A student I’m working with remarked that she felt like a failure being alone for Valentines Day. Many single people in North America will use February 14th as a trigger for sadness. Like her, they think that because card companies advertised Valentines Day into existence, that somehow they’re doing something wrong if they’re alone.
They imagine the hearts in relationships aren’t broken hearts. They forget that the two weeks around Valentines are also the most likely time for a break-up. They forget how high the divorce rate is and that a large percentage of spouses are going about their Valentine duties without any sincere motivation. And they forget that many single people are very happy, with full and active social and sex lives.
If you are in a relationship, there’s about a 50/50 chance that you’re happy about that right now. Many of you are contemplating leaving. Maybe your spouse is simply inattentive. Or maybe they’re sexually, financially or socially selfish. Maybe they are neglectful, controlling, abusive or even violent. Or maybe you’re some of those things. People could say “you’re such a great couple” to you all the time, and yet Valentines Day might be the saddest day you can imagine having to experience right now.
So you’re either going to leave or you’re going to stay. If you’re going to stay that will only be because things are better. And since the only person you control is you, rather than worrying about what the other person can do, you’re better to focus on what you can do to improve things.
The question is, how do you do that?
I suspect we can agree there are no perfect people, so presuming people want to be in a relationship, we can safely conclude that they will have to be in that relationship with someone less than perfect. Meaning you have to accept someone else’s imperfections and they have to accept yours.
Imagine I show you a vase filled with 93 marbles, representing an imperfect 93/100 human being. If I asked you to write down the three most significant marbles in that vase—the three biggest reasons you got into your relationship in the first place—what would you write? Great family, great sense of humour, kindness, genius, sexy, great with animals, excellent conversationalist, whatever. It doesn’t matter, just identify the key reasons you got married.
Now imagine I show you a bowl with the remaining 7 marbles in it. These are your partner’s imperfections. Write down the key ones that are leading to the relationship strife. Alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity, gambling, verbal abuse, physical abuse, poor parenting skills, avoiding responsibility, financially reckless, poorly groomed, lazy, works too much, lacks sex appeal etc. etc. etc. Identify why you’re leaving.
Finally, take a third sheet of paper and write down which 7 marbles you would agree to stay with.
That last one is where most people get stuck and look up at me. They want to know what I mean, so I say it again. “You told me that sheet number two was why you want a divorce if things don’t change. You don’t want that bowl of stuff to deal with. Fair enough. But you also said you don’t want to be alone. Since we already decided everyone has a vase and a bowl, tell me which bowl you’ll stay married to.”
They often think on this long and hard and, in the end, a very large percentage of the time the person will conclude that maybe the bowl they want is the bowl they already have. But then they’ll miss the point and say to me, “Now we’re right back where we started!”
And I will remind them, “Where you started was by falling in love.”
Look at your list of what’s in the vase and what’s in the bowl. Do you really think those things showed up after you started dating? Do you really think your partner didn’t have a bowl when you met them? Of course they did. But you didn’t care. Because you were too focused on their vase. So if you want to be happy in your relationship, you just have to go back to doing what you did when you were enjoying it—which was look for what you liked about the other person, not what you don’t like. After all, they could do that to you too. It’s not like you don’t have a bowl of your own.
So here’s the secret to a great relationship: Don’t wake up and look over at your partner and re-live thoughts from the day before about all of the “mistakes” you feel they made. Try this instead; look at them and genuinely realize that they have to put up with your seven marbles every single day. Remember that you are not always easy to deal with and the only reason they do it is because they love you. Be grateful that they do. It’ll feel a lot like being a newlywed because you’ll be doing what newlyweds naturally do, which is feel lucky. They stand for photos, cuddled up and happy with their arms wrapped around all 100 marbles.
Pay attention. Not to your partner’s mistakes, but to what you’re focusing your own awareness on. Don’t blame your partner because you’re choosing to look at their bowl instead of their vase. Because if you look at the vase, it’s possible to re-fall-in-love every single day. I know that for sure because I’ve done it.
Happy Valentines Day. The universe loves you.
peace and hugs, s