So many people stay in unhealthy relationships (or go back to their ex-partners) because they hold the limiting belief that they can’t do any better. This is a fear-based mindset, and the reason why we settle for relationships that are less than what we really want.
Relationships (or to be more specific – successful relationships) really boil down to our capacity to communicate and assert our own standards and boundaries. In this way, we teach other people how to treat us through our expectations and responses to their behaviour.
Now, there are graceful ways to do this and less graceful ways to do this, but the point is, it starts with us.
Too often, people waste years on a relationship based on the hope and fantasy that one day this person will change into the person they want them to be. In the meantime, they over-invest, giving their time, emotions, energy and intimacy to this person, despite the fact that their actual relationship yields little return.
Maybe the chemistry was initially hot but sometimes too much fire can be a result of explosive ingredients that don’t stabilise well. Ultimately, if your values and vision are not aligned, you’re going to have more trouble than fun down the track.
In light of this, it’s important to recognise that – like it or not – dating is an evaluation process. It’s an opportunity for us to get to know someone and then decide how far we want to go with them or how much of our lives we want to invest.
And along that journey, it’s really important to have breakups – in fact, it’s something that we really need to get comfortable with. Otherwise, we’ll get stuck in these relationships that aren’t really healthy because we’re staying in them from a place of fear.
The thing is, heartbreak hurts. There is no way around it. People break up for many reasons and when love is involved it can be tragically soul-shaking. The cold hard truth here is that sometimes love just isn’t enough – particularly when values and vision don’t align.
Other times, love may have already fled the bed, and yet two people stay together because there is still some form of attachment. And the more intimate time we spend with a person, the more likely we are to become attached as we form habits of being together. But attachment can be very different from love. Attachment is often a habit. A behaviour that we identify within our comfort zone, and to suddenly take that away can often feel uncomfortable and disorientating.
This is because we habituate to having them around and losing them is about losing company generally, not love specifically.
The thing to remember when going through a breakup is that it is normal to go through a grieving period as we let go of a partner — which is why a key element to a breakup is acceptance.
Until we move on, our mind will naturally go back to the positive associations with the other because the body has no other current reference point for love and affection. So, in those lonely moments, it is our natural response to think of only the best moments we had with that person and miss them.
So often, people mistake this as an excuse or a justification to get back with an ex-partner who they have already realised is not a good fit for them (I mean, I don’t know anyone who breaks up with someone lightly). They think “Oh I miss them so much, that must mean we’re meant to be together” because they want the painful feelings to stop.
The other force at work here is the enormous pain of abandonment and rejection. This can feed into any fears that we have about not being good enough. In this way, getting back together becomes all about trying to rid ourselves of this experience.
This is the biggest mistake people make after a break up: they get back together with their ex-partner, primarily out of fear, discomfort or insecurity.
This is not a good strategy for a satisfying long-term relationship. Because even if you were the one who was broken up with, the breakup was initiated for a reason, and unless you can both commit to identifying and really working through the underlying issues at hand, it’s likely that it’s not going to be any better the second time around.
In most cases, going back to that person isn’t going to serve us. It’s actually the kind of behaviour that leads people into a loveless marriage. Whereas the truth of the dating world is, the more that we can say no to what we don’t want in a relationship, the more we actually say yes to what we really do want.
This is why I see dating and the relationship that follows as a process of clarification. Sometimes we think we want to be with someone or experience a particular kind of relationship, until we get into it and realise that No, actually this isn’t what I thought it would be like… Thankfully, these kinds of experiences give us an opportunity to explore and get clearer on what it is that we really do want to explore and experience in relationships, in the future.
P.S. Interested in learning more about how to approach your relationships more consciously? Get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to book a complimentary intro to coaching session where you can learn more about what I do and how I can help you get the love you want!
Recently I saw a client who was very disappointed that an awesome new connection with a man had fizzled out for no apparent reason…
When we explored the finer details of her story, it became clear that she’d scared him away by projecting too much too soon.
So, we started talking about this idea of reciprocity – pacing a guy based on his proven level of interest – stepping in time, not before or behind.
“But I don’t want to play games!” she said, with frustration.
“It’s not about playing games,” I told her, “It’s about respecting and protecting yourself from unnecessary heart-ache.“
A big mistake a lot of people tend to make happens when they decide they like someone because 40% of what they want is ‘there.’ They then project the other 60% which makes that person seem like ‘the perfect partner’. This is a danger zone for any budding relationship.
When we over-invest in a relationship based on how much we like the other person, things can quickly become unbalanced. This behaviour tends to put the other on a pedestal which can feel weird, particularly if it’s too early on in a relationship. And while you might think you are helping the bond grow, you’re not actually doing yourself, or them, any favours.
You may think that the two of you are an obvious match – but for some reason the other person just can’t see it! Sometimes it takes time for a heart to let down its guard and surrender to love. Your ability to respect that process with patience, is the best way to show someone that you are a worthy partner.
I get it though, when sparks fly, the mind can get excited and look for ways to lock things down. This is when people go crazy in the name of ‘love’. The subconscious craves certainty and ‘sure things’ – tempting us to live in an imaginary future with our potential lover despite the logic that tells us to keep it cool.
This is not about playing games. In actuality, it’s about invoking appropriate standards and boundaries.
Our standards play a key role in reminding us of what we need (and are willing to tolerate) within a relationship.
Our boundaries keep our hearts safe so our love can bloom fearlessly because the environment we’ve created is healthy and nurturing.
Bringing this back to pacing another in the early stages of dating, its also important to recognise that we can’t fall in love with potential. Often when we start to like someone, it’s too early to know who this person really is and whether or not they are worth committing to (read: able to meet our standards and respect our boundaries) – particularly if you are looking for a serious relationship.
This is why it’s so important to go slowly and observe someone’s willingness to invest in the relationship as you go. And, if they’re not showing up on your level, be willing to walk away.
I once loved a man who didn’t love himself.
He loved me though… yes, he did. And in the beginning we were both so crazy in love that we did almost everything together … (in hindsight, it wasn’t at all healthy – but we love and learn right?)
That love was the sweetest, deepest thing I had ever tasted at the time… until it all started to fall apart.
Recently I’ve been going through my old journals exploring (with the gift of hindsight) where things started to go wrong. I remember him making these insecure little comments like, “Why are you with me?”, “You’re too good for me” and “I don’t deserve you…” and while he spoke these words with love and playfulness, the underlying insecurities were all too clear.
The thing about these kinds of comments is that they pre-supposed unworthiness. Maybe if he’d said things like “We’re so lucky to have found each other” he could have translated those feelings of unworthiness into gratitude. But the way he expressed it made me start asking questions…
Over time, these seemingly playful footnotes started to trigger my own brain into looking for reasons to validate his comments, because that’s just how our minds work. When we’re given a question, even when it’s said in jest, our subconscious goes searching for material to support it.
And so gradually over time, I found myself focusing on the reasons why we shouldn’t be together, more than appreciating the aspects of the relationship that deserved to be enjoyed.
That’s when I started to realise just how contagious insecurities can be…
We all have our own insecurities and that’s perfectly human and okay. However, if we really want to thrive in our relationships, we need to bring our own inner-game of certainty to the table. And by ‘certainty’ I mean knowing that we are worthy of love – as individuals.
And it’s really the only thing we actually need to be certain of; that we are worthy of love as individuals.
With that in place, any mirages of insecurities that flicker on the horizon bear no threat. Because in cultivating this core foundation of worth and self-knowledge, we create a much stronger relationship and a much safer space for our vulnerabilities to be heard, seen and held.
Looking back on that relationship, I can see how these insecurities ultimately came from a lack of self-love. He couldn’t love himself; therefore he couldn’t receive my love without doubting it.
Trying to love someone who doesn’t love themselves is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it: it doesn’t matter how much love you pour into that person, slowly but surely the water level drops until the bucket is nearly empty – and somehow it’s your responsibility to keep the water level high.
Which is why (as cheesy as it sounds) the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves and others is self-love.
This is why those of us wanting to find an amazing relationship have to start by consciously investing in our relationship with ourselves, through quality time of self-reflection and self-care. After all, we need to know how to keep ourselves afloat if we are to avoid bringing our own potential partners down. Our sense of worthiness is often entwined in our ability to trust ourselves and we cultivate that by saying what we do and doing what we say, getting clear on our own standards of being and holding true to them without compromise.
Showing up on the dating scene with certainty means approaching potential lovers knowing that you are worthy of love. Knowing that you have something amazing to offer and if they don’t want it, it’s their loss.
This isn’t about being arrogant or narcissistic. Rather, its about not taking things personally because we know who we are, what we are worth and what standards we need to uphold in order to thrive in our relationships.
Showing up in our relationships with certainty means knowing that whatever happens – whether we are in a relationship forevermore OR it ends in heartbreak, that we are worthy of love regardless. And, if the present relationship doesn’t work out, we know that we are resilient enough to bounce back and find true love again. In fact, it’s inevitable.
This isn’t about taking your relationship for granted; rather it’s about loving fearlessly with a whole heart because love is your birthright.
Now I’m not going to lie to you, developing self-worth and releasing insecurities can be harder than it sounds, but it is SO worth the journey as you learn to let love flow its natural course towards you.
P.S. Earlier this week, I did a Facebook livestream exploring these thoughts. If you want to get notified next time I’m live-streaming follow me here.
Written by Harville Hendrix, PH.D. and his wife Helen Lakely Hunt PH.D. Getting The Love You Want is an enlightening exploration of how attraction works and why we often find more passion in challenging relationships.
Combining over 30 years of experience in working with couples, this book is based on their groundbreaking Imago Relationship Therapy and offers practical exercises to help deepen a couple’s connection.
In essence, Imago theory explores the reasons behind our attraction to particular partners who often trigger our own childhood wounds.
The primal gift in this is through our relationships, we are offered an opportunity to revisit and heal these wounds as more conscious and capable adults. Continue reading…
I just watched this TED talk by Esther Perel and felt compelled to share it.
“In long-term relationships, we often expect our beloved to be both best friend and erotic partner. But as Esther Perel argues, good and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for security and our need for surprise. So how do you sustain desire? With wit and eloquence, Perel lets us in on the mystery of erotic intelligence…”