Here’s my take on relationships. First and foremost, your relationship with another person can never be any better than your relationship with you. Do you know what you truly want? Are you honest with yourself? Are you pretending your way through life or do you have the courage to see your life and yourself as it and you really are? Do you love yourself exactly as you are?
When we fall in love, the psychologists tell us, we fall in love with the un-owned, but real, parts of ourselves that we project onto the other. We are looking to complete ourselves – with what we already have but don’t know it!
So, when you meet a new person, you project onto her all of your un-owned parts. Now she may or may not actually have all those things as part of her make up. The way our ego works, it really doesn’t matter. The ego pretends she does. So, then after some time passes, you say to yourself or her – “you are not the person I met and fell in love with”. The truth is she never was. You made her up.
In order to have a mature, lasting relationship with anyone, you have to be able to honestly and truly say to yourself, “no one can give me what I most deeply want or need – only I can do that.” However, “I can celebrate and invest in the relationship for what it does give me – companionship, mutual respect, support and the dance of opposites.” Since the other person is the opposite of you in some way, no matter who the other person is, it’s important that it be a dance – sometimes I get to lead and sometimes you get to lead.
Another way to look at it is – what have your dreams been for yourself and what fears have blocked you. It’s back to – who am I and what do I want? What are my true needs – with those two questions and answers as a back-drop. Those basic “this is who I am” kind of needs pretty much can’t be negotiated away – at least not for long.
Once you fully realize that the other person is not capable of giving you what you want, then you begin the work of realizing that only you can do that for you. And, you begin to honor your true needs. And, you find true courage to ask that your needs be met.
So, your needs being met vs. empathy for the other. First and foremost your needs – the basic, true, heart needs must be met. You must feel you are respected, validated, feel that you count. I’m not talking about your need to go to a football game here, but your need to be heard and respected. The football game may be an outward sign that you don’t feel you are heard.
Empathy means you understand where the other person is coming from. That is a good quality. However, if you aren’t feeling honored, all the empathy in the world won’t improve the communication between two people.
So, I would say its more priority. I must feel my true needs are being met – priority one. Then, once I’m standing on solid ground, I can truly look at the other with empathy for what they are enduring. Anything else is pretending. Trying. Not real. And, what they might be enduring is the consequence of one of my decisions that they don’t agree with. “I understand and empathize with you that you don’t agree with my decision – this is who I am and what I must do.”
So, whose needs get to be met? Both people have that right. Where relationships get really meaningful from a teaching/learning perspective is right here. It goes like this: “I don’t want to do A. Well, I do want to do A. OK, I will do B and you do A and I’ll see ya tomorrow.” It’s imperative that each person have the freedom to do, say, think, act as they truly want and that each person is honored for that. You are not the same. No two people are the same. It is an unrealistic expectation to believe that any two people always want to do the same thing at the same time. When I hear people say that, I know that one person is giving themselves away and the other person is happily taking what is being given.
Relationships are filled with compromises. Stephen Covey years ago taught that a relationship is like a bank account. You make deposits and you make withdrawals. If the withdrawals exceed the deposits over time, the relationship is critically out of balance. When this happens sometimes people separate. It’s interesting, most often they stay together and “suffer through”. Many of us are trapped in the illusion of being a victim. So, if I am convinced that I’m a victim – “Ole poor me!” then I sort of expect you to treat me bad. I expect that bank account to be out of balance. I get to happily skip along being a total victim, usually angry at the world. Its who I am – the tough guy or gal.
There is just one big problem with the person in this relationship who is the “Ole poor me” victim. They spread lots of angst in the world, harm other people and they don’t live very long! Being a habitual victim, especially in your close relationships, is the single biggest cause of illness, physical and emotional, on the planet. So, this is really not light weight stuff here.
So, how about the other person in this relationship. Their bank account is also out of balance – the other way. They aren’t the victim – they are the child who never grows up. They want, and want and want. They take and take and take. And, ironically, they don’t feel satisfied. Their issue is that they haven’t matured. We have all known spoiled children who get everything and are not grateful for anything. These folks are a lot like that. Health can be an issue for these people since they tend toward addiction – pleasure, drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, you name it. They will probably outlive the victim and are sort of always unhappy.
I have obviously painted a picture of two extremes. Most of us fall somewhere in this model.
Bottom line – relationships require great courage and are fertile fields for learning about ourselves. They are part of the noble path. If you are serious about the inner journey, you will start with the person lying beside you who is telling you something you don’t want to hear about yourself! Listen – they are often times your clearest mirror.