we nurture our love? What actions do we need to take? This article talks about love as being shown with the following core actions:

  • Being there
  • Being beneficent
  • Being considerate/non-maleficent
  • Making a commitment
  • Being loyal
  • Being consistent
  • Being candid
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being empathetic
  • Being tolerant

Let’s look at each of these…

The Actions of Love

Being there. This means you are there for the person in times of need. They know they can count on you, and they can rely on you. Sometimes they may need you at times that aren’t convenient to you, but that’s fine. Some sacrifice may be required, and you may not always be able to be there. But you should always want to.

Being beneficent. This goes one step further than just being there. This means you want to do things FOR them. You want to see them happy (in fact, I think true happiness comes not just from the things that make you happy, but from deriving happiness from seeing your actions bring happiness to someone you love). You value their welfare, and want what’s best for them.

Being considerate/non-maleficent. This is about not wanting to do things that are harmful towards the other person. Trying not to hurt them, or embarrass them. It’s about taking them, and how your actions impact them into account. Over the long term, we all screw this up occasionally. Everyone has moments that they are selfish in their actions, and they end up hurting those they love. But those sort of things should be exceptions, and should be accompanied by remorse when we realize we have hurt the other person.

Making a commitment. This is pretty obvious – you are committed to the relationship.

Being loyal. This involves being loyal and faithful to the person you love. As the article says, “loyalty is not optional if one is to enjoy a happy relationship”.

Being consistent. Consistency is very important. Love and relationships aren’t something that you only engage in when it’s convenient to you. They aren’t a part time job, and you can’t just take time off when things get tough. This goes hand in hand with commitment – and means that acting in a loving way is the normal behavior.

Being candid. Love requires openness and honesty. Lying and deception damages relationships, while honesty (even about difficult things) tends to bring people closer together. It’s important to be careful how you word things though – there’s a difference between honesty and being rude.

Being trustworthy. In loving relationships, you need to be able to confide in the other person and know that they are able to confide in you.

Being empathetic. This is about trying to see things from your partners perspective. We are all different, and “my way” isn’t necessarily the best or the only way. You need to be able to value your partners perspective an opinion even when it doesn’t line up with your own. Relationships require meeting halfway sometimes, and that requires empathy.

Being tolerant. Relationships also require patience, and the ability to let things go, forgive, and move on. Insisting things need to be “your way”, or holding on to grudges and resentment is one of the quickest ways to poison a relationship.

All of these are important characteristics in a loving relationship. And more importantly, all of them are things that can be developed and improved.

Choosing Love

I think it is these actions that people talk about when they say love is a choice. Yes, there are feelings associated with love. But these feelings need to be shown, and we show them through the actions we take and the way we treat our partner.

If you say you love your partner but you strike them out of anger, are you showing love?

If you say you love your partner but you are having an affair, are you showing love?

If you have no interest in spending time with them and connecting with them on an emotional level, are you showing love?

How does your partner know you love them? Should they “just know”? Or do they know because of the way you treat them and interact with them?

Love may involve feelings, but it is more than that. Love is actions.

It may not always be declarations of undying love and passion, but love still needs to be present in all our interactions. We can learn to love, and we can get better at it each and every day.

still learning to love

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Relationships aren’t always easy. Like anything else in life, they have peaks and valleys. They have times where everything is going well, and couples are happy. At other times though conflict and problems arise, challenging and potentially threatening the relationship.

This is because we are first and foremost individuals. With our own needs, wants, and expectations for our life. And in a relationship we are trying to build a life with another individual who’s needs and wants will never perfectly match our own.

I recently read an article on dating that talked about this ideas that relationships start as looking for fulfillment of our own needs:

If you’re thinking that I’m telling you to use someone for your own benefit, you’re right: It is. But if you think dating is anything more than that, you’re confused. We date people to satisfy OUR wants and OUR needs. Once we find the right person, things get less selfish and egocentric.

This really sums up the dilemma people face with relationships. We start them because of what they do for us. We like how the person makes US feel, how well they meet OUR needs, and OUR wants.

When we are first getting to know them, we may think they are nice, or kind. But honestly, we don’t give a crap about them.

It’s all about us, and what they do for us.

But this sort of approach to a relationship is not sustainable in the long term. For a relationship to be successful, we need to become more than just two individuals spending time together. Instead of seeing the relationship as a vehicle for our own gratification, we have to start to see ourselves as part of a “we”.

And finding this balance between “me” and “we” is at the heart of all relationship problems.

This is less of an issue when you are dating, because dating is a facade. In dating, although we are *hopefully* being honest and being ourselves a part of us is also trying to be what we think they want in order to impress them.

In a long term setting this perfectly built facade breaks down, and the unedited version of the person comes out. Sometimes that person is VERY different from the one that was initially presented (in which case it’s probably a good time to get out – fast). Other times it’s largely the same person, but with a few more rough edges.

And when these rough edges start to show, it becomes apparent that this other person isn’t actually perfect (gasp!!!). They actually do have flaws, and to maintain a relationship with them our needs won’t always be met.

A Part of Something Bigger

When the flaws and problems start to surface, in order to sustainable the relationship, the focus on “me” has to change. You have to be willing to let your own ego take a back seat, and the only way to do that is if you see yourself as part of something bigger – a part of a couple, or a team.

If you look at the world of sports, there are many, many cautionary tales of people who has all the talent in the world. They were amazing athletes, and skilled from an “individual” standpoint. But their focus was them, and how the team was helping or hindering their career. This sort of focus is not conducive to a healthy team, and usually athletes who bring in this focus are eventually cut loose. To truly be successful, then need to embrace the concept of “team”.

nameonthefrontofthejersey

That may be sports, but the same rules apply in any team setting; including relationships.

What allows people to do this is sometimes referred to as Emotional Intelligence.
There are all sorts of definitions for emotional intelligence, and a high level of emotional intelligence is often correlated with high levels of success – both personally and in a career setting.

Wikipedia defines emotional intelligence as:

the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.

One of the ways of identifying emotional intelligence is through self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy.

  • Self-awareness is being aware of your own emotional state, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Self-regulation is about being able to control your emotions, and not allowing emotions to control your decisions and actions (in an impulsive fashion).
  • Finally, empathy is being able to understand other people’s emotions, and taking them into account when making decisions.

What is a Relationship

Dating is about having fun. It’s about having your needs met. And when they aren’t, you move on.

Relationships on the other hand are a bit more complicated. They are about building a partnership, and sharing your life with someone else. They involve both good times and bad, so they require both commitment and a willingness to work through conflict.

In a relationship, a high level of emotional Intelligence is perhaps the most important characteristic you can have. You NEED to be able to take the needs and wants of your partner into account in almost everything you do.

Does this mean you “give up you”? Does it mean your needs don’t matter? No, not at all.

You still matter. It’s not about giving up on your needs. But you aren’t the only thing that matters. Your partner also needs to matter to you. And when these needs conflict (which WILL happen at times) you need to be able to reach a common ground. That common ground may not be ideal for you, but sometimes the “we” needs to be bigger than the “me”.

Not All about you

Relationship Breakdown

When relationships start to break down, a common complaint is that one or both parties start “acting like they are single”. This doesn’t mean they are going out messing around with other people (though it could). Usually what it means is that empathy has broken down.

Empathy in a relationship is about taking your partner into account, and understanding that your actions impact them. Understanding that even if something isn’t important to you, it still needs to be a priority if it’s important to your partner.

The offending partner often stops taking the other person into account. Or maybe they still do, but only when that persons needs happen to line up with their own (in which case it doesn’t really count, does it?).

JohnGrayNeedQuote

As it says above, focusing on yourself and doing what is best for you isn’t exactly the best recipe for a successful relationship.

A truly successful (and happy) relationship requires a reasonable degree of emotional intelligence by both parties. It requires empathy – considering your partner and taking them into account at all times.

In times of stress the world tends to turn inwards, and emotional intelligence breaks down. Thankfully, like anything else it is a skill that can be worked on and developed.

If your relationship is going through a hard time, always try to keep you partner in mind. Emotional intelligence, and empathy, is the key to long term success.

The Silent Killer

A few days ago I read a great article about a guy who used Ashley Madison to research why women cheat. It’s fascinating stuff, and well worth the read.

In the article he had the following observation:

When an adulterous man is found out, there are many, many women that can get past the sex act itself.

But the real problem is where his effort has been going. As his wife sits idle, being supportive, holding down her half of the relationship, house and kids, a cheating man will put boat loads of effort into seducing the other woman: four-star restaurants and hotels, gifts, laughter, spontaneity, passion, sex.

From there, it’s a sad realization for his wife that translates to “I’m not worth the effort.” This is a fatal blow to her self-esteem and self-worth and terminal to the relationship.

I’m not worth the effort.

I think this is how relationships truly die. Sure, the discovery of things like affairs can destroy a marriage, but it’s not usually a catastrophic event like that and the same idea will apply.

Rather, it’s like death from 1000 cuts. Most failed relationships are killed slowly, over time.

And it always comes back to effort.

IfItsImportant

Action Means More Than Words

It’s easy to say “I love you”, but what matters is what you do.

How does someone know you love them? How do you show them that love, and express it to them?

Life gets busy, and people understand that. Everyone has times where they get wrapped up in work, family and whatever else life throws at them.

These sorts of things can put a drain on a relationship, but on their own they aren’t a problem.

It becomes a problem when there is a disproportionate amount of time into “me” time vs. “we” time.

Every time your partner is able to make time to do something they want to do, yet they are unable to find time for something as a couple, it adds another cut.

And over time these add up.

This sort of thing tells your partner:

hey – I can drop things to get together with the guys, or go out with the girls. I can make time to play poker with my buddies, or bury myself in my phone. I can make time to…

But you? Sorry, I see you all the time anyhow. Why should I make any effort to see you, to do things with you, or to be with you. After all, you *know* I love you.

Alone Together

If you spend enough time looking and reading you’ll find there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with the state of their relationships. And it’s common to see an overriding sense of sadness and loneliness.

These are people IN relationships. Their partners are right there, next to them, every day.

But they still feel alone.

Common expressions are things like:

I just wanted him/her to want to be with me,
or to want to do things with me.

People want to feel wanted. They want to feel valued, and loved. And when they don’t, troubles arise.

They see their partner putting time, energy and effort into pretty much everything BUT the relationship. Each time that happens a little piece of them dies, gradually eroding their self-esteem and self-worth.

And it destroys the relationship.

Finding Balance

When hearing their partner isn’t feeling valued or wanted, the person who is not investing time in the relationship (or perhaps investing less) will often get defensive. Their response may be some variation of:

  • But we do spend time together, we see each other all the time
  • My partner is just too needy, I don’t want/need to spend every minute with them
  • It’s important to me to be able to do my own thing
  • I don’t want to do the same things they do
  • What’s the big deal? It’s not like I go out/do my own thing all that often

Or even better, they may go into attack mode and turn things around on their partner with something like:

  • So what, you are saying I should never do my own thing then?

To be clear, this has nothing to do with not wanting your partner to go out and do their own thing. Space and time away from the couple is actually healthy for a relationship, and it’s important that each person has time to themselves as an individual.

If someone wants to go and do their own thing, great. As long as what they are doing is respectful to the relationship there shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not about being with each other all the time.

However there needs to be a commensurate amount of effort put into the relationship. There needs to be a balance between “me” time and “we” time.

And no, family time or time spent doing domestic chores does not count. Family time is just that – family time. And time spent on domestic tasks is just part of co-habitation.

There needs to be time focused on being a couple. On being friends, and lovers; and both building and maintaining the connection that keeps a relationship strong.

It’s about wanting to be with each other. Wanting to do things together. Wanting to share experiences. These are the lifeblood of a relationship.

If a couple doesn’t want to do things together, then what’s the point?

Why are they together?

History isn’t enough.

loving-someone-who-doesnt-feel-the-same-way-is-like

In a relationship, “Me” time is always important, and couples don’t have to have all the same interests.

The activities someone does during their me time, and even the frequency of those activities doesn’t truly matter.

It’s all about the amount of time and effort put into “me” stuff vs. the amount of time and effort put into the couple and into the relationship.

When someone can’t be bothered to make time for the relationship because they are “too busy” with life and kids, but they can make time to do the other stuff it tells the neglected partner that they aren’t worth it.

They aren’t worth the effort.

And without that effort and a sense of feeling valued the relationship will ultimately fail. Because no matter how much someone loves the other person, eventually it will be one cut too many, and even the strongest will break.

The point where we break gets closer everyday
But where do we go?
But where do we go?

I don’t want to be here anymore
I don’t want to be here anymore

I don’t want to be here anymore (be here anymore)
I know there’s nothing left worth staying for
Your paradise is something I’ve endured
See I don’t think I can fight this anymore (fight this anymore)
I’m listening with one foot out the door
But something has to die to be reborn
I don’t want to be here anymore

(We need a better way)
(We need to let go)
– Rise Against

Honesty

honesty
Honesty.

We all want it in our relationships.

But is dishonesty ever “alright”?

It seems like a simple question at first.

Of course dishonesty is not alright – we want honesty all the time. After all, if you can’t trust someone about the little things then you can’t trust them about the big things, right?

But when you really look at it, it’s not really that straightforward.

What is dishonesty? There are three main forms of dishonesty:

  1. Lies
  2. half truths
  3. lies by omission

Some people think of honesty only in terms of lies, but it seems very clear that it’s more than that. Honesty is not only about the words you say and the actions you take.

It’s also about the things you don’t say.

You can be 100% honest in everything “you say”, while still being very secretive and deceitful. Half-truths and lies by omission are as damaging (if not more) than the things that you say.

silently_lying_60

Intimacy vs. Autonomy

Intimacy is all about closeness, and the way to build intimacy is through the sharing of your thoughts and feelings.

No one shares everything however, and we shouldn’t want them to. It’s important to balance intimacy with autonomy. Even when we are part of a relationship, we are still an individual and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

When you see your partner at the end of the day, it’s common practice to ask about their day. When we do this we don’t actually want to know everything. We aren’t looking for an itemized list of what your partner did during the day, minute by minute (at least I hope not). What we are really looking for is a summary, with maybe some of the highlights and lowlights of that day. We want to know what was important to them, and by them sharing that with us they are both maintaining and building a sense of intimacy.

It’s up to each person to determine what the “relevant” details are, and this is one of the places we get ourselves in trouble. What it relevant to one person may be different from what is relevant to another.

Let’s say you had a cheeseburger for lunch.

Now let’s say you had sex with a co-worker at lunch.

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like they are pretty different things. Having sex with your co-worker is kind of a big deal, and sharing that knowledge would probably have a different impact on your relationship then telling your partner you had a cheeseburger.

One seems a wee bit more important in terms of relevance to your relationship than the other, and although the fallout would be considerable, I think it’s a safe bet that your partner deserves to know about the lunch sex.

But what about the cheeseburger? Is there any need to tell them about that?

Normally the answer would be no. But it comes down to context.

What if you and your partner are on a diet together, and the cheeseburger was a way of “cheating” the diet?

What if you are saving up for something and you promised to brown bag a lunch in order to save up money?

Well then perhaps the cheeseburger IS actually relevant. Maybe your partner WOULD be hurt if they knew about the cheeseburger.

honestyisintimacy

Intent

When withholding information from your partner (either through half-truths or complete omission) it comes down to intent.

WHY are you withholding information?

Is it because you truly thought it wasn’t important and it didn’t even occur to you to tell them? Is it because you want to surprise them with something? Or is it because you were feeling guilty and you didn’t want them to find out?

Sometimes people have disconnects on what “is important”, and this is an area where communication comes into play. Over time these sorts of disconnects will be sources of conflict for a couple, and this is natural and even healthy conflict.

When there are disconnects on what is important you can use them as opportunities to understand your partner better, and be a better partner to them in the future.

But if you are ever withholding information or keeping secrets out of shame or guilt, then you KNOW you have done something wrong. If this happens, any withholding is intentionally being deceptive.

Drawing the Line

Is it ever alright to intentionally be deceptive?

Sure, if you want to surprise your partner with something. It’s kind of hard to surprise them with things if you can’t keep some secrets.

But what about secrets that would hurt them?

I think there probably is a bit of a grey area here as well.

We all run into problems and issues in life. And sometimes we don’t want to share those. Sometimes we need to be able to work through things on your own.

That’s understandable to a degree. We don’t want to be the person who is alarming our partner by crying wolf every time we have concern or a fear. Sometimes we realize our fears are nothing, and it’s best not to stir the waters by raising them.

It’s important to be very careful with this though.

If these fears persist for a long time, or if they start to spill over into and affect the relationship, then they are pretty damned relevant. At that point choosing to keep them to ourselves will only ever do harm. It will break down trust, and damage the integrity of the relationship. And the longer it goes on, the more damage will be done.

Being Honest

I think being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you are always truthful. It doesn’t mean you have to share every little thing. There are cases where you will hold things back, or even outright lie in the short term (with surprises for example).

To me it comes down to three very important things:

  • Intent
  • Empathy
  • Respect

We all choose our own actions. If we are in a relationship, then we need to think about our partners in the things that we do.

If our intent is good in the sense that we are considering our partner and being respectful towards them, we may still get ourselves in trouble if there is a disconnect between what is important to one versus the other. But those sorts of conflicts are fine.

We should never hide behind lies and partial truths or omissions out of shame or guilt though. Those sorts of things will only do long term harm.

And we should never do things that are disrespectful to our partner, or we know would hurt them if they found out. If we are doing that, then our relationships are built on a rotten foundation. And eventually, they will crumble under the weight of our own deceit.

Acting with respect, empathy and good intent is always the best approach.

The truth isn’t always easy to face; but it’s always the right answer.

we-all-need-to-know-what-it-means-to-be-honest

Why and How Matters More Than Who

WhyHow2
Love.

That’s why we are all here.

It may sound cliche, but I think it’s true. Humans are social animals, and we are all looking for acceptance and belonging.

No one wants to be alone. We all want to find that “someone” we will be with for the rest of our life. And sometimes we think we’ve found the person we can imagine ourselves growing old with.

But even still, many relationships don’t work out.

When we sort through the aftermath of failed relationships, it’s always easy to find the reasons it didn’t work out.

Maybe we had different interests, or different values. Or different attitudes towards any number of things.

And looking at the differences that we had can provide validation for why it didn’t work out.

We just weren’t a good fit. They weren’t the right person for us.

Next time we just need to find a person who is a better fit for us. If we can do that, then we would have our forever.

The Right Person

The “right person”. The “one”.

These concepts are driven into us through romantic notions of love.

And there is some truth to them.

It seems obvious that “who” you are with has some bearing on the success or failure of a relationship. Some people ARE more compatible than others, and certain personality traits seem to mesh with our unique makeup better than others.

There will always be differences though. Those differences are actually one of the strength of a relationship, because although they can be sources of conflict they also allow us to complement each other and bring out different sides of ourselves.

Due to this I think the “who” is actually a smaller factor than most people think.

There are no magic wands in life. There is no one person who, once you meet will turn your life into rainbows and unicorns.

ALL relationships run into challenges over time.

Who you are with is only a piece of the puzzle. What’s more important than the who is the why, and the how.

Why are you with your Partner

I am a huge believer in intention, and the question of why you are with your partner is perhaps the most important one you can ever ask yourself.

There are two levels to this question.

The first one I touched on in my last post. What was it that drew you to them? What made you decide this was someone you wanted to be with?

Depending on where you are in life, “what” you want in a relationship may change. What matters to you at 20 or 30 may not hold the same importance at 40 or 50.

If we hope to find someone we can be with for the rest of our lives (in spite of thse changes) perhaps the more important question is:

Why did you want a relationship in the first place?

I believe an honest answer to this question goes a long way towards determining the success of any relationship.

Relationships start with our own needs.

We find someone who we enjoy being around. We hopefully find them attractive, or at least feel we have some sort of chemistry with them.

But why do we want to be with them?

Are we looking for someone who will take care of us and fulfill our needs? Someone to share bills with? To provide a safe environment (physically and emotionally)? To provide a periodic sexual outlet? To potentially raise children with?

Are we looking for someone who makes us happy?

Take a look at this quote on happiness in relationships:

bewithsomewhomakesyouhappy

I get the sentiment behind this. Obviously we want to be around people that make us feel happy. But I think the idea is actually quite messed up, and can become twisted into something it was never intended to be.

To be happy, you have to first be happy with yourself.

No matter how good your relationship is no one can make you happy all the time – and in fact, your partner shouldn’t have to. You will always have times that you aren’t happy. And if you associate your level of happiness with the quality of your relationship, then during those unhappy times it can feel like something is wrong in the relationship.

When you are looking for someone to “make you happy”, you are putting a stress on your relationship that it will never be able to meet.

So instead of looking for someone to take care of us and make us happy, we should be looking for someone to share our life with. We should be looking for someone to share experiences with, and looking to enrich each other’s lives.

When we take this approach, the concept of happiness is better represented by the following:

makesomeoneelsehappy

This is a much healthier state both for the individual and the relationship. In either mindset, the actions and interactions in a relationship often look the same. But there is a big difference between wanting someone to make us happy and looking to share our experiences and happiness with someone.

When we want to “be happy”, we are in a selfish state of mind. Our relationship is one where we take more than we give, because we are interested primarily in what we get out of it. Our focus becomes how the relationship is meeting our own needs, and what it provides for us.

That’s not to say that our needs aren’t important, because they are. But a relationship needs to become about more than that.

We need to truly care about our partner and their needs. Their needs should not be viewed as part of an exchange, where we are meeting their needs in order to have ours met.

We should *want* to meet our partners needs and take enjoyment from the act of doing so. We should finding happiness within ourselves from the enjoyment of sharing our life with our partner.

The “we” has to become as important as the “me”.

How do we treat our partner

The next important thing in a relationship is how we treat our partner.

I suspect this is actually related to the “why”. When our focus is ourself (and how well the relationship meets our needs) we have automatically set up an antagonistic approach to our relationship.

When this happens couples get into patterns of conflict and withholding. “Oh, you didn’t do this (for me)? Well fine, then I won’t do this (for you)”.

Everyone falls into this sort of behavior occasionally, but hopefully not often.

It’s petty, it’s destructive, and it’s about power. In fact, intentionally withholding as a form of “punishment” is generally considered abuse.

By focusing on the couple and looking at what is good for the relationship, we can see the relationship in a different light. We are definitely an important part of it, but it’s not all about us. It’s not all about our partner either. We need to be in a position where we are both able to thrive at the same time.

Think about how you interact. About how you treat each other, not just when times are good but also when times are hard.

When you are stressed, do you take that out on your partner? Or do you try to work with them to ease any burdens.

How well do you support each other?

People use “we just weren’t compatible”, or “it just didn’t work out” because it’s the easy answer. When we say this, we are absolving ourselves of any responsibility.

“Who” you are with IS very important. But why you are with them, and how you treat them is equally important.

So instead of focusing on “the one”, focus on what you can do to improve your approach to your relationship each and every day. Don’t look for someone to take care of you. Don’t look for someone to make you happy.

Instead look at the good you have, and find joy in what you are able to provide.

You may find that giving and putting in effort provides it’s own rewards, and as you build you may also receive more in return.

What Really Matters?

holding-on-to-love1

For years I ran a mens league basketball team. Running a team for what is essentially a beer league can be surprisingly difficult (it’s also a thankless job).

At first glance it seems simple:

Find some guys who like basketball, get them together and make a team.

Right? Well, unfortunately there’s a bit more to it than that.

See, there are a lot of different facets to basketball.

At the simplest level, basketball has offence and defense. With those areas, there are a number of different skills that make them up.

For example, on offence you have shooting (from different areas), post play, ball handling, setting screens, court vision, etc.

On the defensive end of the court you need to a type of awareness that allows you to anticipate and react to an opponent. Some of the “skills” on the defense include boxing out, rebounding, blocking shots and stealing the ball.

If you make a checklist of all the different skills that make up a basketball player, very few people check all boxes. Generally some people are skilled in some areas, but not in others. So when building a team you need to find a balance of skills and abilities with the different members of the team.

When building a team I look for a mix of players that bring different skills to the table. Players who complement each other, in order to maximize strengths and hide weaknesses.

And that’s just the basketball side of things.

That checklist lists the skills and abilities that make up a “good” basketball player. But basketball is a team sport.

To be a good teammate, someone had to be unselfish. They also had to be reliable, have a positive attitude, and be able to deal with adversity. It’s easy to be positive when things are going well, but it’s really important that guys stick together and not point fingers when times are tough.

Oh yeah, being able to pay was pretty important too. As the guy who had to collect from others and pay the bills, it really sucked when fees were due and someone only had $20, and would get me “next time”.

Over many years of playing and trying to build a team, I found that the “team” skills were MUCH more important than the actual basketball ones.

Someone could be an amazing basketball player, but if they weren’t also a good teammate then it was not worth having them on the team.

When building a basketball team, “basketball” was only a small part of the equation. A team is much more than just a collection of individuals.

Building the “Perfect” Partner

When meeting a potential partner, what are some things you look for? Just as there are many characteristics and traits that make up an ideal basketball player, there are also many traits people look for in a partner.

Because a relationship only involves two people (unless you are into bigamy, which is frowned upon in most parts of the world), it’s a lot harder to find a balance.

An additional complication is that the traits that are important to you may change over time.

Think about early relationships, when you are around 17-22 years of age. At that stage, most people are probably looking for someone they find attractive that they can hang out and do things with. At this point a similar sex drive is probably the most important trait.

But while hanging out and having a regular partner for sex may seem great at the time, it doesn’t really make for much of a relationship. In fact, some people actually differentiate between what they feel is acceptable in someone they will just “date” vs someone who is “marriage material”.

If you are looking for a long term relationships (with the possibility of marriage) then there are other characteristics that become very important. Commitment, loyalty and a shared vision of the future are a lot more important than just hanging out with someone who you find attractive.

And if you are at a stage that you hope to have kids, stability and responsibility are also very important.

The “Non-Relationship” Stuff

When you first meet someone there may be characteristics that you notice, and those may or may not stay important over the life of the relationship.

But those traits are only a small part of the traits that matter over time.

Self-confidence, motivation, the ability to hold a job, handle criticism and handle stress are a few things that come to mind. These aren’t things you necessarily think of when looking for a partner, but at the same time they all have a significant impact on the success of relationships.

Times won’t always be good, and they won’t always be easy.
Sometimes relationships seem to go well for years, and then *something* changes and things fall apart.
What happens then times get hard?

Does someone start to retreat into doing what is best for them? Do they start blaming the other person for any problems the relationship is facing? Do they ignore the problems and pretend they aren’t there?

Or do they try to work together, and find ways to move forward that may not be perfect for either person, but attempt to find a balance that works for both?

I believe empathy is the key.

With empathy there is both give and take. There is a recognition that although each individual is important, sometimes the couple needs to come first.

Kind of like my experiences with basketball, you find that all the wonderful characteristics and traits in the world don’t matter if someone can’t embrace the concept of team.

The Perfect Partner

So what does the “perfect” partner look like? There’s really no right answer here, and even for a single person it depends on where you are in life and what your priorities are at that time.

But there is no such thing as a perfect person. Each are different, and no one “has it all”. Well, maybe some people do. But if so, those people are like unicorns and Sasquatch.

Accepting that people aren’t perfect is not about lowering standards. It’s re-evaluating priorities.

Each of us has a different “skill set”, and the mark of a successful couple probably depends on how well they are able to accept each other for who they are, and find ways to make those skills work together.

What matters isn’t what’s perfect, it’s what’s perfect for you.