Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year!
If it’s working well you simply shift from a me to an us. That’s what relationships are. The couple is an entity unto itself. The mixture has a personality of its own and it routinely exhibits itself throughout the day, whether the couple is together or alone. But most of us get the management of this fact wrong. At least it’s for good reason.
We start as a baby and there isn’t even a world. Then we can see the world but there is no us—that’s why babies don’t recognize themselves in mirrors. Then our toddler selves develop an identity, and as children we learn about property and ownership and then people start marketing to us.
Due to those influences, for a period of time we become increasingly self-centered human beings from roughly 13 to 21, and then—if we’re paying attention—we grow increasingly less self-centered in about seven to eight year increments, which is why a lot of people find the quality of their relationships improves as they age.
Our first loves are when we are most self-centered. So we’ll believe all the fairy tales and we’ll think our partner is the other half of our pre-written story. In the wealthy world that’s where she’s loved and seen as beautiful; and he’s envied and seen as strong.
But the problems come when you try to turn that fantasy into a life because as soon as the other person doesn’t fulfill their part of our personal story, we tend to feel they’ve us and we break up. That’s why most relationships are so short when we’re younger. Our standards are ones no human could really meet.
This is due to how we choose to think about each other. When we first meet almost all we do is focus on all of the traits that are most important to us, plus however well the new person fills the particular holes left in us by our previous relationships. Any time we think that positively about anything we’ll be flooding our brains with the chemistry for awareness and gratitude and love—and it feels wonderful. But then…
Life is busy, right? So life happens. And we get distracted. It used to be work was hidden at separate places and only fun was had together. Now we’re scheduling time together and there’s laundry and bill-paying and errands rather than all the fun. It’s domestic. It’s routine. It’s real.
And it’s disappointing compared to where we were focusing our thoughts previously. That fact means we’ll tend to start blaming the other person for that shift in our thinking, and therefore in our chemistry.
By now we’re focusing more on disappointing things and that’s what we’re talking to friends about, which only serves to lengthen the suffering unnecessarily. Eventually others and we come to notice, and focus on, so many differences that we’ll wonder why we’re even with someone and we’ll leave.
Meanwhile, the original person with all of their original qualities is still there, just waiting to be noticed. The only thing that makes it survivable is that both parties are variably doing it to each other.
When we’re younger we’re more absolute. If this person gets even one thing wrong then they are not our “soul mate” and so they must go. Then after a few painful losses we’re a bit more mature. We are more aware that it’s common for potential issues to arise, so the drug isn’t such a dizzying high at the start and we stick it through at least one of those tough patches.
That’s actually a big achievement for a person –to learn to accept mistakes. At least some mistakes. But after that rescue, we tend to have another good run for a while. But eventually we break up on the second or third trouble spot. Which is fine because again for people that are paying attention: we learn from each of these.
Later we’re older and wiser. Plus as we age we know we both have more invested in our lives with each other so there’s more to lose and less time to make up the difference. Sometimes that makes us stay when we shouldn’t. Other times it makes us try a bit harder to make things work and often times that’s why it does.
I know a couple that get along stunningly well for about seven weeks and then they’re absolutely certain they need to divorce immediately. That lasts less than a week and they’re back in touch with why they fell in love. In fact, they’re particularly good at noticing each other’s qualities during those other seven weeks.
The wisdom that keeps their relationship healthy is half-gratitude and half-patience. Because now when the blow-up happens, deep down they both know that it’s a pattern and that it will go away when they change their thinking. They just have to wait. That’s a mature relationship. That’s people who know how to forgive. That’s what love looks like in the trenches.
It’s not easy being loved. Most of us tell stories to ourselves about ourselves that lead us to believe that we can’t possibly deserve to be truly loved and so we fight against it in strange ways. It’s like a gift we feel is too generous for little old us. But that’s only because we focus too much on our mistakes and not enough on our qualities.
Again, if we’re paying attention and are being introspective about our lives, we’ll learn over time that everyone is fallible and we too are as deserving of love as anyone else. By genuinely feeling that way we become vulnerable and thereby open ourselves up to the greatest sensations of love we will have ever known.
We should enter every relationship knowing that our brain chemistry will naturally shift after seven or eight straight months of thinking wonderful things about the other person. When it changes we shouldn’t panic.
We shouldn’t think something’s wrong with our relationship when all that’s happened is that there’s been a natural and necessary shift to our thinking to suit the relationship’s more mature stage. Nothing can stay new and exciting when we see it every day.
We must accept that trouble will happen but it will always only be as meaningful as we make it. We must remind ourselves that when we’re struggling we’ll want to control our partner’s behaviour—we’ll want to define their role in our life.
As soon as we can sense ourselves doing that we can consciously shift toward thinking about our partner’s many qualities instead. It’s not like they’re not there. We’re not stupid. We were attracted to them for a good reason.
Let’s all be more patient. More understanding. And be grateful. Let’s do those things as much as possible, because that’s as good a recipe for a great relationship as any. We just shouldn’t be surprised if it takes a lifetime to learn how to forgive ourselves for when we fail at that.
Now let’s go create a great day by appreciating the qualities of our partners and of everyone else around us. And don’t forget to include ourselves in there too.
Much love, s