What’s a Relationship?
Over the years, I have gotten many questions about psychology, but the one that comes up the most is how to not seek or stay in unhappy relationships. My approach is pretty simple. I ask them what they want a romantic relationship for. They tell me that they want somebody with whom to go to the movies. I tell them to ask a friend or perhaps a family member. They say they want somebody to cuddle up with late at night. I ask them if they have considered a pet. They say that they want somebody for the holidays, and I ask them if they would not rather have a new fancy wardrobe to show off or perhaps a car.
They become frustrated, and ask me if they are not deserving of a relationship. I say, “Deserving, yes. Desiring, no.” Flabbergasted, they all basically ask the same question (some with profanity), “Well what the heck do I do to be desiring of a relationship?” The answer is always the same, “You must desire a partner, a companion.”
Self-Compassion for Unhappy Relationships
The most common reason romantic relationships do not work for us is that we are in them for the wrong reasons. We want to please our families or our friends. We do not want to be alone during the holidays. We do not want to have to go to the movies alone (which is actually a strength). We want someone to cuddle up with late at night, but these are all one-way relationships. The person you are with might as well be stuffed with one of those voice boxes, you can activate with a string or a button. They might say, “Sure is nice to be with you tonight. Dinner was lovely.”
Choosing a relationship for the wrong reason sets us up to fail because the success of the relationship depends on our ability to get along, and work together. This means we have to like the other person and have so much in common with them and vice versa that we are able to put up with their crap and our own when it comes up. That’s a lot of crap!
We come by these challenges honestly. Family, friends, and society in general teach you little about how to find healthy, happy romantic relationships. We see ideals in movies and on television shows, and we search to find one that matches this criterion. Much like less complicated life choices, we find people to be involved with who seem to be interested in the same things and looking for the same success, and these things are valuable…in a business partner. To stand the test of time, you need to pick someone because you feel at ease around them, and because you love each other enough to handle the challenges and arguments that lie before you. By “enough,” I mean you are willing to fight for each other. You do not have to win the fight for your significant other. You just have to be willing to fight.
Finding Your Happy Relationship
With one person who was having a particular difficult time figuring out how to get out of unhappy relationships, I asked her if she would be willing to forego her present experience to inhabit the body of her 6 year old self. She was actually pretty excited about this. She was an actress, who at the age of 6 was able to use the many costumes she had around the house to live out every childhood fantasy imaginable with the supportive audience of her grandmother. As an adult actor, people were always telling her how she should act and what roles were realistic for her.
As she closed her eyes and passed back into the 6 year old her, she began to relive these identities, finding her stride in Jasmine from the Disney film, Aladdin. She was in her glory. She smiled. She sang. She described magic carpet rides, and more magical kisses. During one lull in the action, I asked her what Jasmine wanted. She described her perfect companion, her perfect partner.
Social pressure, work, school, and social media flood us with information and tax our resources. They draw us away from our core values in exchange for principles and actions that will please others. We need these things, to some extent, to survive in a world wrought with them. However, when it comes to picking a partner, we need someone with whom we can connect to that transcends social expectation and reinforced social activities. A tall man might be a great apple picking partner, but it will be his heart not his height that will be the true test of whether or not you can have a happy relationship with him.
Go back to a time in which you were fully able to be yourself. This time does not have to be long. It can be a night or even a moment. Interact with this time to get yourself completely in the zone, to find your flow. While in flow, give yourself permission to add the person with whom you would best be able to enjoy this space. When this person arrives, decide whether or not you would be able to fight for them. If they are not, give yourself permission to send another. This is no time to compromise. Wait until you find someone, who is just right. Then, place your hand on your heart and note the tension in your body to determine if this is, in fact, the right person. If it is, store the feeling this person gives you deep in your body’s memory. Note to yourself in great detail exactly how it feels. Now you know what you need to be in a happy relationship.
The Brass Tacks
I could make so much more money by leaving a whole bunch of things out, and extending an invitation to teach you what you would need to know for a nominal fee at my office, but these entries are about self-compassion psychology. If you remember, self-compassion is simply the wish that despite your difficulties and misgivings you have a good life anyway. Here I am wishing you self-compassion, and your innate right to be loved and free from suffering.
May you find a relationship that fills your heart, your mind, and your soul, and gives you the will to fight and be fought for. If you are in an unhappy relationship, have the wisdom and compassion to let it go. If you are searching for one and feeling depleted, use the above to direct your energy more aptly, and never, ever, ever give up on the heart. Your true heart will be battered, and tired, but in the end it will never stop (if you let it) searching for what fills it up and sets it at ease.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 78. In the Books.