Why do our close relationships start off being wonderful, and all too frequently deteriorate into conflict or apathy? To answer this question, we need to look at how our relationships begin, and why they begin.
We all have an image in our subconscious minds of our ‘ideal’ mate. This image is formed from our conditioning during childhood. Often, aspects of our parents will form part of this image. For example, children of elderly parents will often be attracted to older partners.
When I was young, there were some people, not many, who made me feel: ‘I want to be just like that person when I grow up.’ On the other hand, there were many more who made me vow that I would never be like them. They were perfect role models for the sort of person I didn’t want to be.
As we start to socialise we meet all sorts of people, some who seem to fit our ‘ideal’, and others who definitely don’t. Then one day, we meet someone, and go ‘Wow’; this is my ideal mate, my soul mate, absolutely perfect for me.
But what has happened is that there are some aspects of that person that ‘fit’ our ideal, and because of this, we believe that the fit is perfect.
So we enter a relationship, and in the beginning all we see are the bits that fit, initially ignoring the bits that don’t. But as time goes on, the parts that don’t fit become more and more obvious, more and more magnified.
Now, instead of accepting the other person, we try to change them, making our ‘love’ for them conditional on their changing to fit in with our ideal, but because we are asking the other person to be someone they are not, resentment slowly builds. Our partner does exactly the same, expecting us to change to suit their ideal, leading to conflict.
There is another aspect to these relationships. We are often attracted to partners who ‘appear’ to be able to fill what’s missing in us, in the forlorn hope that as a couple we will be complete, but unless we are complete as individuals, there will always be trouble down the line.
We end up playing roles, just like in a play. As long as each person is content to play the role, then the relationship can continue. Just like in a play, each actor knows his lines and will give the right cues to which the other actors can respond.
The trouble starts when one of the actors decides that he/she doesn’t want to play that role any longer, and starts playing a different role.
Imagine a play where one actor suddenly changes his lines, no longer following the script. The other actors don’t know how to respond. We often see this in a relationship where the woman adopts the role of a mother. All the time she is content to play the role of mother there is no problem, but one day she may tire of this, wanting her partner to be more adult, and to accept some of the responsibilities. Can such a relationship be saved? Often, the answer is ‘No’. The play cannot go on, because now each actor is using a script from a different play.
One of the problems is that in these sorts of relationships, there is no love. Instead, there is possession. Any contribution from either partner is conditional on the other behaving in a certain way. This isn’t love – this is a trade. Most ‘romantic’ love falls into this trap.
The other person CANNOT provide the missing aspects that you are looking for. They can only come from inside you. The fact is, that unless you are a complete person yourself, without needs or expectations; happy with who you are; happy with your own company; happy to spend time alone, then any relationship you go into will be doomed to be destroyed by the monotonous ritual of day-to-day living.
If you think about most couples, they tend to follow a pattern. Before they meet, they will have their own lives, their own friends – they will be individuals. But after they meet, they want to spend every moment together, giving up their lives as individuals, giving up their friends, giving up their separate
So that instead of there being two individual people choosing to be in a relationship, there is just the relationship. Instead of having parts of their lives that are separate, meaning that they come back to the relationship refreshed, with different things to talk about, they have only the relationship, which soon becomes just a stale habit.
A danger sign in the beginning is when one of the pair doesn’t like the other’s friends, and pressurises the other to give them up. This should set the alarm bells ringing. Most long term relationships are not loving. They have just become habitual and nostalgic.
So, what’s needed for a healthy relationship?
The answer is there needs to be two individuals, who remain individuals, who have their own lives, who choose to spend a part of their lives together. In many cases, a major part, but a part none the less. Each one will accept the other exactly as he/she is, warts and all. There will be no demands, no expectations, no trading of emotions.
You see, true love is just giving. If you truly love someone, there is nothing they can do which can possibly affect your love for them, because you have no demands, no expectations. You don’t send an invoice for your affection. This is unconditional love. Probably the closest example is a mother’s love for her child.
Is it easy? It is if you are a complete person. But few of us can say that. We all have buttons that can be pushed, and the best pushers are those closest to us. However, it is something to
aspire to; something to strive for. Especially if we remember that our button pushers are our greatest teachers. They are showing us those areas within us that need some work; that we need to attend to, if we are to grow as loving, caring, human beings.
But, without this awareness, that they are our greatest teachers, we are destined to spend our lives expecting others to provide for us those things that only we can provide for ourselves.
Without this awareness, disillusion builds, and the relationship becomes a battle ground, where the interaction is fuelled by anger and regret.
Imagine being able to say to someone: ‘I love you, as you are. I will never seek to change you. I will give you all the support you need to grow as a person, in whatever way you need, even if that means that you grow away from me. If that happens, I will send you on your way with my love.’
Imagine being able to say to someone, a partner or a child: ‘I don’t think that what you have decided to do is the best course of action for you (and explain why, if asked), but if you choose to go ahead, I will support you in your decision, and if it all falls apart, I will be there to help you pick up the pieces, and I will never say, or even think, I told you so.’
BIO: Michael has had a wealth of experience in many areas – teaching, counselling, writing and business, to mention just a few. He has studied mathematics, physics, psychology, western and eastern philosophies, and continues to remain up-to-date in all his areas of interest. Because of his wide ranging skills, he is able offer penetrating insights into many areas, but especially those involving interpersonal relationships. He has written a beginners’ guide to the ‘I Ching’, due for publication this year, and has a new blog at: The Michael Files.
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Photos above used in varied places across the internet. If you are the original creator of the photos please contact me and I am only to happy to remove or give proper credit.