Words of Warning On The Road To Love
In my experience, relationships always start beautifully. We’re attracted, get to know each other, grow to love each other, even consider each other soulmates. In some cases I’ve gotten engaged and we’ve planned kids, houses, travel and adventures. Some relationships lasted a good number of years.
But they all had one thing in common: eventually they’d start spiralling down the drain. Imperceptibly at first, then faster and faster until we caught on. Every time, we felt powerless and sad. The goodness of it was ending and there seemed nothing we could do.
After the umpteenth break-up I paid closer attention, until I noticed that there are signs along the way to breaking up. Some of the signs are there from the first day, while we’re skipping past in happy ignorance. Others we’ve held on to since childhood, and brought along to bash over the head of each new lover.
Via trial, error and bloodied hands I noticed that once I started learning from these signs, they became redundant. Relationships became effortless and rewarding. No-one can guarantee happy ever after, but happy here and now is always possible.
The problem isn’t soulmates, who may or may not exist. The problem is wanting one so much that you imagine they’re there when they’re not. Someone isn’t your soulmate just because you met by incredible coincidence and have the same background. Maybe you do have a karmic connection, if you believe in that sort of thing – but that doesn’t automatically mean that you should be together. Don’t let wishful thinking influence your judgment.
Another way to catch yourself dreaming along idealistic lines is when you’re thinking “I wish…” or “If only…” But dreaming only widens the space between you and reality. Things are how they are, and failing to accept that will only cause you pain.
A note about signs: Don’t panic when you see any of these words floating into your field of vision! It’s absolutely fine (sometimes even cathartic) to think all of these things once in a while. The key is to become aware of their consequences, and avoid using them as an obsessive reflex.
This is probably the most well-known sign in pop psychology. When you argue and find yourself saying “you always…” or “you never…”, take a reality check. It can’t possibly be true, so why are you saying it? If it’s because you’re frustrated, for example, say that instead. “I feel frustrated when you do this…” is a lot more helpful than “You always do this.”
This is the one I’ve heard the most. We think we need sex, or kids, or security, or companionship. And in order to get it we’ll lie, steal, cheat and ironically run roughshod over the people we promised to care the most for. There’s an unexamined belief here. Ask yourself and answer honestly, what do you really need? What will happen if you don’t get it?
Trump biological instinct by considering the possibility that you don’t actually need anything at all. You don’t need to get anything from anyone. You’re free just to enjoy their company, and anything they may wish to give you. If they give you nothing, that’s ok. You’ll still be fine.
Like young children, we’re frequently so focussed on our own ‘wants’ that we lose perspective and forget to relate to the person in front of us. Think of others’ company as a gift, whether you’re in the boardroom or the corner shop. What are they going to show you today? How are they feeling? Can you maybe even do something to help them? Listening to others turns out to be a welcome diversion from your to-do list, your wish list and any broken records you’re playing in your head. Use ‘want’ as a catchphrase to open your perspective.
5. Have to
These are the most common “have to” thoughts. Which ones have you had?
“I have to stay in this relationship because it’s as good as I can get, and it’s better than having no-one.”
“We have to stay together for the kids.”
“I have to stay because I made a vow.”
And here are some more subliminal ones:
“I have to argue to get what I want.”
“We have to keep the peace at all costs.”
“I have to steer and manipulate this relationship, or it won’t work.”
I’m not in favour of breaking vows lightly, but the fact is that you don’t “have to” anything. “Have tos” are just ideals planted by you, your culture, or other people. They’re not actually true. Trust your intuition, but consider that the right thing to do might be the opposite of what you’ve always assumed.
When it’s used in an argument (or a rant in your head), ‘should’ is the version of ‘have to’ which we project onto other people. We’re full of ideas about what other people should be doing, and how they should be treating us. But keep coming back to the facts: others are not ours to direct. They will do what they will, and the sooner we accept that, the happier we’ll be. Practise patience and let things develop in their own way, and you are likely to find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Apportioning blame is an international pastime. At least all the nations have that in common. Funny, isn’t it, how statistically it’s hardly ever your fault, but someone else’s?
Having said that, a lot of people, particularly women, take responsibility for far too much: “If I’m selfless enough, he/she will love me and everything will work out.” It could be a hangover from being told as a child that we’ll be rewarded for being ‘good’. But there are hundreds of factors affecting the outcome, and we can only take responsibility for our tiny sphere.
The bottom line on blame is that unless you’re in court, it’s completely pointless and only serves to dent or inflate egos. Forget about whose fault it is, and focus instead on what can be done to make the situation better.
8. You make me
“You make me” is a way of trying to give responsibility for ourselves, over to others. We blame them for how we feel and for the things we do that we’re not proud of. It’s a cowardly and abusive way of avoiding responsibility.
A subtle version of this is making up stories about how it’s the other person’s fault, when we feel bad. A man who feels upset might for example say “it’s because you’re being irrational”, when he’s the one feeling irrational and it’s got nothing to do with the person he’s talking to.
“Can’t” is all too often used as an excuse (and a lie) when we don’t want to do something that would make somebody happy. If you find yourself using it as an excuse, try telling the truth instead about why you don’t want to do it. Without blaming others, look at what you’re feeling. Is it fear? Dread? Depression? Telling the truth about how you feel, instead of copping out with a “can’t”, lets others into your heart and gives you a chance to reconnect.
If you’re saying to someone else “you can’t”, unless you’re actually stopping them from doing something harmful, you’re limiting them by projecting your own fear. It’s known as trying to kill their spirit, and you should set them free.
If you find yourself thinking “I won’t”, you’ve successfully pushed up against your own boundaries. Clarify them to yourself and then to others, and you’ll gain self-respect.
It might be tempting to use “won’t” as a manipulative bargaining technique, but that won’t work for long. Better to try to be flexible and open, with just a handful of “won’ts” on the table. You don’t need to go looking for boundaries; they arise naturally.