Prevention vs. Cure

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During my recent tour of China, one of the things I did was go to a hospital that does traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

At the hospital a doctor came out and gave our group a short talk on the ideas behind TCM, and coming from the world of western medicine it seems pretty bizarre.

I’m probably going to mess this up completely, but as an overview the premise is that the human body has 5 main elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water; and that each of these elements is related to an organ in the body.  The kidney represents water, the liver is wood, the heart is fire, the spleen earth, and the lungs are metal.

Why, who knows?  That’s just how it works.

But the key to health in the Chinese model is that it’s important for us to maintain a balance between these elements, and when we don’t, bad things happen.  Similar to rock/paper/scissors, there is a relationship between the elements, so an imbalance in one vs. the others will cause specific effects.

After the overview, they had doctors come in and assess us.  The approach is to look at our tongues and hands, and then based on whatever it is they are looking for they prescribe herbal remedies that are supposed to help alleviate any imbalances in our body.

It was pretty interesting stuff.

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My biggest takeaways from traditional Chinese medicine were as follows:

  • Balance is important to a properly functioning system, and when things get out of balance bad things happen.
  • Prevention is better than cure.

Whether you believe in traditional Chinese medicine or not, these two points seem painfully obvious.  And really I think they apply to virtually everything in life.

Balance is important.  And prevention is better than cure.

 

 

As people, we have (at least) four different sides to ourselves.  There’s the physical – our bodies.  We also have our emotional state, and our intellectual.  And then there’s our spiritual side.  I’m not going to delve into religion here, but whether your spiritual side is manifested through religion or not, I think you can look at your spiritual side as your connection to yourself, and/or the world around you.  The idea that there is “something more”.

It’s important to nurture and take care of all these different sides of ourselves.  And I believe the more we are able to find balance between these different sides, the healthier we are as a person.

 

In addition to trying to find balance between these states as a person, we should also strive to find that balance in our relationships.

Often a relationship starts with physical attraction, leading people to start to get to know one another.  As they learn more about each other person, attraction and connection will hopefully start to happen on additional levels.  Emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually.

There can be different depths of connection for the different areas.

For example, two people may have an incredible physical connection.  And that may be fun, for a while at least.  But if that’s all there is, it’s unlikely to sustain a relationship over a long period of time.

A couple needs to be able and willing to explore and connect with each other on all levels.  Sharing beliefs, ideas, thoughts, feelings.  And striving to accept and understand each other for who they are.

Some people wall themselves off, either because they’ve never learned how to open up to another person or because they are trying to protect themselves from being hurt.  Ultimately doing just hurts the relationship, as you can’t have closeness without vulnerability.

Finding balance in relationship is important.  Between being an individual and part of a couple; and between the different levels of connection.  The goal in relationships should never be just building connection initially, but also continuing to grow and maintain this connection over a long period of time.

And I think this is where couples often get into trouble.

 

Prevention is better than cure.

At some level we all know this.

When rot or decay has infected something, that rot needs to be cut out before it spreads and does further damage.  So preventing rot in the first place should always be the preferable approach.

Yet time and again couples struggle to build resilience into their relationships.  Couples build the relationship, and once they have it they act like the work is done.  They stop doing the little things.  They stop putting in the effort.  And they stop trying.

 

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  After all, life gets busy.

Most of life is mundane – jobs, chores, bills.  All these little things eat away at our time, and prevent us from focusing on our partners.  There are countless little things which on their own are perfectly valid reasons for not putting effort into our relationship.

As one-offs that should be fine, and understandable even.  But when it continues to happen over time, it becomes a pattern.  And that pattern clearly tells the other person:

“This relationship doesn’t matter to me”.

“You don’t matter to me”.

If we aren’t making our relationship a priority in our lives, why should we be shocked when we realize our relationship is in crisis?

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What does prevention look like in a relationship?

Taking a page out of traditional Chinese medicine, I think it comes back to balance.  Maybe not between wood, fire, earth, metal and water; but between the different parts of our life.

Yeah, we probably all have jobs to do.  And there is always *stuff* that needs to be done.  Groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, bills, etc.  For those who are parents, there is also the time spent on kids.  And these things have to be balanced with having time for yourself and for maintaining friendships.

But there also has to always be time for your relationship.  To not only maintain it, but hopefully to continue to grow it, and continue to learn each other as you change and grow over time.

 

I think prevention means taking time out every day and being present, in the moment, with each other.  Taking that time to try and stay connected with each other on all levels – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

It is about staying curious about each other, and interested in continuous growth both as individuals and as a couple.

It’s about showing your partner that no matter what else is happening in life, they matter to you.

 

Pink lotus blossoms or water lily flowers blooming on pond

I think the above graphic illustrates this need for balance well.  Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual – these different levels of connection are all related.  You can’t neglect some parts of a relationship and not expect the other parts to suffer as well.

 

So don’t wait until there are issues in your relationship until you remember to show your partner that they matter to you.  When you neglect it, sometimes it’s too late for “a cure”.

Instead, focus on prevention; and make each other a priority each and every day.

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A Beautiful Love Story

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A few days ago I was talking to my sister.  Among the many topics we discussed was the death of my Grandmother; how near the end she thought my father was her husband (who had been gone for over 20 years), and how she told him she was glad to see him because she believed that he had come to take her with him.

Honestly, in some ways that doesn’t even seem real.  It seems like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel or something.

But it happened.

That moment was at once sad and beautiful for me; the thought that near the end, someone’s thoughts would be with their husband/wife, and that they would find peace in the prospect of being reunited with that person.   To me it spoke of a love and a bond that has survived for over 70 years.

And for many, that sort of love seems to be reserved for Hollywood movies and romance novels.

 

It got me wondering what their relationship was like when they were alive.

The truth is I have no idea.

My Grandfather has been gone for over 20 years; passing away while I was in university.  I didn’t really see them interact much, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I didn’t really pay attention to their interactions at the time.  This may sound terrible, but back then I’m not sure if I really saw my grandparents (or parents for that matter) as real people, I saw them primarily through the roles they played in my life.

However although they were my grandparents they were also real people, and real people have problems.

They have highs, and lows.  They have successes, and suffer disappointments.  Real people tend to get short with each other when they are feeling stressed, and will sometimes say things they later regret.

So I’ll guess they had problems, both individually and as a couple.  I’ll guess they had moments where they didn’t like each other very much.  They may even have had moments where they wondered if they made a mistake, and if there was something different, and better out there.

I don’t really know though.

All I know is, a few days before my grandfather died I sat at the table with them in their kitchen, and they talked about their life together.  I also know my grandmother was in pain when my grandfather passed away.  And I know she seemed happy at the prospect of being reunited with him when she was dying.

 

What is a beautiful love story?

What does it look like to you?

 

It is about meeting your prince/princess charming, who will “complete you”, always love you, never hurt you, and will make your life wonderful?

That isn’t real.  And is more about looking for someone to fill a hole inside you than it is about love.

Is it about meeting someone who will make your heart beat faster, where you can’t stop thinking about them and you want to be with them every waking moment?

That’s something that’s not sustainable, and is more about hormones and infatuation than it is about love.

Is it about traveling the world with someone, and having them shower you with gifts?

That’s about lifestyle, and money, and has little to do with love.

 

No, to me a beautiful love story looks a bit different from what you see in the movies.

To me a beautiful love story is about two people who share values and have a shared vision of the type of relationship they are looking for.  And as they learn each other, they realize that they want share that vision with each other.

It’s about two people who meet and (over time) are willing to let their defenses down with each other; and to be authentic and vulnerable with each other.  People who may still want the other person to like them, but see no need to pretend to be something they are not in order to achieve that.  People who are willing to share their insecurities with each other, and know that although their partner may always push them to try to improve and be the best version of themselves, they are also able to accept them for who they are.

It’s about two people who have individual hopes and dreams, but also have shared goals.  So they share the things they can while also supporting each other for the things they can’t share.  Where one person gets joy not just from having their own needs and wants met, but also by being there to support their partner.

 

Real life isn’t like the movies.  It’s often mundane, and day to day life is often routine.  It can also be messy, as sickness and tragedy can strike at any time.

So in my love story people aren’t always happy, and they understand they don’t need to be.  There are moments of joy, happiness, pain, disappointment, anger and sadness.  There are times when one person will have to support the other, times where a couple will disagree, and times when they aren’t sure if they are going to make it.

But in my love story, people realize love doesn’t just happen.  They realize it can be lost if it’s not nurtured.  They realize that not only are we responsible for making love and affection a part of our everyday interactions, but we are also responsible for maintaining our feelings of love towards our partner.

In my love story each person focuses on who their partner is, instead of worrying about who they aren’t.  And each person continues to choose the other, and continues to reach out to each other with love, each and ever day.

 

That’s my love story.

It may not be the stuff of Hollywood movies or romance novels.

But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

 

And if I can find that?

Then maybe I will have found someone who (hopefully a long time from now) will miss me when I am gone, and will find peace in the prospect of one day being reunited with me.

Because that type of love is a love that endures.

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How to Improve your Life without Changing a Thing

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A few posts back I mentioned watching the movie Wild.  It’s about a lady whose life has hit “rock bottom”, and how she finds herself again and reboots her life by going on a hike.

I haven’t read “Eat, Pray, Love” (or seen the movie), but my understanding is that it deals with similar concepts.  There is a woman recovering from a difficult divorce, who goes on a journey to find who she is and what she’s looking for in life – joy, spirituality and love.

There are many similar stories about “transformative journeys”, where people come to a point in life where they are questioning things:

Who am I?  Why am I here?  What will make me happy?  What gives me purpose?  What do I really want out of life?  Is this all there is?  Isn’t there “more” to life?

So they embark on journeys of self-discovery; which usually involve walking away from the life they had and the life they knew, discovering *something* about themselves, and coming back a changed and hopefully more whole person.

 

In 1949, Joseph Campbell released a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  He had studied mythology from different cultures, and found a common thread in most mythology is “the hero’s journey”.  In the hero’s journey, someone starts in an ordinary world, and begins a quest only after they are compelled to by some event or tragedy.  Their quest takes them to different places, and a journey of growth and awakening, until they finally return to a variation on their old life, where they are more at peace and balanced.

At its essence, the hero’s journey is a story of personal change, and growth.  And stories like Wild, or Eat, Pray, Love tap into this basic narrative.

 

Think of the questions:

Who am I?  Why am I here?  What will make me happy?  What gives me purpose?  What do I really want out of life?  Is this all there is?  Isn’t there “more” to life?

These are hard questions, and ones I think we all ask ourselves from time to time.  The hero’s journey appeals to us because at some level, we have all thought of just walking away from everything and starting over.  Or at the very least, taking a “break” from our regular life and having our own journey (come on, admit it.  I know I’ve thought it, and for the most part I like my life).

The thing is, it’s not really an option for most of us.

Most of us can’t just walk away, or even take a time out from our regular life.

We have responsibilities that make this impossible – jobs, mortgages, kids, etc.  Impossible may be a strong word, but at the very least it’s extremely difficult.  Part of the challenge is, our choices have implications – so if we just decide to walk away from our jobs, financial obligations or families; chances are we are walking away forever.  These aren’t the sort of things you can just “test out”.

 

There’s a deeper problem with the hero’s journey however.

Even if we could just walk away and go on a journey of discovery and transformation, those stories are misleading; because they tell only part of the story.  They are kind of like romance stories which end with the couple getting married.  The romance leading up to the wedding may be the exciting or romantic part, but it’s just the beginning.

Just as finding love is very different from being able to hold onto it forever, having a transformative journey and finding yourself in the short term doesn’t mean you won’t end up just as lost again in the future.

Making changes is one thing.  Sustaining them is something else.

 

I have a childhood buddy who went on his own version of the hero’s journey.

We were probably in our early 30’s at the time, and he was working a professional career.  One day I received a group email from him saying he had quit his job and was moving across the country to become a white water rafting instructor.

Ummm, alright.

He and I had gone for lunch a few months prior, and I had no idea anything like this was looming, so I assumed something must have happened.  But he was gone, and we didn’t speak for a number of years.

A few years ago I heard he was back, so we got together one night for dinner.

I had to ask – what the hell had happened?  Why did he leave?

I’m sure there were a number of factors, but one of them he told me was deep dissatisfaction with the regular 9-5 life, where you are caught in this cycle of work, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat.  He asked himself those same questions – what am I doing?  Why am I doing this?  Is this all there is?

He had no dependents, and he had always loved the outdoors.

So he left.

 

Yet here he was, back home.

Back in the same career he had walked away from.  Largely living the same life he had been living before.

I asked him – if this was a life he needed to walk away from, why was he back?  And was he happy (or at least content) now, back living his old life?

In response, he told me a bit about the past few years of his life.

He had been living a fairly nomadic life.  He worked as a white water rafting guide/instructor during part of the year, and when the season was done he travelled the world.  He saw all sorts of things; amazing sights and places.  Thing is, he largely saw them alone.

He would meet women, and have some companionship.  But he was never in one place for very long; so with any relationship he got into, both people knew it was a temporary thing.  And after a while, he started to feel rootless and yearn for something more.

It wasn’t just that though.

Over time he found his job as a white water rafting instructor wasn’t what he thought it would be.  He had become sick of the day to day office life and wanted to have more adventure and excitement in his life.  Yet somehow, spending his days on the rapids was no longer exciting.

It was no longer fulfilling.

I remember sitting there in the restaurant, and him looking at me and saying:

“You know, I realized that it doesn’t matter what you are doing.  Eventually, everything becomes work”.

Those words still resonate with me, and I find them very powerful.

Eventually, everything becomes work.  Everything.

 

Everything becomes work, yet here he was back doing the same work he had done before.  So I asked him, what had changed?

The realization that everything eventually becomes work made him understand he had two options.

  1. When even the adrenaline rush of riding the rapids can become routine, how can we ever expect life to remain fresh and exciting? We can’t, unless we keep changing things up.  So he could either continue changing things up every time routine started to set in, and go off on some other adventure.  But since everything becomes routine, this would apply to jobs, relationships, lifestyle, etc; and he would always be on the move.
  2. The other option was changing his approach, so that was what he did. He was able to handle going back to his old job and his old life because he changed his mental approach.  His outlook, and attitude were now different.  He accepted that life isn’t always fun, and isn’t always exciting.  He approached his job as something he may not love, but also didn’t hate.  And it was enough for him, because it allowed him to support the life he wanted.

 

If you really look at the hero’s journey, what is it about?

Is it about the quest?  The adventure?

Was the story of Wild really about going on a hike?  Was Eat, Pray, Love really about escaping to a foreign land to, umm, eat, pray and love (sorry, I told you I haven’t read it)?  Was my buddy’s journey really about white water rafting?

No, the journey (or the quest) is just a short term thing, a break from ordinary life.  That may recharge someone for a bit, but it’s temporary.

Sustained change is about the lessons we learn; it’s really about personal and spiritual growth.  It’s about letting go of who you think you want to be and the life you think you should have, and instead accepting yourself for who you are.  It’s about finding peace, and contentment, and meaning in your life as it is now.  Which doesn’t mean you can’t change or improve, but it does mean you don’t have to.

 

What can you actually change in life?

Often circumstances dictate things, and you aren’t really able to change much.  You can get a different job, but eventually it will become work.  You can find a different partner, but they will have good and bad too.

Most of us can’t walk away from our lives.  We can’t go on some incredible transformative journey or adventure.  But I think we CAN come to terms with the fact that our life IS our adventure.

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Our attitude shapes almost everything.  Our expectations shape our experiences.  And how we approach things becomes our reality.

As my buddy found, eventually everything becomes work.  Everything becomes routine.

When things become routine, its human nature for us to start taking things for granted.  And when we do that we stop seeing the good in our lives because it has become our new normal. 

Instead, we see the negative.   We see the things we feel are missing, and we focus on our flaws, and how we aren’t who we thought we would be.

 

We are the only ones who can turn that around.

We can start by accepting we won’t always be happy, and we don’t need to be.  By accepting that things will suck sometimes, and that’s alright.

Changing our outlook involves changing our focus away from what we don’t have, and instead focusing on what we do have.

To do that, we need to remind ourselves everyday about the good we have right now.  We need to start practicing active appreciation, and teach ourselves to see the beauty all around us that we have become blind to.

Real change comes from within.  And the one thing you can always change is your outlook and attitude.

When does Dating become a Relationship?

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I was out with a buddy recently and we got onto the topic of dating.

I’ve been thinking and writing about relationships for a number of years now, but my thoughts have always come from the perspective of someone who was in a long term relationship.  A struggling one perhaps, but still – as our discussion went on it became clear that they are actually two very different things.

To borrow a line from Game of Thrones; when it comes to the world of dating I often feel like there’s a fur clad wildling woman looking at me saying “you know nothing Drew, you know nothing”.  Not that my buddy Gandalf is a fur clad wildling woman, but hopefully you get the idea.

 

I’ll be the first to admit, I can be naive.  I’m not sure if I necessarily look at the world through rose colored glasses, but I tend to look for the best in people and I can be too trusting.  I have long underestimated how much ego can come into play (in a bad way) when people make decisions, or maybe it’s more accurate to say when people simply act without making decisions; and how people can be willing to hurt others in order to get what they want.

That said, from talking about dating with different people who have “been there” a lot more than I have, I think that although dating is different, some of the ideas and issues I have around relationships still apply.

 

While Gandalf and I were talking, the question was raised – when does dating become a relationship?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer here, and I don’t think it’s an either/or scenario.  It’s not like you are dating someone, and then after a magic number of dates or hours spent together you are now in a relationship (and no longer dating).  Rather, dating is a “form” of a relationship.  And if and when the relationships starts to become more serious, you think of it less as someone you are dating and more as someone you are in a committed relationship with.

So let’s rephrase the question as, when does dating go from a casual relationship to a more serious one?

I still think this is something that just kind of happens, and often it will happen for one person before it happens for the other.  But it’s not really a relationship until both people buy in to the idea.

It also depends on a few things.

A few years ago I wrote a post called “why and how matters more than who”.  In that post I raised the following question:

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.

It’s been almost two years since I wrote that, and it was written from the perspective of someone who is in a long term relationship asking “why” they are there.  But I think that question (and much of that post actually) is very relevant to dating.

 

Why is someone dating?  What are they actually looking for?

Dating is inherently a selfish act.  It’s all about you; your needs, your wants, and what you get out of it.  That’s not a bad thing though, because really – in the early days it has to be about you.  People are looking for certain things in life; and when looking for someone to share parts of their life with they have to be approaching it in a way that works for them.

I commonly talk about how one of the struggles in relationships is finding the balance between “me” and “we”.  Dating (at least initially) is almost purely about “me”, and I’ve always thought the transition from dating to relationship starts to happen when the nature of the relationship starts to include “we”.

And I guess this is an area where I realize I had no clue (you know nothing Drew, you know nothing).  Because I always thought that a shot at “we” was part of the goal for everyone.  I thought that’s what people were looking for.  The chance to find that “someone”, who would be their someone.  To find a person to share with, to build a love with that could last forever.

I thought that was what love was actually about.

 

Thing is, that’s not always the case.

Not everyone sees dating as something that could potentially develop into a relationship.  People approach dating for different reasons.

For some (especially coming out of a long term relationship) dating IS the goal.  They just want to meet different people, and feel attractive again.  Maybe they’re looking for someone to just do different things with.  Maybe they’re just looking for sex/hook ups.  Maybe they’re using dating as a way to forget – to try and get over someone.

But they aren’t interested in a “we”, they don’t want something where there’s any sort of commitment or “feelings” involved.

Someone’s reasons for dating will impact how they approach it, so WHY someone is dating (or in a relationship) is pretty damned important. 

And ideally these reasons are known to the other person – because there can be a lot of potential for hurt feelings when people are on different pages.  If one person is hoping to find the love of their life while the other person is just looking for sex, someone will likely end up being hurt.

But often people aren’t up front about what they are looking for.  And to be fair, maybe they don’t even know.  I do think it’s important to understand (for yourself at least) what you are looking for.  You may not fully understand what you want, but if you have no idea of what you are looking for how will you even know when you find it?

 

Back to the question about when dating becomes a relationship (casual to more serious), I guess this begs the question of what exactly a relationship is.  And really, that will mean different things to different people.

As I said above, I see the transition from dating to relationship happening when the nature of the relationship starts to include “we”.  When you starting thinking of the other person as part of an “us” – even if it’s just a potential “us”.

When two people are dating each other exclusively, I think you already have the early stage of a relationship.  That doesn’t mean you are committed, and it doesn’t mean it will ever develop into anything more.  It DOES however mean you are willing to give it a chance and see where it goes.

Commitment isn’t all or nothing, it’s fairly fluid and can strengthen (or fade) over time.  Hell, you don’t need to look any further than any broken relationship or marriage to know that commitment is not binding.  Saying you are in a relationship with someone doesn’t mean you are going to marry them.  It just means that you are interested in THEM, and want to learn more.  It means you don’t care who else may be out there, because right now – they are enough.

 

The question about when dating has gone from a casual thing to something more takes on additional importance when you are older, especially when you have come out of a long term relationship or marriage.

A friend of mine made the observation many people make the following mistake:

They miss the relationship they had, and so they try to recreate elements of the marriage/relationships they had.  The level of closeness, knowledge and familiarity.  So they rush things.

I had never thought about that, but I think it’s true.  We don’t realize how long it took to build that knowledge and familiarity.  It took being with that other person and sharing their life and experiences over an extended period of time.  You can’t recreate that overnight.  You can’t rush it, and you shouldn’t try to.

Along this lines, a buddy of mine told me that when he started dating he was looking for a future wife, and he had to get out of that mindset, because you never know where dating is going to go so you need to just take it one day at a time.

I largely agree with that, because you can’t force anything.  You can’t make something into something it’s not – it needs to grow naturally, and organically.

At the same time it goes back to the initial question of intention; of “why”?  Are you dating for fun?  Or because you are ultimately looking for something long term?  Only you can know that answer.  And that answer should impact how you approach dating.

 

As my buddy found, when dating someone you can’t approach them as a future wife/husband.  That’s not fair to anyone, especially when you don’t even know them yet.  However, if you know you are one day looking for a long term partner, then seeing them as a potential long term partner isn’t a bad thing.  When you know what you want, it becomes easier to decide if the person you are with matches what you are looking for.  That doesn’t mean they necessarily are what you are looking for (or you are what they are looking for); but as you continue to learn them you can continue to discover that.

“Why” matters.

 

For me, the question becomes “do I like this person”?  Is this a person I want to continue to see, learn, and share time and experiences with?  Do I look forward to seeing them? And do they in turn look forward to seeing me?

As long as the answer is yes, then it doesn’t really matter what you call it.

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Building The Foundations

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A number of years ago I built a house.  Alright, fine – I paid someone to build it for me, but you get what I mean.  I didn’t know much about construction at the time, but I learned a lot and I remember the process well.

First the foundation was poured, and in some ways this initial step was the most important part – because the foundation is needed to support everything that comes after.  The foundation bears the weight of the whole house, so it needs to be strong and it needs to be stable.

After the foundation the frame went up, and once that frame was in place you could really get a sense of what the house was going to look like, but you didn’t know all the details.

This frame was sealed, and it acted as a support for the functional parts; the electrical, the plumbing, the venting.   After that other things went in; the insulation, walls, paint, fixtures and all the finishing touches.

The process of building the house took some time, around 6 months; and then I got possession of it.

I was now the proud owner of a new house, and when I first moved in it was pretty awe inspiring.

Getting possession of the house wasn’t the end though, and in some ways it was just the beginning.

 

Houses require maintenance.  Little things, like vacuuming, cleaning and changing furnace filters.  I’ve heard you are supposed to dust sometimes too, though that’s one that I have a tendency to neglect forget.

And beyond the regular day to day maintenance, there are other things that need to be done.  Over time things break down and need to be fixed or replaced.  Walls get damaged and periodically need to be patched and painted.

And sometimes, you just want some changes.  So maybe you do some renovations, which can be anything from repainting to tearing down walls and restricting rooms.

Really, there are always things you CAN do; it’s just a matter of how much time and energy you want to spend.

 

In many ways, I think you can compare the construction and maintenance of a house to building a relationship.

In the early days, you are laying your foundation.  And that foundation will support everything that comes after.

So what is the foundation of a relationship?

To me, at the foundation of a relationship you need to have trust, and shared core values.  Core values may not match 100%, but you need to have an understanding and acceptance of each other’s core values.

In order to understand each other’s core values, you also need to have vulnerability and open communication.  So communication is probably also a foundational element in a relationship.  Unfortunately communication happens to be one of the biggest problems in relationships.  Communication is hard, and it doesn’t just happen – we don’t learn healthy communication naturally.

Instead, it’s common to believe that our way is the “right way”, become critical of anyone who doesn’t agree with us, and take criticism as a negative thing instead of as a way to improve.  But communication is a skill, and for those who are willing to put ego aside and be self-aware, it is something that can always improve over time.

 

If trust, core values and communication are the foundations of a relationship; then I think connection is the framework that everything else hangs off of.

I see connection as existing on 4 different levels:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

Not all couples are able to connect on all of these levels, and for those that they do connect on, some types of connection may be stronger than others.  For example, some relationships may have a strong physical connection, but nothing else.  That may seem fun for a little while, but personally I think a relationship needs connection on multiple levels in order to succeed.

Also, connection isn’t a fixed thing, and the strength of it will change over time.  Sometimes you will feel very connected to your partner, and other times you won’t.  That’s fine, and is normal.

To me, connection is what love is all about.  Like communication though, it doesn’t just happen.  Connection requires you to be vulnerable, and be willing to let the other person in.  It requires to you be willing to share yourself with someone, and to in turn listen to and truly be interested in them.

When people talk about falling out of love, or loving someone but no longer being “in love” with them, I think they are actually talking about the loss of connection.

And what I think people often overlook is, connection requires consistent effort over time.  It requires you to make them a priority in your life, always.

 

Going back to my house analogy, you can have a great foundation and you can have a great framework.  Your house can initially be beautiful when you move into it, but that’s not enough.

Over time things will wear down and get damaged.  Sometimes it’s the regular wear and tear that comes with the passage of time; and other times it’s an accident or an incident.  Things happen, and nothing stays new forever.

Just as you need to maintain your house you need to maintain your relationship.  You need to put in effort to keep it strong, and keep it thriving.  We are always evolving, so you need to be able to accept that change will happen over time, and try to change together when you can, and accept each other for who we continue to evolve to be.

Connection and love will fade and die over time if you neglect it.  It’s important to understand that your feelings towards your partner are not their responsibility.  Yes, it’s important that they put effort in, and they try to treat you well.  And when they do, it makes it easier to love them and feel connected to them.

But feelings of love for your partner are YOUR responsibility.  It’s up to you to try to see them for who they are, instead of who they aren’t.  It’s up to you to look at the good in them, instead of focusing on their flaws.  And it’s up to you to wake up and choose them, each and every day.

 

Healthy, strong relationships require a strong foundation; and should be built on trust, shared values and communication.  Just building the relationship isn’t enough though, you need to continue to make your partner a priority, and continue to put in effort each and every day.

Relationships aren’t always easy.  They have good days, and bad days; and sometimes those bad days can last for an extended period of time.

It’s easy to get along when things are going well, but during the hard times cracks will show.  When that happens, a strong foundation can help ensure you make it through.

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What do you bring IN to your Relationship?

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When I hear people talk about relationships, there is a lot of talk about compatibility, and how important it is to find the right person.

Compatibility does matter (to a degree), but I think it’s much less important than most believe.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the quality of your relationship often has much less to do with your partner, and a lot more to do with you.

 

I see/read/hear men and women who are “unable to find the love they want”, and they complain, saying things like “all the men I meet are X” or “all the women I meet as Y” (insert stereotype of choice for X and Y).

Sometimes we run into so many similar problems that we start to lose faith in our gender of preference completely, and start to convince ourselves our experiences are representative of all members of that gender.

Here’s a potentially uncomfortable question for you:

If you have had a number of relationships, and they all turning out badly or you are struggling to even find a relationship, what’s the one common link?

You.

 

Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here.  I’m not saying that you are a terrible person, or you are unlovable or anything like that.

I simply think that anytime life isn’t working out quite the way we want it to, the WORST thing you can do is think of yourself as a victim.

How your life goes is not “just the way things are” and I don’t believe in “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”.  Those ideas, and the idea that you “just need to find the right person” paint yourself as a passive participant in your own life.

Rather, I believe that life presents us with different opportunities, and it’s up to us to decide what to do with them.  We can’t control how things will turn out, but we ALWAY control our own choices, and how we respond to the events that happen to us.

So if a relationship (or life in general) isn’t working out the way we want it to I think it’s important to take a look in the mirror, and try to understand the ways you might be contributing to things.

 

If people you meet aren’t treating you the way you want, ask yourself what are you attracted to?  How are you presenting yourself (as the energy you give off influences what you are attracting)?  If you are interested in a “certain type” and things work out the same way, maybe it’s time to expand your horizons and look at something different.

Are you respecting yourself and properly enforcing your boundaries?  Do you even know what your own boundaries are?  Unfortunately, many of us don’t really know what our boundaries are.  We know when they have been violated because of how it makes us feel, but even then, we often don’t know how to enforce them.

 

Another big question you I think people need to ask is, what are you bringing IN to the relationship?

Yourself obviously, but what does that actually mean?

As people, we are the sum of our experiences – both good and bad.  The experiences shape us, and shape our expectations of what we are looking for, and how people will treat us.

What are your expectations in a relationship?  Are they realistic?  I find that one of the biggest sources of unhappiness for people is that their life hasn’t turned out quite the way they thought it would.  Frequently by all objective measures those people have a lot to be happy about, but it is the comparison to the expectations they had for live that lead to their disappointment.

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One of the things we bring with us into relationships that can often be damaging is our coping skills.

What are your coping skills?  How do you deal with conflict, or respond when things get hard?  How do you fight?  Do you shut down and pretend things are alright?  Do you get angry?  Petty?  Passive aggressive?

Lastly, what baggage/insecurities do you bring into your relationship?  We all damaged in some way, and that’s okay.  We all have our own baggage, and although that baggage can seem like it’s part of who we are, it’s up to us to deal with it.

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Part of dealing with it involves allowing our partners understand our baggage, so we need to be willing to let them in enough to understand it.  We need to be willing to tell them how we have been hurt in the past, what are triggers are, and why we feel the way we do about things.  This can be difficult, because these are often some of our most personal and sensitive memories/experiences.  However by opening up and communicating these things to our partners we are allowing them to understand us.  When someone can understand why we feel the way we do about things, it allows them to approach those triggers with empathy and care.

 

If we are not careful, our personal issues and insecurities can easily start to poison our relationships, so an important question is what are you doing about them?

If you take the approach “this is just how I am”, you are expecting the other person to accommodate you, and that’s not fair.  And they should be understanding/empathic, and try to accommodate you to a degree.  At the same time though, you need to work on your own issues (own your own sh*t as some would say).

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I believe taking a hard looking in the mirror, and trying to understand what you bring in to a relationship is very important to the health of any relationship; as it allows you to understand how you contribute in both positive and negative ways.

Understanding your own role in something gives you a degree of power.  Because you can’t change other people, at best you can influence them.  However you are always capable of recognizing parts of yourself you may not like, and working to improve them.

Saying “this is just the way I am” is just as much of a cop out as “I just need to find the right person”.

It’s more accurate to say “this is just the way I am – right now”.  But it doesn’t have to be the way you are tomorrow. 

 

I opened with the idea that the quality of your relationship often has much less to do with your partner, and a lot more to do with you.

What you are interested in, the energy you give off, how you enforce your boundaries, how you cope, and how you deal with your own baggage.  These are all things that influence the success of your relationships, and they all come from you.  And you are the only person who can change these things.

So instead of “I just need to find the right person” maybe a big part of thing is “I just need to BE the right person”.  I’m not suggesting you should ever change for someone else.  But you are never a victim, and you can always strive to be the best version of you.

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Words Mean Nothing

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A number of years back when my personal life started falling apart, at the urging of my sister I went to see a counselor for the first time in my life.

I have to admit, I didn’t really want to go.  I had always considered myself a mentally and emotionally “strong” person, and believed I was capable of handling pretty much anything life could throw at me.

In many ways I still believe that; though I no longer equate being able to handle things with “strength” (resilience may be a better word).  The word strength suggests that when someone can’t handle things on their own they are weak, and that’s not the case.  In fact, recognizing and accepting when you can’t handle things on your own any more, and being willing to reach out for help in those situations a form of strength that often goes overlooked.

In any case, my sister was right.  I was struggling with the things going on in my life at the time, and although I wasn’t convinced it would do me much good to go talk to someone I figured it couldn’t do any harm either.  At worst I would waste some money and an hour of my life, so what did I have to lose?

I went.

Although it was over four years ago, I still remember some moments from that hour quite vividly.  There were things she said that were true, that I either didn’t want to believe or maybe wasn’t ready to believe at the time.

And the most important of those was when she looked at me and said (paraphrasing here):

When there is a disconnect between someone’s words and their actions, always trust their actions.  Anyone can “say” something; but words without actions mean nothing.

 

Back in the late 90’s I took a certificate program in computers (I previously has completed an arts degree, but found there wasn’t a lot of work for people with a Philosophy/Sociology background.  Who knew?).  At the time, Project Management was a relatively young field that looked like it would be a good career path.  One of my classmates and I talked about project management together, and felt that after we had established ourselves in the IT (Information Technology) field – probably five years in, we would do this together.

Seven or eight years into my career I remember this plan, so I called him up.

“Kev, it’s Drew.  Remember we talked about taking project management courses together?  Well, it’s been a while and I think it’s time so I’m going to sign up.  You still in?”

“Hmmm, I don’t know man.  Things are going pretty good in my job and that’s another couple years of school.  You go ahead, I think I’m out”.

So off I went on my own.

Obviously this is a flawed example.  A number of years had gone by since Kevin and I talked about doing project management together, and things had changed in both of our lives.  So it’s not like Kevin did anything wrong, or went back on his word here.

The point of this story isn’t just that his life had changed.  It’s that he was still interested in project management; it’s just that he wasn’t interested in it enough to actually DO something about it anymore.

It was no longer a priority.

It no longer really mattered.

 

I believe this happens a lot in life, both internally and externally.

Internally we have all of these “beliefs”.  Things that we say we want, or think.  And often we convince ourselves that these things are true.  We convince ourselves they are real.

But they aren’t.

Or perhaps more accurately, they aren’t real enough.  We may want these things, but not enough to put in the effort required.

It’s easy to find barriers to the things we want in life.

We don’t have enough time, or we don’t have enough money, or there’s just no opportunity.

So we tell ourselves things like “yes, I do want this, but this isn’t the right time.  I just need to do A, B or C first.  THEN I’ll be able to focus on that.”  We tell ourselves we will do it “tomorrow”.

But time passes, and tomorrow never comes.

 

When “tomorrow never comes” I think one of two things is happening.

Scenario one – we never TRULY wanted it.  Yeah, we may have wanted it – but people often want a lot of things.  Many say they want to be rich, but they want it to happen through a lottery winning or something.  They don’t actually want to put in the time and effort to grow a business, or they don’t really want to take the risks that have the greatest potential payoff.  Others say they want a “good body”, but they don’t actually want to worry about the hours required in the gym or the discipline required to monitor their eating habits.

It’s easy to want something, but do we TRULY want it?  Are we willing to put in the effort?  To make the sacrifices of our time and energy?

 

Scenario two – we may TRULY want something, but we are afraid; afraid that we would try, and fail.

And when we are scared to fail, it becomes easier to just never try.  After all if we never truly try, we can tell ourselves we haven’t actually failed.

It’s a lie of course.  But as humans we lie to ourselves all the times.  Failing because we didn’t even try is still failing, but we can tell ourselves it’s different and maybe we would have succeeded if we “had the right opportunity”.

When things don’t go the way we want the default wiring in our brain causes us to go through all sorts of steps to absolve ourselves of any responsibility.

First we deny, and say things like “well, I didn’t really want that anyway”.

Next we blame, or justify.  “Oh, I couldn’t do that because things were too busy, and I didn’t have any money, and I…”

We tell ourselves these lies, and we convince ourselves they are true.  Because it’s a lot easier than actually facing the mirror and accepting that maybe we AREN’T the person we thought we were.  That we don’t really want to put in the work, or we are scared to fail.  That we really want life to come with an easy button.

 

Life doesn’t come with an easy button though; and sometimes things are hard.

Each person needs to make their own choices on what is ACTUALLY important to them.  And if something IS important?  They will make it happen, or at the very least they will be willing to put in effort to give them the best chance of success.

Words are easy.  They are “free”.  Effort isn’t.

If someone “says” they want something, and their actions don’t seem to support their words then the reality is for one reason or another, they don’t actually want it.  Their true values don’t match the ones they profess to have.

 

My main focus in writing is relationships, and this is where you really see this.

It’s easy to SAY you want a relationship, or you want a relationship to work.  But what are you willing to DO about it?  Are you willing to give?  To compromise?  To accept that things won’t always be easy, and that things won’t always look the way you want them to?  To accept that conflict is natural and be willing to work through that?

Do you ACTUALLY want a relationship, or do you just want the fun parts and the easy parts?  Are you just scared to be alone?

Often, I think the answer is the latter.

We DO want the relationship.  But only when it’s convenient, and when it works for us.  I think of this as wanting the perks of a relationship while still wanting to act like you are single.

That’s not the way life works.  Relationships are about two people, not just one.

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The flipside of this is being in a situation where you want the relationship but the other person doesn’t really seem to want it in the same way.

This is a very painful and difficult spot to be in, and the situation where you truly need to understand that words without action mean nothing.

I hear stories from many people who feel stuck – caught in a scenario where they want their relationship to work but their partner doesn’t seem to want it, or seems to want it only on their own terms.

These people are hurting, and their partner doesn’t seem to really care.  Often they “say” they do, and they say that they want the relationship to work.  But they don’t seem interested in actually doing anything about it.  Their actions don’t seem to match their words.

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Words mean nothing, unless they are backed by action.

Your partner may profess to care about you and want you in their life, but you need to know it and feel it.

Love isn’t just a word, it’s an action; and it should be felt through the little things.  Shared looks, smiles, affection, enjoyment of time spent together.  And by making each other a priority.

When you don’t feel like a priority and love seems to be missing, it’s easy to start questioning and doubting the relationship.  And no one should ever have to question if their partner actually wants to be with them.

If one person is starting to question whether other person really wants to be there, this needs to be communicated.  The couple needs to be able to sit down and talk about the state of the relationship, and their concerns.

Their partner needs to be willing to listen, and both hear and understand what they are saying.  And once they have heard, there has to be a lot than words.  There has to be action, and visible effort.

If there isn’t?

Then they are showing what truly matters to them.  They are showing that what truly matters does not include their relationship.  And it doesn’t include you.

 

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