Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Love Bear: On Relationships

When I was younger, I didn’t really know what it meant to be in a relationship. At the time, I had some ideas and I was certain that I did know, but the reality of being in a relationship is incrementally better (and worse) than I thought. I felt I was always a fairly mature young man but few things can prepare you for a relationships like the experience of heartbreak. It is the manifestation of your worst fears and a shattering of how you thought the world worked (or should work). And despite the fact that it will never be the way you wanted it to be, life does goes on. It takes a while to come to grips with this and even longer to come to find that life is better than your fantasies and expectations could have made it. I feel like it could be helpful to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from having my fears come to life and surviving them.

Trust and Communication
I’ve learned from experience that we have to be able to trust the partner we choose for ourselves. Not everyone is deserving of our trust, but if you don’t trust your partner it means that you’re not ready to make a deeper commitment. Trust is the foundational principal of any relationship. We’re taking for granted that you actually like being around each other, that you have chemistry, and that you find time to have fun together. These are the reasons you decided to form a committed relationship, but if it’s going to last you’re going to have to be able to trust each other no matter what the boundaries of your relationship allow. Let’s assume you enjoy having conversations, but are you secure enough to communicate the things that make you vulnerable? Can you admit to your partner when you’re wrong? Do you trust him enough to tell him about the most embarrassing and shameful moments of your life? It’s excusable to not do this right away, not everyone is trustworthy and you should be careful with whom you share such intimate details. But if you can never see yourself sharing these details with your partner (or anyone for that matter), then you’re not ready to be in a committed relationship.  It made all the difference for me, and while I work on my communication skills everyday, the principal of trust and communication is set.

Building Patience
Building a relationship takes time. There’s no way around the fact that we never really know anyone until we’ve seen them in the context of many stressful situations. Our personalities change depending on our surroundings and state of mind. We’re far too complex to grasp everything in a few dates. There’s so much you don’t even know that you don’t know. So when meeting someone new, give it some time. Be friends first and wait to be a partner later. It seems like we’re all in a rush to get to the relationship, but it starts with having good judgement about who you pick to be in that relationship. You show good judgement by controlling your emotions and using your mind to get to know the person you want to be with. I call it the EVA method; Evaluate, Validate, and Accept.

Try not to fall head over heals for a guy the second you feel some chemistry. Have fun with him, be his friend, and keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. To evaluate him, you have to sit back and listen to what he’s saying. Notice his actions, all the things he’s not saying and doing, his body language and see what it says about his personality. Often, we enjoy spending so much time with the person we desire that we fail to pause for a moment to just observe. Get them to talk about themselves. Show interest, but don’t be desperate.

Don’t be afraid to judge. If you see that something is off, believe it. Don’t stop there. Ask deeper questions. When we criticize someone as judgmental, it’s not because judging is wrong, it’s because they judge without enough information. Be open to changing your evaluation when new observations are made. Remain open to changing your evaluations and reinterpreting previous observations through the lens of new evidence. It can be difficult to do this when all you want to do is be with that person, but once you’ve made some adequate observations move into the validate stage of your relationship.

In the validate stage you start being more intimate, you may call him your boyfriend or say you’re in a relationship, but it doesn’t mean you stop observing. This is the point where you become more vulnerable. If you weren’t already planning social outing together, this would be the time to start. You need to see how he treats other people. You may want to call it dating, or it could a lot less formal. You should know each other’s likes and dislikes by now. Do some things you like together. You should be getting closer in ways that can help you confirm or disprove your early observations of him. Ask more intimate questions, try to get him to open up about his past. Get personal.

This is not the time to be shy. Offer up some of your own biography to let him know it’s not a one-way street. Be patient with him. Opening up takes time and can be quite painful for those who are not used to it or have been taken advantage of in the past. Make your physical and emotional needs known and be sure to validate all of the same information he shares with you. When the both of you are able to have open and honest communication whereas triumphs and indiscretions are expressed, this can be the foundation of a committed relationship. But the job isn't over yet, the next task is...

There are going to be things about him that disturb you. He’s not going to do things the way you want them done. He’s going to piss you off from time to time. This is when you need to learn power of acceptance. This often comes from experiencing and accepting your own imperfection. We may intellectually understand that no one is perfect, but until we emotionally connect with that knowledge, we will always be dissatisfied. Acceptance is the work we do on ourselves after we have come to know our partner’s imperfections. We can’t be in a relationship with someone we can’t accept completely so ultimately, this means having patience with ourselves.

When you love someone deeply, it doesn’t mean that they will never get on your nerves. There is a popular and mistaken belief that if two people are in love that they will be in sync most of the time. Acceptance isn’t just about your partner’s flaws, it’s also about accepting that a good relationship is not about retreading the empty concepts of "destiny" or "soulmates" but more about how resilient your connection is under pressure. When the storms of life inevitably come, how quickly can you recover? Do you make an effort to understand each other and find constructive solutions to your problems? This seems very basic, but if you’re dogging each other out every time you have a disagreement, then you should probably move on. Everybody has flaws, some bigger than others, but the question is are you working on them together?

Embracing Discomfort
Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re always going to be happy. Sometimes it means giving of yourself in ways that might feel uncomfortable or unfair. Well, it isn’t fair. Love isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes we have to be willing to pay for our happiness with the struggles and challenges of growth. We have to be able to share each other’s burdens and suffer to make it through. It’s not something that we look forward to, but all human beings are flawed and must suffer to grow. A relationship should provide us a sounding board for our complaints and a shoulder on which to cry. Being vulnerable never feels good at first, but once we’re sure we’re safe, we have to lean into the discomfort that come from vulnerability.

You have to let them feel safe enough to be vulnerable with you as well. Allow them to be weak in front of you. Allow them to be their worst self in front of you. Don’t criticize them when they’re down. If you feel it’s unfair to carry their burdens, understand that it’s normal to feel used for a time and and carry them in silence. No one likes a martyr, especially one who won’t shut up about it.

What a relationship is
A relationship isn’t a destination... it’s a journey.  You can’t change a person’s basic character, but all of us have a few things about ourselves that we could improve. We sometimes just need that push from someone who has our best interests at heart to make it happen. That push can hurt sometimes, but when you’re in love with someone who is right for you, the struggles are more than worth it. Be careful who you give your heart to and be sure they deserve your love. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and when when you learn from them, make sure to pay it forward.

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