In her book Loving Bravely, Alexandra Solomon offers “20 lessons of self-discovery to help you get the love you want.”
Our love lives seldom live up to our supercharged Hollywood-enhanced vision for what love should be. And how could they?
In real life, love takes hard work. This is because we are all unique and have individual needs and expectations for our love lives.
While we commonly blame our partners for our lack of satisfaction in our love lives, we also bear some responsibility. We must examine how and why we love others. This is what Solomon calls “relational self-awareness.”
Relationships are collaborations. Your characters and quirks inform the relationship too, and if you don’t know who you are or what you want, you are really in a relationship with two strangers: yourself and your dating partner.
First, you must look back at the relationships that formed you and your beliefs about how relationships should work. Our early experiences watching our parents shape our wants and needs.
Luckily these kinds of past experiences don’t solely determine who we will seek in a relationship.
You can use the name – connect – choose method to identify and address shortcomings in your experiences that might cause you to settle for less than you wnt or deserve in your new relationship.
Name: identify which relationship patterns you learned from your parents
Connect: determine which of these patterns might inform your current behaviors
Choose: actively work to overcome harmful habits.
Understanding your history allows you to identify the core issues that drive your relationships.
Every person goes through life with a set of core issues. These are personal vulnerabilities, experiences, or weaknesses that serve to short-circuit our thinking.
For example, if we watched our same-sex parent (with whom we often identify) tolerate neglect or even abuse in a relationship, our core issue might be that we have come to accept neglect in our relationship. Actually, the core issue is that we might think it is necessary to have neglect or abuse. With this core issue, we unknowingly would seek out relationships that were destructive or damaging to ourselves.
These “soft spots” guide our relationships.
Other examples include a fear of abandonment, which could cause us to be distrustful and jealous, or a need for approval, which would leave us vulnerable to flattery and praise. In both of these cases, we might be tolerant of cheating or infidelity, which sets us up to be the victim.
Or we could be distrustful of the friends of our dating partner. This would set us up to be the actual bad guy in the relationship, stifling our partner’s individuality and security.
Identifying and addressing our core issues proactively allows us to minimize their impact on our relationships.
Proactively address core issues
When one woman became verbally abusive in her relationship if her husband was forgetful, her counselor helped her examine the potential reasons for her behavior. She was able to determine that she had slipped into a parenting role with her husband. Once she had identified this core issue, caused by receiving this same sort of response when she made mistakes as a child, she was able to address it.
She then looked at the mistake as a small concern, rather than slipping into a role she played as a child.
We understand our lives through the lens of our past stories. These roles have a powerful impact on us and the people we love.
We repeat these tales, and live out these core issues, subconsciously. She had cast her husband as careless and worthless, just as her mother had done with her.
Now she was armed with a different way to view her relationship and these events.
Now she replaced her core issue with a dialectic story. In this new version of events, her husband was a kind and caring person who forgot something. And here, she was allowed to be disappointed while also being kind and caring.
Dialectic stories allow us to respond to a situation in a way that acknowledges our core issue, and recognizes the strengths and individuality of our romantic partner.
In order to strengthen our relationships, we must look closely at our own roles and history, then create stories that allow us – and our partners – to break free from playing harmful roles.
Do you have a challenging relationship problem that is costing you sleep, or robbing you of your sense of independence? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.
Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.