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Category Archives: Relationships

Be aware of the Relationship lie – the first step to change.

Beware the relationship lie

Beware the relationship lie

We only start to change ourselves when we change the way we see. That is where we left off last week, as we consider how to move forward in improving and strengthening our relationships.

Believing a relationship lie is common, and not about guilt or failure. Until we recognise how we see ourselves and our partner, it is hard to move forward. What does that mean for the remaining 3 common lies that can pervade and undermine our relationships?

Relationship Lie No 3: It is my partner’s role and responsibility to meet all of my emotional needs.

  • what are your emotional needs? When you accept that you have them and they are valid, how does that change your understanding of where and how they can be met?
  • when you change your understanding of how many and how varied your emotional needs are, how does that change your expectations of your partner’s ability to meet them all?
  • change your perspective on other areas of life, and other relationships, and other sources for having your needs met
  • consider the behaviour of your partner that you find difficult or negative. If you start to look at how it might tie in with your partner’s needs, how does that change the way you view their behaviour? How might that therefore change your behaviour in response?

Relationship Lie No 4: I am owed by my partner for all I do.

  • if you start to change the way you view who does what in your relationship, how does that affect your need to keep score?
  • try noticing more of what your partner does do, and see how this changes how you view them
  • try changing the way you see your partner to be more in line with what you first were attracted to. Practice being grateful for who they are
  • perhaps try changing the way you see the relationship from a business contract to a loving relationship. Where can there be grace and love demonstrated in doing things for each other?

Relationship Lie No 5: I shouldn’t have to change who I am to make our relationship work.

  • look long and hard at yourself. Who you are now compared to 10 years ago, but also who you want to be in 10 years’ time. Be realistic, honest and fair. What changes would start to move you more towards the future self that you want to be?
  • what if you were to look at yourself and your behaviour traits through the eyes of someone close to you – what would they change? What therefore could you take responsibility for?

If you are going through a challenging time just now, it is likely that a relationship lie or lies are undermining both you and your partner. Change is possible, and part of that is changing the way you see progress or failure, and choosing to be realistic. There will be forwards and backwards movement, frustrations and encouragements. Accept this is a process that takes time.

But the first step is to accept that change is possible. As we change the way we see ourselves, we can take small steps towards changing our situations, behaviour, responses and choices.

The relationship lies that I have covered here I first came across in a marvellous – if hugely challenging – book called The Lies we Believe by Dr Chris Thurman. If you want to explore the whole idea of internal negative scripts and the lies we tell ourselves, in the whole of life not just in our relationships, this is a great book. There is a faith perspective to it, but still hugely helpful whatever your starting point.

I leave you with this thought – awareness of who you are and who you want to be enables you to make choices based on appropriate and positive thoughts, which then leads to responses that build connection between you not distance.

Awareness – choice – response.

How do you see yourself and your relationship? What relationship lie might need uprooted, exposed, dealt with and changed for a positive truth?

To Change ourselves? Change the way we see.

For the past few weeks, we have been working our way tentatively through a series of common lies about Relationships. Insidious views and beliefs that oh-so-commonly work their way into our internal scripts, and express themselves in our behaviour towards our partners.

Change the way we see

Change the way we see

With all of these lies, there is no quick fix. No easy or magic solution. And as we have discussed before, the key is awareness. It is only when we understand what is going on that we can start to make changes.

Awareness of ourselves and our partners is so important. To consider such issues as –

  • we are different and therefore will have different attitudes, beliefs, personalities and characteristics. This is so staggeringly obvious, and yet how often do we make allowances for our differences when it comes to our behaviour responses?
  • it is wrong to assume that our way of thinking or doing something is the best and only way
  • we become more rounded, complex individuals when we are prepared to be challenged about our black and white right/wrong views and see another perspective.

This, I believe is key –

We can only start to change ourselves when we change the way we see.

So, for these final two instalments, let’s recap the lies we have covered, and apply that principle to each one. Perhaps in so doing, we can challenge ourselves to take that first step towards making positive, relationship-enhancing changes.

Relationship Lie No 1: The problems we are having in our relationship are all my partner’s fault.

  • what does that say about how I see myself?
  • if I took the courage and objectivity to see myself as my partner does, how would the way I see myself change?
  • what might that then prompt me to do in terms of what I take responsibility for?
  • what could I choose to do to address my own behaviour towards my partner?

Relationship Lie No 2: A great relationship with the right person should be easy.

  • what are my expectations of our relationship?
  • what if I change the way I see our relationship and have more realistic expectations?
  • if I change the way I view the relationship and how much it means to me, how does that change my willingness to work hard at it?

We only start to change ourselves when we change the way we see. What does that mean for you this week?

Learning to walk in a new behaviour path

As we continue our exploration of common lies that can undermine or affect our relationships, we reach an interesting point.

Putting all this into effect takes

self awareness….courage….openness and honesty with each other….time

…and lots and lots of practice.

We have to learn new ways of responding and behaving – create new patterns. When we are so used to following a certain behaviour path, learning to get off that path and then taking the time and effort to create a new path is difficult.

Learning to take a new path?

Learning to take a new path?

Near us is a meadow, with a very well established, trampled-down-to-the-earth path diagonally right across the middle, from one bordering street to the other. Walking across the meadow, one’s feet automatically follow that well trodden, much compressed path.

The path is there. Right in front of us. No effort is required to follow it. It is something we have done repeatedly before.

To walk a different route would require stopping, stepping off the path, and picking a way through grass, weeds, and possible dog poo. There would be hazards, it would require more concentration and engagement on our part. But if the end point of our newly-chosen path was a good one, and we repeated that new path over and over, we could create an alternative route to an alternative goal.

So too with our behaviour.

Generally, the internal process goes something like this:

  • This negative or difficult event/conversation happened.
  • I feel like this…..
  • I therefore react like this….

In this model, our behaviour is tied to our feelings about the event or conversation in question. And we know in our heads that our feelings can be spectacularly inaccurate. It is at this point that we need a trigger or prompt to get us to stop, pay attention to our feelings and engage our minds to prevent us continuing down the well-trodden path that our feelings are likely to dictate.

To start to try out this model instead towards a different behaviour path:

  • This negative or difficult event/conversation happened.
  • I feel like this…
    • I stop….
    • I recognise this familiar path, what those feelings are and acknowledge them
    • I pay attention to what those feelings are prompting me to do and why
    • I realise that the behaviour path I have learned and am likely to take is unhelpful and potentially destructive
    • I choose to create a behaviour path towards a more positive outcome, based on more grounded and thought-through self belief
  • I react or behave differently, based on my thoughts not my feelings
  • My feelings eventually catch up, as this process is repeated, and I start to replace negative emotions with more positive ones.

Believing that events make us feel and therefore behave in a certain way is to fall into victim mentality. Events happen. They can be devastating or mundane. And this is not to negate the valid and real emotions we feel as a response.

However, our reactions to the events are a choice we make that stem from an awareness of our emotions. This is not easy, and represents a simple explanation of complex behaviour that warrants serious consideration and investment of time.

All I offer here is a starting point, some questions that might create more awareness of the behaviour path we most commonly walk in, and perhaps give us the opening to a new path.

  • What am I feeling here?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • What is most important here?
  • What are my choices in response, now that I recognise how I am feeling?

And, my favourite question, and one borrowed from a Jesuit priest –

Who are you becoming in this decision? More or less like the best version of yourself?”

It’s all about awareness

It’s all about awareness. Or at least, that is probably the most important starting point. Because until we are aware of

…what we think

…how we feel

…our gut reactions

how we react

…what triggers those reactions

…what underlies those reactions

…we are not in a position to make appropriate choices. Because that is the next step. We choose our response, and in so doing, are in a position to radically alter the reality that we are in.

Let me give you a staggeringlyAwareness trivial example from my own world, but one that you might identify with.

One of my Nearest-and-Dearest leaves a pile of generic household items (…? you know, glue sticks, scissors, chargers, boring random stuff) that have been used for something by that individual, but are now finished with, in a pile in a place other than that to which they belong.

I find them, and notice that they are still there some while later.

First step, I become aware of how I feel:

I am an organised person, who likes to complete a task and do so efficiently. And I can’t stand clutter. So this presses many of my buttons – not finishing the job, not tidying up, not taking responsibility, creating mess, not being aware of other household members.

I feel irritated and annoyed that this has happened again.

Now, that awareness then presents me with two main choices of response –

Choice Number 1 –

Those feelings of irritation start to quickly escalate. How could they do this to me? Do they think a tidying up fairy lives in this house? This triggers more deeply buried negative tapes: I have to do everything round here. No one else takes any responsibility. It’s not fair. I feel taken for granted again. I am not appreciated for what I do, no one notices all that I contribute yet if I wasn’t here this place would grind to a standstill.

My response is to yell and scream and rant and rage. The person in question gets it in the neck. And then things turn really nasty – lots of past misdemeanours get raked up and cast at other, entirely uninvolved, family members, as I storm about tidying up to make my point. The atmosphere sours, everyone is miserable and it takes a while to recover equilibrium.

Notice several issues here – my own emotional needs for appreciation, respect and attention; blaming the other and not seeing my own issues; keeping score of all that I do. And if this is a repeating pattern, not seeing my own need to change. All relationship lies that we have talked about over these past weeks. It is interesting to note how quickly they all come into play, within a matter of seconds.

The challenge is to take time to stop and breathe and pay attention in the moment of awareness to what is going on under the surface.

And that makes Choice Number 2 possible –

I stop and take a breath, and realise what emotions are surfacing and what emotional needs are being triggered. I also am aware of the potential for imposing my own expectations and values onto the rest of the household, who do not necessarily share my love of organisation and efficiency.

I recognise that this is one isolated incident, and is not very important. My needs are valid, and there is an issue of tidying up. But it does not represent a global lack of appreciation of me, nor a global failure on the part of the individual. I recognise that if I start down the ranting-and-raving route, I will be as miserable as everyone else, and that is not what I want. And therefore my response is key, as I have full responsibility for that.

I go and find the individual, and ask if they have finished with the items in questions. At this point, I could also choose to calmly express my frustration and encourage them to take responsibility for their part in keeping the house reasonably tidy. If practical, I ask them to clear up immediately. If they are in the middle of something (homework for example – I don’t want you thinking that MB is always the individual in question here!) ask them to clear up within a reasonable and agreed time frame.

This whole process takes only a matter of minutes. And yet, the outcome is utterly different.

This is a trivial example of a complex process. You will have situations that spring to mind that exemplify this process within yourself.  Learning to respond like this takes time, effort and lots of practice – but who said that good relationships were going to be easy? We start to become aware of our emotional needs, negative tapes, internal scripts and repeated behaviour patterns, and realise how they play out in our interactions with others. The steps are clear –

Awareness : choice : response.

This week, try applying some of this to your own interactions with your nearest-and-dearest, and see how your awareness grows.

Relationship Lie No 5 – I don’t have to change who I am

Where is change needed?

Where is change needed?

This is a subtle lie, one that is easy to misinterpret –

I shouldn’t have to change who I am to make our relationship work.

Or, as Gloria Gaynor so powerfully put it, “I am what I am!” Now, I am not saying that we should diminish, hide, or conform who we are to suit our other half. As a Life Coach, my passion is to encourage people to understand who they are – unique makeup, strengths, character traits, values – and embrace and celebrate living as the best version of that person. Not living in the shadow of someone else, or trapped by negative internal dialogues that diminish our true self, or playing the comparisons game to destructive, exhausting effect.

BUT ….

….and it is a big BUT

….none of us are perfect, and knowing and understanding who we are also means accepting where change is needed.

If we believe this lie, that we don’t have to change to make the relationship work, we could be saying one of a number of things:

  • I am who I am and that is it, accept me or tough – I am not willing to change
  • I’m happy with who I am, and therefore all the problems in our relationship are your fault
  • I don’t need to change – either I don’t have any bad habits, or I am quite happy with them and you have to accept them
  • Who I am is as good as it is going to get
  • I know that there are aspects of my character that are not great, but it is too hard to change

As ever, I am polarising things somewhat to make a point and get you thinking. But if we are really honest with ourselves, can we relate even the teeniest bit to any of those statements?

How many of us are perfectly aware of our own character flaws but choose instead to point out those of our partner, to avoid having to do the hard work to change our own attitudes and behaviour?

We might be fully aware of our short temper…tendency to criticise…lack of self discipline…stubbornness…emotional unavailability…[add your own]. But we choose to not address those issues in ourselves because it is too hard, too painful or requires too much time and effort. So we stay as we are, and expect the other to accept us.

If we think we are content to stay as who we are and don’t need to change, we are essentially saying that there is little in us that needs to change. We are completely happy being who we are, including bad habits that we are ok with and therefore expect the other to accept.

This might be seen as perhaps a little selfish, and that we are making unrealistic demands on our other half?

It is important to note that this is not about conforming or becoming a wet blanket to try and please the other. This is about

  • recognising what aspects of our character are hindering intimacy and deep connections within the relationship
  • facing up to and owning that
  • being willing to change.

Being in the right relationship is about being the right person not finding the right person. The question isn’t “should I change to improve my relationship” but

What should I change to improve my relationship?

Expecting our partner to change but not being willing or seeing the need to change ourselves is going to lead to disconnect, discontentment and disaster. Perhaps the bravest question you could ask your partner or spouse this week is

“If I were going to change one thing about me that would make our relationship better, what would it be?”

An attitude of gratitude not keeping score

Attitude of gratitudeThink back with me to the beginning of your relationship. Those heady days of infatuation, giddy bubbles in your tummy, talking endlessly into the night. Your partner could do no wrong. And you couldn’t do enough for them. There was no thought of demanding something in return – simply being in their company was enough. You both oozed an attitude of gratitude towards each other.

What went wrong?

Well, reality for a start. Jobs, mortgages, bills, health issues, the multiple mundane repetitive tasks of normal domestic life all do their little bit to take the gloss off. Possibly adding children into that maelstrom. Although lets face it – the initial days of total infatuation are not compatible with normal life. I remember one of my first dates with MB, talking till 5 am, getting maybe an hour’s sleep and then going to work. Couldn’t function like that now. Much older, value and need my sleep more, and the practical element of me kicks in – nothing would get done!

But a teensy bit of wistful reminiscing does no harm, especially if the reasons we got together in the first place are remembered.

Because last week we talked about the dangers of keeping score in a relationship – the lie that I am owed for what I do for my partner. And this is a far removed place from those halcyon first days when there seemed more simplicity, more grace, perhaps more gratitude in the relationship.

What is it you really love about your partner?

Why were you attracted to them in the first place? What strengths, character traits, little foibles make them unique and precious to you? Or at least, did at some stage?

What do they bring to the relationship that you would be lost without?

The key here is to recognise that within a relationship, we are not owed anything by our other half and therefore cannot start demanding or expecting them to do certain things. We choose to do things for each other whether merited or not because that is grace and love within a healthy relationship. We have entered a relationship with a desire for mutual love, respect, and give and take. This is not a business arrangement or contract.

How easy it is to fall into the dangerous black hole of doing things for the other to then manipulate them into doing something in return. Or to cast up to them how little they do and how tired and worn down we are.

Is it possible instead to choose to do things for and help the other other? Dare I say, to serve?

To choose to do what you do because it is the right and loving thing to do?

To learn to cultivate an attitude of gratitude towards each other, rather than keeping score?

If you are in a difficult place in your relationship just now, and feeling unloved and unvalued by your partner, I really do get that this will likely stick in your craw. In the face of our own unmet needs, choosing to continue to graciously and willingly do things for our partner will feel like a Herculean task. But again, I ask – what is the cost of continuing on the current path?

There are no easy answers, no quick fixes. This takes time, effort, willingness and a large dose of humble openness with each other. But the most important thing is to start to talk about what is going on, and gain awareness and understanding of each other.

When one partner feels they are doing more than the other and allegations of score keeping are flying about –

  • talk about the practicalities of who does what without blame or accusations
  • acknowledge the emotions and unmet needs
  • choose to see and affirm what the other does do
  • discuss ways of distributing things more fairly/evenly/appropriately (everyone’s situation will be different – there are no set ways nor stereotypes at work here)
  • understand that it is not wrong to want our spouse to do things for us, but we are not owed anything from them in return for what we do for them – this is a relationship not a business contract
  • understand that if I choose to do something for my other half, I do it out of choice not to get something back. 

If you have never come across the concept of love languages, this can be a useful way to gain understanding of yourself and your partner, and can provide the key to unlock the barriers between you.

And, perhaps most importantly, practice an attitude of gratitude. This goes a long way to changing our perspective. What little things does your partner do that you can appreciate and affirm them for? What are you thankful for about your other half?

 

How often do we keep score in our relationship?

Do you keep score in your relationship?

Do you keep score in your relationship?

Who does what in your household? And do you keep score? An inflammatory question to begin with this week, but I like to get you thinking and no point beating about the bush. The fourth common relationship lie we will bring out from under the duvet is –

I am owed by my spouse/partner for all I do.”

A nasty one this one, because of how quickly frustration and resentment can accumulate. And depending on your character, this might boil over into expressed anger and full blown shouting matches. Or the passive-aggressive respondents amongst you might seethe inwardly and take the martyrdom route. I confess to both. Again, not pretty, not character building nor relationship strengthening behaviour.

But lets be honest and face what is common in many established relationships, to a greater or lesser extent. We keep score in our heads of all that we do for the other – chores, household and administrative tasks, time. Sometimes we even jokingly (without much laughing) label ourselves as the household PA, cook, social secretary – perhaps us women more than men? This can quickly slip down the dark and murky plughole towards martyrdom:

“Look at all I do for you and what do you do for me in return? You owe me….”

This is linked to our emotional needs because we can very quickly feel taken for granted and ignored. We are not being shown appreciation or respect for our role and therefore a downward spiral ensues. We keep score of what we do, and notice all too quickly what the other is not doing. We choose to focus on the negative of not being appreciated and very quickly slip into blame, resentment and become entrenched in our thinking.

But who ultimately can assess what your actions or those of your spouse are worth?

We usually overestimate what we do and underestimate what our partner does.

We sometimes choose to view our relationship through lenses clouded by our expectations and past hurts.

Unmet needs surface, and we can oh-so-easily keep a record of past wrongs. The impact of this is to almost be blinded to the good in our partner and for the negative to be highlighted in neon flashing colours.

Imagine with me a different scenario that moves away from a need to keep score.

What if we were to start noticing and appreciating what our partner does do, and verbalising it? Especially the mundane, repetitive stuff of life that can quickly suck the joy out of a relationship. Rather than criticising our partner for what they have failed to do, noticing what they have done and affirming and encouraging.

I feel you throwing things at the computer and I realise how trite and simplistic this might sound. And I am just as much in the mire of this one as you might be.

But what is the cost of staying stuck where one or both of you keep score in the relationship? Where ultimately is that going to lead? How much joy and connection does that bring to the relationship?

This week, try a little experiment with me. Pay attention to all the times you are tempted to keep score with your partner – of all that you do, and of what the other fails to do. Dig a little under the surface of why this is so frustrating, and see what needs you might come across. And next week, we will look at a different way forward.

Dealing with unmet needs in a relationship

What are your unmet needs?It is normal and healthy to have emotional needs. However, it is not healthy, nor is it realistic, to expect all of those needs to be met by one person. This is the Relationship Lie we brought out of the dark cupboard last week. And chances are, we all have unmet needs.

In a healthy relationship, there is mutual commitment to meet each other’s needs as much as possible. The joy of such a relationship is that within it, there is a deep connection, closeness, fulfilment and pleasure in each other.

But it is not healthy for the relationship to be seen as the sole source of supplying all the emotional needs of one each (or one) partner. Think of your own emotional needs with me for a minute –

  • your need for affection, affirmation, appreciation and encouragement
  • your need for comfort, security, support and understanding
  • your need for attention, acceptance, approval and respect
  • ultimately, your need to feel safe…to know you matter…to be valued.

Quite a list – fundamental to all humans I believe, and if neglected, can cause serious fall-out. And fall outs. [Or fallings out, whatever the plural is!]

Where do you look to have your emotional needs met? What gives you significance and self-worth? Who appreciates and respects you? Where do you gain encouragement and support? How accepted do you feel, for who you are not just what you do? Again, I know I am on tricky territory, and seek not to open a painful wound but to raise awareness.

Because it is only when we understand what our emotional needs are, and acknowledge where there are unmet needs, that we can start to take steps forward.

Awareness, as always, is key.

Chances are that if you root around inside your soul long enough, you will come across a few unmet needs. You may not have to look very far. You may find that they are screaming at you, that you crave affection or long to be noticed and valued. My entirely unscientific observations suggest that women particularly need appreciation and affirmation – in a relationship, it is often the woman who does many of the mundane household practical and administrative tasks and keeps everyone’s lives running but is not always noticed and valued for it. Men especially need to be respected – perhaps linked to them being valued as provider and protector.

Consider your own relationship for a moment and think about your top emotional needs, and if you are brave and able to, ask the same of your partner.

Having identified that we have unmet needs –

  • recognise and acknowledge the hurt and the gap – name what it is you need that is currently lacking
  • choose a good, calm time and talk it through with your partner, keeping the focus on how you feel and not on blaming them
  • be as specific and concrete as you can about how they can help – “I really appreciate it when you say….or do….”
  • keep it simple, and stick to one thing at a time; don’t overwhelm the other person with a huge list
  • avoid the temptation to use this as a chance to vomit out a whole load of specific instances of your perceived neglect and in so doing make your partner feel rubbish, got-at, defensive
  • keep it general, realistic, honest and forward looking
  • pay attention to the needs of your partner: ask them what it is that they would most need from you ie affirmation, respect, support etc
  • look outside of the relationship too in a healthy and appropriate way and invest in friends, hobbies and activities that don’t detract from your relationship but fill some of your unmet needs and enable you to be more fulfilled within your relationship
  • create a new, positive habit of asking your partner each week to tell you little ways that you can meet some of their needs, and encourage them to do the same for you
  • be patient with each other, and show grace. This takes time, a new way of thinking and a new language to learn.

We all have unmet needs. But we can learn to acknowledge them, take responsibility for them, and deal with them in a more constructive and relationship-enhancing manner.

If this has struck a chord, and having someone work through this with you would be helpful, get in touch.

Relationship Lie No 3 – Meeting my emotional needs

As we tread carefully amongst the eggshells of relationships, this next lie is a giant ostrich egg waiting to break open and spill its destructive and divisive contents everywhere….

It is my partner’s responsibility and role to meet all my emotional needs.

Um, no it’s not.

This is unrealistic to expect of one person, no matter how much you love tEmotional needshem and believe they are the right person for you. Think with me for a minute – our top emotional needs are for

attention     acceptance     appreciation    affection    affirmation    comfort

encouragement    respect   security    support    understanding

Muse on that list a while….which ones jump out at you as being top of your own list of emotional needs? It will of course vary, depending on life stage, maturity, extent of connectedness within the relationship.

But could you meet all those needs for another person? How much do you seek to supply that for your partner? How would he/she rate his/her own levels of affirmation, respect, support? Before you jump down my throat, or climb onto the guilt bandwagon, hear me out. This links back to Lie No 1 and the risk of pointing the finger of blame at our partner and not seeing – for whatever reason – where we can take responsibility for ourselves and our behaviour. And the growth in character and relationship that can then ensue.

Having someone look to you to meet their emotional needs can initially make you feel important, strong and needed. But over time it can become claustrophobic. You can be left feeling smothered, used, resentful, and suffocating.

No one person can be the perfect meeter-of-needs. Our needs are too numerous and diverse. And as men and women, our approaches and ways of expression vary hugely.

Our emotional needs can only be met through a variety of people and activities.

It is normal and healthy to have a emotional needs. Good old Maslow and his hierarchy of needs (college psychology lectures swim vaguely into memory!) – we were created to be in relationship, not live as islands, and to know that we matter. Security, significance and self-worth would be a summary of our basic needs as humans. One look at the crazy and often dysfunctional world we live in shows us what can happen when we neglect to look out for our own emotional needs and those of others.

I know, I know. I am on hugely complex territory here – the fodder of reams of books, the study of learned theorists and psychologists, the domain of counsellors and therapists. But I add my tuppence worth cautiously with a little basis of my own experience and that of working through this subject with clients.

What to do? The challenge is to identify which emotional needs are not being met, and acknowledge that first. Only then is it possible to start to understand how to move forward, and that will be what we do next week.

Relationship Lie No 2 – a great relationship should be easy

A great relationship should be easy?

A great relationship should be easy?

This is a lovely lie on the surface of it – that if we are with Mr/Mrs Right, and we are both deeply in love, our relationship should be easy. After all, we are with the person we were destined to be with, so our lives should be like a Disney film and we all live happily ever after. The other person is so right for us and everything is going swimmingly.

And perhaps it is just thus for the first few years – relationship bliss, you are a natural fit for each other and enjoy effortless, joyful connectedness. Great. If you are still there, wonderful! Stop reading, go and embrace your other half, and value and cherish them.

If, like the rest of us, reality has kicked in and you realise that the gloss has worn off and there is some effort involved, keep reading.

Because it is a lie to believe that a great relationship with the right person should be easy.

If I am honest, the shiny glossy everything-is-wonderful phase at the start of our married life many years ago lasted only a few weeks. MB was depressed, and as a new vet, was working 50 hours a week plus two out of three weekends. We hardly saw each other, he was miserable, and the romantic newness of it all crashed about my ears very quickly. We struggled to get to know each other, understand each other and grow together in the face of exhaustion and lack of time. Not great.

Since then, much has happened and changed. And therein lies the key methinks – we are all changing as we get older, and doing so in close proximity with someone else is going to be challenging at best, explosive at worst. Relationships are hard work because we are all flawed human beings. None of us is perfect – see last week’s lie.

Each of us, I tentatively suggest, has a number of things we need to work on to be better people – attitudes, behaviour, characteristics. Living with someone as closely as one does in a relationship is always going to expose and bring out our flaws because it is much less easy to hide them. We are no longer living purely as an individual, having only to consider ourselves and our needs.

And therefore it follows that the relationship will not be plain sailing but require investments of time, effort, humbleness and no doubt quite a few tears.

The fact that we are with someone in a relationship that is hard work can be a very positive thing if we are prepared to see that it takes hard work to grow and change. But ultimately it is worth it because in becoming better versions of ourselves, we are bringing more of the best of us to the relationship. Of course, we cannot make our partner do the same, and that can be the source of huge tension and challenges in any relationship. But when we set out expecting that a relationship should be easy, we are quickly going to crash into a wall of disappointment. Blame, resentment, anger, frustration, distancing quickly follow.

Relationships are hard work.

Living with someone else can be joyful, fun, enriching, and life enhancing. It can also be frustrating, painful, difficult, life-sapping. Hard work is required to recognise – as ever – what is going on, who takes responsibility for what, and how to address the challenges. It might be a question of resetting expectations. Stepping back to understand each other and how each other communicates  and expresses love might be required. Both take hard work and time.

This week, as you go about life alongside your partner, some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my expectations of the relationship, and what are those of my partner?
  • How realistic are those expectations, and how closely do they match?
  • What do I have responsibility for?
  • Am I willing to do the hard work required to cause me to grow into a better version of myself, and ultimately strengthen the relationship?
  • ultimately – and this is what it boils down to – how much is our relationship worth?
  • what would a first step be towards strengthening our relationship?

Imagine both of you at your best, complementing each other and fitting together like two halves of a jigsaw, creating a more beautiful whole that brings out the best in you both. It is possible – it takes hard work and a recognition that it is a lie that a relationship should be easy if you are deeply in love…..being in love makes the relationship worth fighting for and worth the investment and hard work. It is not simple nor straightforward. But who ever said hard work was easy?

 

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