It’s not you, it’s me…
I want to start my first relationship blog with complete honesty and vulnerability. I have been married and divorced twice and many might say that I am not qualified to give advice about relationships. I think the most difficult aspect of these failures is that I was the last person who would have predicted these losses because I SO believed (and still believe) in the institution of marriage. However, the pain of these disappointments has resulted in years of counseling, studying philosophy and psychology, writing a new book to help me understand myself and others. I believe, as adults, pain, surrender and forgiveness become our greatest teachers. Out of respect to others, I will never detail these events in my life, but I will tell you what I have learned from them.
I also want to make a disclaimer here. I am not a trained psychologist or psychiatrist. What you are about to read are my opinions, not advice.
So with that, relationships can be very hard and incredibly painful. Whether the relationship is intimate, a friendship or family, we naturally bring a vast array of instinctive, “fight or flight” feelings and behaviors as well as a huge number of not so pleasant memories from our unconscious brains to the party. These all stem from the primitive (lower and mid) portions of our brain and from previous relationships and past (especially childhood) experiences.
Unknown to us, we unconsciously respond to certain situations and perceived threats in a manner that is completely inaccessible to our conscious minds. Consequently, we fall into the trap of blaming our failed relationships on the other person. How could it be our fault if we are not even aware of it?
Rarely do we look at ourselves and identify our own role in the troubles of a relationship. Even more infrequently do we admit to another, “it’s not you, it’s me” and really mean it.
Do you have a difficult history of maintaining healthy relationships?
Have you blamed the failures of relationships on other people?
Could you be the problem?
Are you even capable of having a healthy relationship in your current “state of mind”?
These are all critical questions that I had to address. After intense counseling, self-reflection and study, I began to recognize important, destructive patterns in me and this recognition and addressing specific issues have almost miraculously liberated me.
In my new book, I describe what I believe to be the three MUST questions necessary to address our unconscious tendencies and to have extraordinary, healthy, intimate relationships.
Do You Know Your TRUE Self?
The first question key to maintaining healthy and meaningful relationships is your capacity to know and express your true Self, that distinct, separate individual with unique strengths and weaknesses inside all of us. You can’t nor should you be asked to change who you are to please others. You must learn to communicate that true Self including your thoughts, feelings and opinions in positive and non-hostile manner. You can’t rely on the approval from another to make simple decisions. You must be free to share your opinion ideas and beliefs. You should engage in hobbies and passions that tap into your own interests and loves, not just activities that a friend, family member or mate prefers.
You must acknowledge and celebrate your unique talents and strengths….what sets you apart, YOU! Only then will you be able to bring the real beauty of you to a relationship and in the process make the relationship extraordinary!
Have You Dealt with Your Past?
In my humble opinion, the renowned psychotherapist, Freud had a bunch of really messed up ideas, but I believe his development of the concepts of attachments and transference were his greatest achievements. At the risk of really oversimplifying his ideas, we all bring our own special “baggage” from our childhoods (especially relationships with parents) and past failed relationships to each new relationship.
The more risky, vulnerable or potentially painful (if it doesn’t work out) a new relationship appears, the more baggage we will bring to the table because we falsely believe our past approaches will protect us.
A big issue is that we make assumptions about others based on past relationships. How many times have you met someone new and unconsciously thought that “He reminds me of my uncle.” or “She is just like my best friend in college.” We have no idea that these assumptions have a great likelihood of being wrong.
The problem is that especially damaging relationships put baggage in our future. The moment the new person does anything similar to our old love (who has hurt us), we instantly label them as being the same person and then perhaps most horribly, we treat them the same as we did the old person. We quickly find ourselves fighting with ghosts from our past. Get two people in a relationship fighting with past ghosts, and you soon will have complete destruction of the relationship.
Transference sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy where everyone fits into a past pattern that naturally becomes the mold for the future. We unknowingly create past-derived outcomes that sabotage our present and future.
Can You Love Without Expecting Anything in Return?
And as big as the other two were, I believe the biggest roadblock to loving well is our understanding of what true, sustainable love is, particularly in intimate relationships.
Many believe love is a feeling that comes and goes. Others believe it means being self-sacrificial to the point of losing one’s identity. One major misconception is that love is a state of being rather than a series of choices and actions.
How often have you thought that giving love, doing or sacrificing for another, means giving up something or expecting something in return? When we love this way, we believe that eventually our love well will run dry. We will always get disappointed when we use a love economy in which we expect a love return on our love investment.
True love involves a very different economy. When we give without expectation of anything in return, I believe that God gives love back to us in abundance and surprising ways. Often, this love is greater than we could have ever imagined. This works the same in our relationships with others. Until we learn to give love without expecting,we will often be let down.
So I encourage you to take the George Costanza advice in relationships. While George may have been self-centered and a compulsive liar, at least he could admit that… “it’s not you, it’s me”. He knew who he was. Now I admit there are times when it is completely not your fault and you find yourself in a true abusive relationship. In those situations, you must quickly put up boundaries and move away from the relationship. Loving others does not mean we ever unconditionally accept the actions of others that are destructive, harmful, or unhealthy.
When we search our Self and realize that we are capable of being at fault, we are then able to take ownership and clean up our side of the street. This will allow us to love the people we care about without developing bitterness or resentment.
“Once we are able to stop blaming others and take ownership of our own baggage, we are free to love in ways we never imagined before.”