One of the most harmful beliefs about relationships is that “it should be easy.” I’m sorry to tell you, I’ve been to STAPLES and have looked down every aisle… when it comes to relationships, there is no Easy Button.
The problem is that when we experience infatuation, a precedence is set. Who among us hasn’t tasted the intoxicating wine of a new relationship? We laugh, talk for hours on end and make love every chance we get. Every time our cellphone buzzes our heart sings blissfully hoping we just received a “thinking of you” message from our beloved. It’s exciting, it’s new, and it’s wonderful! It’s as if we managed to find the one person in the 7.13 billion on earth who really gets us. Somehow, even though we know it’s impossible, we think that it should always be this way…. easy.
Unfortunately, like all unmet expectations, resentments creep in when we start to experience signs that our significant other is not as wonderful as we thought. Maybe it’s as simple as they didn’t text back right away, they made plans with their friends and forgot to tell us or they have a habit of chewing their ice really loud. Ultimately, we discover that the one person we thought would never let us down does just that. Presented with evidence that our significant other is simply like every other human, we experience what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance”; that unnerving feeling in the pit of our stomach that suggests we’ve been duped. Having this happen time and again we might become disillusioned with love altogether and start to feel like it’s not worth the effort.
Relationships aren’t easy because:
→Being thoughtful isn’t easy.
→Being empathic isn’t easy.
→Being forgiving isn’t easy.
→Being able to compromise isn’t easy.
→Being vulnerable isn’t easy.
→Being committed isn’t easy.
→Putting my partner first isn’t easy.
→In fact sometimes just trying to figure what to watch together on Netflix isn’t easy!
Focus on “making it great” not “easy”:
Speaking of Netflix, I was recently watching the movie “A League of Their Own.” If you haven’t seen it in a while or haven’t seen it at all, it’s worth taking a look. It’s the story about the 1943 All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League. At the pinnacle scene of the story the main character, Dottie Hinson, decides to quit her team just before they are to play in the World Series. “It’s just too hard,” Dottie laments to her Coach Jimmy Dugan. He responds with one of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
A great relationship, like playing baseball is supposed to be hard… and that’s what makes it great. That’s why when we hear of someone having a 50th, 60th or 70th anniversary we are impressed. Heck, we’re impressed when we hear about someone having a five year anniversary. We’re excited because we all know how hard it is for two people to live together and still be love each other. Staying together is hard.
The “hard” of a relationship and what makes it great is that it changes each individual at a core level. In relationships, we have to struggle, make compromises and find alternative ways to get our needs met. We have to really want to make it work. I’ve often said that we are wounded in relationships and we heal in relationships. All relationships have the potential to maim our souls and they have the potential to push us to greatness. Love isn’t something you do, it’s something you experience that changes you. By the fire of relationship, I am forging my character.
Relationships create character because:
→Being thought full develops kindness.
→Being empathic develops compassion.
→Being forgiving develops grace.
→Compromising develops humility.
→Being vulnerable develops courage.
→Being committed develops tenacity.
→Putting my partner first develops generosity.
All of these things come at the price of unease, but the return on investment is who we become.
Three rules for relationship greatness:
1. Focus on being a great partner: It’s easy to want greatness and most people want to be acknowledged for their individual greatness. Yet, ego driven yearning and striving for success is empty narcissism. If you want to become a great individual you have to change your focus; you have to align your desires with being a great partner. Greatness is a bi-product of developed character and an excellent way to develop character is in the context of relationships. Simply put, by focusing on becoming a better partner, I actually become a better person.
2. Focus on your own responsibility: I remember clearly one day, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Smith telling the class “we are each individually responsible for our own actions.” Taking full responsibility for how I act in my relationship is hard. I want to blame my partner for the quality of my relationship, but I am indeed responsible for its grade. On more than one occasion, I will be counseling a couple and talk about the area of individual responsibility. I will explain that each person is responsible for their actions, how they treat each other and the quality of the relationship. Quite often this will invoke an exasperated look of, “Did you hear that dummy? YOU are responsible for how you treat ME!” The irony is they missed the message completely. Getting each partner to take personal responsibility and leave blame at the door is a challenge because looking at ourselves is hard… and yet this is the basis of the majority of relationship dysfunction.
3. Strive for integrity: I often hear my clients describe their failing relationship as “dysfunctional.” Dysfunction simply means that something isn’t working as it should. An engineer colleague of mine recently reminded me that “Integrity” is a word that is often used to describe the quality of function. If dysfunction is used to describe a poor relationship, integrity is a great word to describe an excellent relationship. When we work towards integrity, each aspect of both individual’s character is working in harmony for the well-being of the relationship. When we embrace the difficult aspects of being in a relationship then reframe our belief from “it should be easy” to “it should be great” we develop functionality.
No one ever had a great relationship because things were easy. The next time you find being in a relationship hard, rather that get resentful, be thankful for the opportunity to grow, change and develop into the kind of person who has a great relationship.