Are you perplexed by the mystery of keeping love and intimacy alive in a relationship? Are you confounded by your partner’s behavior, or in despair that the relationship you have is not the one you thought you were going to have, or even what you want? Are you feeling deflated by the ending of a relationship you thought was here to stay? Having survived spectacular, near-fatal relationship skirmishes for decades and having come out the other side smiling, perhaps I can help. Here are eight vital lessons I’ve learned the hard way:
- You may be done with the past, but the past may not be done with you. Time and again, in my romantic relationships, I found myself in situations I thought I had been trying to avoid. I saw my friends experiencing this too. How often do we see someone marrying for the second time, to a person very similar to the former spouse?I discovered that the roots of my misery were decisions and choices I had made stemming from the patterns from my childhood. Yikes! Our families of origin set the imprint in our subconscious minds for love. Our choices, likes and dislikes, and fears in love arise from this imprint. To change a recurring pattern, we must hit the reset button with conscious effort (and sometimes, professional help). Patterns will repeat unless they are disrupted by conscious intervention. Psychological injuries and the patterns established in us during childhood are powerful influences on our present decision making.
- We all tend to see what we want to see. We all seek affirmation of our beliefs, our behavior, our appearance, our talents—even if we fancy ourselves to be rebels and iconoclasts—so we’re prone to be drawn to affirmation rather than to see what is or to seek an objective truth. Our desires color the information we take in, so we often fail to see warning signs, which may seem glaringly obvious when it’s too late.
- Evaluate potential partners by their actions rather than their words. Many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, in order to get what they want from you—and often this is done unconsciously. It is a sad truth, but we all curry favor and try to influence each other in various ways. Human beings are propelled by desires, even if they live to serve others. If you are a trusting person by nature, you will be an easy target—unless you learn to observe behavior and evaluate circumstances by what is, rather than by what you wish were the case.
- You can only change yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can change someone else or that they will evolve in the way you wish, once they are influenced by your many charms or great adoration of them. Everyone and everything changes over time in this mortal coil. The best predictors for how someone will change are their past behavior and their relationships with friends and family. Choose a partner whose flaws you can live with and who is likely to be tolerant of yours.
- How we deal with pain matters. Rather than look inward to discover the source, many people choose either to deny their pain or to anaesthetize themselves in some way (with alcohol, drugs, sex, food, over-exercising, over-work, etc.) to try to vanquish the symptoms. This is a zero sum game, of course, as the root cause of the pain will remain until it is addressed directly.Observe yourself to discover how you deal with pain. Take the time to get to know a potential partner well before committing yourself. What are they like when they’re ill, mad, frustrated, broke or challenged at work? Behavior speaks louder than words. And by all means, refuse abuse under any circumstance. Never remain in a bad relationship because you’re worried about what other people with think or say about you. This is your precious life we’re talking about, not theirs.
- Figure out what your absolute requirements are for a long-term partnership. What are the deal-breakers? What would prompt you to end the relationship? Know these going in, and make sure you and your partner agree on them. Life is fraught with surprises and hurdles.The blush of new love, as thrilling as it is, is ephemeral. What sustains love are trustworthiness, communication, friendship, kindness, tenacity, and humor. A wise man I know, who has been a practicing psychiatrist for over forty years, told me that when he hears someone is getting married he thinks, “Congratulations. You have just signed up for a lifetime of work.” And it can be very loving and enlightening work. Marriage is not for the fainthearted.
- Free will is real. We each have an indomitable life force that wants above all else to live. No matter how stuck you feel, there is always the possibility of personal development. Beneath all our experiences, past conditioning, desires, and fears there is a knowing and a stillness that can neither be destroyed nor disturbed. Find it in yourself and trust it. We can use our minds, direct our thoughts (choose which thoughts to follow and which to ignore), make new kinds of decisions and change our lives whenever we decide to make the effort. True love cannot exist in a vacuum; it is sustained by conscious attention. Which brings me to my last point…
- A committed relationship is not a 50-50 arrangement. Each party must give 100%. Good luck!