HOW TO HAVE HAPPY RELATIONSHIPS
By Valerie Stuart
In this day of disposable relationships, it is rare to hear that someone is really happy in a relationship of 10 or 15 years. While chemistry is the glue that can attract us to someone, it isn’t enough to sustain a happy relationship. What dramatically enhances the odds for a couple’s happiness is how well they communicate, resolve conflict, and how dedicated they are to each other’s happiness.
Many of our problems in relationship are caused by the wounding we received from our parents. In our relationships, we go back to the “scene of the crime” again and again, attempting to get a happy ending to our childhood story.
For instance, a child who was physically abused by her father can find herself, as an adult, attracted to abusive men. She usually isn’t attracted to a man who will treat her well, because to heal her original wound, she seeks to get love and respect from her father. So she will be attracted to a man who mistreats her in the subconscious hope that one day he will love her.
In many cases the woman will say she had no clue the man was abusive. Consciously she didn’t, but her subconscious which records everything that has ever happened to her, can pick out an abusive man within 30 seconds of meeting him.
A clue that we may not be happy with a prospective partner is if we feel an intense excitement around them. We are not talking about free-flowing enthusiasm and upliftment, but an excitement that comes from insecurity. This kind of excitement is a combination of fear, hope and longing that we will finally get the love from this person that we didn’t get from our parents.
The book, Getting the Love you Want, by Harville Hendrix, is an excellent guide on how to work with your partner. It shows how to go beyond negative patterns, into an evolved relationship that helps both people to be happy and true to themselves. Harville feels that having an edgy, excited feeling toward someone means they are an “imago match” for you. They will have a combination of your parent’s positive and negative characteristics and being in relationship with them will cause the unresolved issues you had in childhood to surface.
It also means that what you most need from that person will probably be the hardest thing for them to give. However, it will be the thing that they most need to give in order to heal their own wound! The same would be true about what is hardest for you to give to your partner.
Our partner often manifests the trait or wound that is most repressed in ourselves. As we learn to love it in them, it helps us to love it in ourselves. For instance, people who repress their emotions will frequently find themselves involved with someone they might see as “overly emotional.” The wonderful thing is, as one partner connects with their emotions, their partner tends to become less emotional, causing both of them to become more balanced and whole individuals.
The key to look for is: what negative reactions, fears or ways of feeling threatened, do you have with your lover that is similar to how you reacted to your parents or siblings? This will give you crucial clues about where the growth opportunities are for you in your relationship.
It is important to be dedicated to being conscious of what you are both doing in the relationship. Patterns will surface, presenting an opportunity to reprogram them. It can be damaging to your well being to let these patterns unconsciously run the relationship.
Just because there is a lot of attraction between you, it doesn’t mean that a relationship is the best vehicle for your growth or happiness. If you are chronically unhappy with your relationship more than 30% of the time, you may want to reconsider your involvement. There is no reason to feel ashamed about ending a relationship, if two people can be happier alone, than together.
Love as a Conscious Choice
While we can’t choose whom we are attracted to, we can choose whom to get involved with. Early in the relationship before you get attached, compare values. If you have major disagreements in several large areas such as religion, philosophy, life style or goals, go slow! A few differences are good and engender growth, but too many can make it very hard and painful for you to be together.
You can save yourself heartache if you compare lifestyle values early on before you get too bonded. Some things to compare are:
- where you want to live (city/country, apt./house, slow or fast paced area)
- spiritual and life outlook and values
- live simply or work hard maintaining a more expensive standard of living
- do you like solitude and staying home or need lots of friends and several nights out a week
- spend lots of time with relatives or prefer minimal contact
- want a family or want to be childless
Compare personalities and habits such as:
- night owl or early bird
- diet, exercise and drinking and smoking habits
- recreational habits and how you like to spend your spare time
- how clean and orderly you need your homes to be
- how often do you want sexual intimacy, affection and cuddling
Most importantly, look at why you want to be in a relationship. Does one see the relationship as a vehicle for growth, while the other just wants company for TV watching and activities? Discuss in-depth, your desires and expectations of your relationship.
Also talk about past relationships. Usually people repeat patterns. If someone tells you that their three past lovers cheated on them or left them, don’t assume they just got involved with the wrong people. There may be something in them that attracts them to that type of dynamic or maybe they even elicit this reaction from others.
The Sex Step
While you are getting to know someone, it is best to refrain from sex because it tends to dull clarity and objectivity. Sex is extremely bonding. There are studies that show that hormones are released that cause us to get addicted to the people we cuddle or have sex with. It is nature’s way to keep us together to ensure children are protected during the first years of their life.
Proximity and repeated contact do create bonds. It is wise to ponder the old adage, “birds of a feather flock together.” Just hanging around someone can cause us to become like them and creates relationships that we wouldn’t have otherwise chosen.
Before having sex, spend some of your time being with friends and family. If your friends don’t feel good about someone, it usually means the person isn’t right for you.
Notice how well the two of you solve differences and make decisions. Do you both work toward a “win-win” or does it seem that one person usually gives up what they really want.
Power Struggle Stage
One of the reasons “new love” seems so wonderful is that people give generously to each other of their energy, time and resources. More established partners often forget how important it is to really listen to each other and respect who our partner is. People in committed relationships can complain that their partner isn’t the person they fell in love with. This is partly because while dating, people show their “best side.” Also, we tend to project positive traits onto someone, rather than really seeing
the whole person.
As the “honeymoon stage” ends, we begin to project our negative traits onto our love interest. This stage is where our core scripts (programming received from parents) surface about how life and relationships are supposed to be. Many people change after getting married, because imprinting from their parents surfaces about how married people should act. This imprinting from our parents is so strong, that many people act it out, even if it’s behavior they don’t like or expect from themselves!
All relationships go into the “power struggle” stage where the most growth is possible and where most relationships end, because people try to change and control each other. Almost without exception, people think, “If s/he would just (fill in the blank), we would be so happy together.” During this stage, we find that the things that most attracted us to our lover are now often what most bothers us about them.
For instance, a man may love how giving a woman is to him when he first meets her and then come to feel smothered by her attention or resent her generous nature when it is directed toward others instead of him. A woman may love how much she learns from an intelligent man, only later, to resent that he is too intellectual and not emotionally open to her.
Noting the traits that first attracted you to your partner, will give you clues about where your learning is in the relationship. Often our partners embody something that we need to become to be more balanced or they have the same trait the one or both of our parents had, which we need to reclaim our power around. For instance, someone may attract a dominant partner to learn to be strong and empowered, instead of submitting as they did with their parents. Maybe their fear of being domineering like their parents has caused them to be too submissive and they need to learn to be in power in a positive way.
Guidelines for a Saner Love Life
Here are a few guidelines to help you to be in love and be happy whether you are alone or with someone else.
Stay in the present moment: What do you want right this minute? What will bring you pleasure, growth or positive stimulation right now? Most people’s days are too full of activity and obligations for them to be in touch with their REAL wants and needs.
Give yourself time: be it in nature, meditation or just quiet reflection, to get still enough inside, so that you can hear your deepest truth and desires. If you take this time for yourself, it will increase the quality of energy you have to give to others.
Really listen to each other: To have the relationship of your dreams, you will have to keep communicating and clarifying what you hear each other saying about what you want from each other and life. People apply different meanings to the same word and so it is important to never assume you know what your partner means. We can avoid a lot of painful scenes, just by asking our partner what they mean and staying open to hear what they are really saying, (not what we want to read into their words).
It is important to keep refreshing your perception of your partner. They are a growing and changing being and the more you allow and recognize this, the more exciting your relationship will be. Many couples stop communicating about the hard issues between them. Then they set their concept of each other in stone, not allowing themselves or their partner to change or grow.
Soon they are cutting off pieces of themselves to be together, and find themselves resentfully relating to each other out of adapted roles. Is it no wonder that so many people feel stuck in stagnant relationships? This is because their true selves aren’t running the relationship.
Stop trying to convert, change or heal each other: These are dangerous and toxic patterns even though they are “normal” in this society. Your beloved has the right to dress, vacation and live their life as they choose. While it’s important you let them know how their actions impact you, it is crucial you don’t blame them for your feelings or responses. Trying to get your partner to change to make you “feel better” is what creates enemies out of two people who used to be so in love.
Beneath every Complaint is a Desire
It is amazing how love seems to rebloom, when we hear each other’s hurts and desires, without demanding that our partner agree or gives us what we want. While you may be in touch with a complaint, only express your desired outcome to your lover. Concentrate on what you want, not on what you don’t like or what isn’t working.
You might get yourself an insulted partner and an argument if you say, “you are so selfish to be late for dinner.” On the other hand, you are more likely to get what you want, if you say in a pleasant tone “Honey, it would really help me out if you could be on time for these company dinners. I get so nervous about them and when you are here, it really helps me to feel more confident and relaxed.”
It can really reduce conflicts to ask why something happened before sharing your reaction. If you yell at your partner about being late, before you find out they had a flat tire, there may be a lot of unnecessary hurt to repair. Also, be aware that sharing your interpretations about why your partner did something is often the fastest way to get into a conflict. Rather than analyze or criticize them, it is better to ask them what positive thing they were trying to have happen and see if you both can create that.
You can ask questions like:
“I noticed you slammed the kitchen cabinets, would you tell me what you want?
“You called me a “smart mouth.” Can you share with me what you thought I was saying to you that prompted that remark?
"You don’t seem happy about how this camping trip is going. Can you tell me what you would enjoy doing and let’s see if we can make it happen?”
If you find yourself sulking, or acting out your displeasure through sneers, leaving or not giving your partner what they want, you might ask yourself if there is a more pleasant and direct way to get what you want.
People usually have good intentions, just lousy ways of trying to achieve an outcome. Try not to react if you don’t like how your partner is trying to get something. Solve the difference first and then at another time, when you are both feeling good, you can ask if your partner if they can come up with other ways to elicit your cooperation. Harville’s book has a great process that shows how we can make requests of each other in ways that don’t make our partner feel obligated or wrong.
It is important to not make your lover responsible for your happiness. Every moment is a choice point for you to create what you want. No one makes us do anything. If you feel stuck in a relationship of compromises (I won’t play poker with the guys if you don’t go out dancing with the girls), where neither of you is getting what you want, you can begin to change it today.
Start small by asking yourself, “What do I truly want?” It might be a walk, to see a movie or receive a massage. Make it OK in your relationship to ask each other to do things under the condition that it is OK for either of you to say no.
It takes two people to create a relationship. A bad relationship is never one person’s fault if you are both still in it. You may think that “keeping the peace” is important and so you don’t speak your truth or say what you want. However, if you don’t discuss your differences, you won’t have a chance to get what you want.
People who “don’t rock the boat” often find out too late that they helped create the very thing they didn’t want - a divorce. Most relationships don’t end because there is conflict, they end because people swept the conflict under the rug and didn’t work it out. This is why breakups are often explained as “she didn’t understand me” or “we drifted apart.”
Too often people find their partner suddenly leaves them. The one left holding the bag is in shock because they had no idea that their partner was that unhappy.
Learn to not react
People are full of contradictions and can say things they don’t totally mean. If someone says “I’m mad at you,” and then they have to deal with your anger, they will probably get more defensive and an argument can start. However, if you can just hear them in a supportive silence, they will have the time and safety to realize they didn’t mean what they said and they will usually soften. Not reacting is a powerful way to prevent arguments.
Don’t Argue over Positions
Learn to discern a position from a concern. A concern is what a person needs and a position is the way they think they have to get their need met. People often erroneously start a negotiation with their position such as “I have to have the car today.” Then an argument happens over who should get the car.
When you look at concerns, you can usually reach a solution that works for both people. In this case, the concern is that both people need transportation. Perhaps one person needs to go to the doctor and another needs to go to work. Start with looking at options. In this case there is the bus, car-pooling with others or the person with the doctor appointment can drive the other person to work. Instead of being adversaries trying to get your own way, work together as allies to get both of your needs met.
If you really get stuck in a difference, you can mutually decide to take a break and talk later. You can also sit together in silence with the intention to let go of your positions and find the higher answer that will work for both of you. Also take turns saying back to your partner what you think they are saying, to be sure you are hearing each other correctly. Let your partner correct your perception until they feel you are hearing them accurately.
When people get defensive they usually talk too fast and say things they don’t mean which, can really damage their relationship. So, If one or both of you are upset, allow at least 10 seconds of silence after each of you speaks, so you really hear each other.
Slow things down and give yourselves time to come to a solution that works for both of you.
If you let go of having your way and surrender to the higher possibilities and love you have for each other, you can prevent major conflicts. Forcing a decision before a natural resolution occurs, can create devastating repercussions. If either of you feels the potential to feel guilty or resentful, be careful! You haven’t reached a resolution, but sacrificed somebody’s needs.
Judgment Kills Love
An empowering practice is to let your thoughts happen without entertaining them. Notice how many judgments run through your mind about how you or others are wrong, inferior or inadequate. Notice how the mind often thinks someone has to change for you to be happy and how that robs you of happiness in this moment. If we are entertaining our thoughts about someone, we will miss seeing who they really are now. We can actually make it hard for our loved ones to change if we keep seeing them as they used to be.
It is very important that you don’t fall into the double bind of judging yourself for judging others. Just watch the thoughts that judge you for judging. Letting the thoughts arise and fall away without believing them, will help you see the negative programming that runs through everyone’s mind. Many of these thoughts you didn’t choose, nor are they applicable to your life.
It’s like we are born into a collective mind that exists outside of our individual life stream. You don’t have to be run by this programming. By practicing observation, those thoughts and negative feelings will lose their grip on you and you will live more and more from freedom and joy.
Not being run by our “condemning and comparison mechanisms,” is one of the greatest things we can do to have loving relationships with everyone our lives touch. Believing that our outer world needs to conform to our programmed expectations is what causes most of our unhappiness. Look for ways to enjoy people and situations just as they are, without try to change them first.
Relationships are one of the greatest training grounds for learning how to truly love. The golden key to lasting love lies in accepting others and ourselves, just as we are in this moment. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t change something if you could wave a “magic wand.” It just means that your love isn’t dependent on that change. Be careful about wishing to change someone, as you may also destroy what you most love about them.
Look at your partner through the window of acceptance and you will find you are gazing upon one of the most beautiful people in the world. You may still see their “warts,” but now, these are the touching accents that make your beloved the unique person you treasure. If you look deep into the mirror your partner holds for you, you will have the gift of seeing yet another magnificent being…yourself!
So support your partner and yourself to stop acting out of unconscious and hurtful programming. Let your relationship support you to be true to who you really are and your relationship will be an incredible adventure beyond what either of you could have hoped for. © 1996
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Valerie offers sessions in Presence, a direct connection to the truth of who you are. Go beyond problem-solving into living from your true being. She specializes in healing, lifework, relationship, spiritual issues and working with diet to heal disease.
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