This morning, I read an article that highlighted the reasons people find themselves; or perhaps lose themselves in relationships that are not a good fit.
I noticed myself nodding in recognition as I ticked off the kinds of issues that clients I have seen as a therapist for the past three decades have presented in our sessions. They range from not knowing the person in the mirror well enough to being disillusioned by the person on the other side of the bed.
While it would be easy to maintain my professional objectivity, what remains with me that is fodder for this post is how deeply and profoundly the concepts presented touch on my own journey.
Married at 28, with a history of multiple relationships prior, widowed at 40, following a 12 year “paradoxical marriage,” I have been ostensibly single for nearly 16 years, with the exception of a few short term relationships and friends with benefits interactions.
I could chalk it up to fear of loss and re-creating the worst dynamics of my marriage, analysis paralysis about what I did that contributed to some of the dysfunction in that decade plus two, regret and shame about some of my choices, raising my son as a single parent, experimenting with relationship paradigm options, re-inventing myself, busy-ness with life stuff, focusing on career building and at times, truly enjoying being single and now that my son is an adult, making choices that primarily affect only me.
I could second guess “If I knew then what I know now,” and beat myself up over all of the shoulda woulda coulda’s and believe me, I have.
I would much rather explore and examine, from the perspective of being on the other side of the experience, not just what I want, but what I don’t want, even though relationship experts generally encourage focus on the positive. I am a believer, based on my own personal and professional perspective that I need to clear the detritus of previous encounters in order to build anew.
So many people create new relationships on the wreckage of old interactions. As Joe Jackson sagely says “You can’t get what you want, til you know what you want.”
There are questions I didn’t ask myself in earlier years, both pre and post-marriage and conversations that I wish I had back then. Of course this seasoned woman has had time and life enough to make these queries. Perhaps they would be helpful for you as well.
What do I truly want in a relationship?
Not what someone else thinks it should be. Not family, friends or society. I’ll live with myself 24/7 for the rest of my life and if I choose to blend my life with another’s, that is crucial. My vivid imagination conjures up images of a dynamic, ever-growing “third entity” that combines the sum of the parts of the two of us.
At this point in my life, I have accumulated experiences and life lessons that I desire to share with a partner. I consider myself a wealthy woman since my friends and family are my treasures. The other person has “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” too. Together, we share the wealth.
How do I define relationship?
My current definition involves two people who have a common and merged vision, who communicate it openly and who take steps daily to strengthen and support that bond. As a minister who has married over 300 couples since 1999, I have witnessed this dynamic with many of them. Although my parents came from “different sides of the track,” with divergent socio-economic background, love and that intention sustained their nearly 52 year marriage.
A huge dose of love, fun, affection in word and action, co-creating wonder, thinking of the other person and what will delight them, shared responsibility for maintaining a household, flexibility, willingness to work through “stuff” when things get messy, taking time and space to breathe and respond, rather than react and attack, knowing that we have each other’s backs, open mindedness and openheartedness, creativity, play, spiritual practice, sexual nourishment, mutual support of each other’s dreams (even if they are not in lock step with each others’), are on my desire list.
What am I unwilling to accept?
Control, abuse, addiction, emotional manipulation, my own co-dependent tendencies taking hold, selling my soul for love, financial irresponsibility, lying, expectation that I act as caregiver and primary emotional strength in the relationship and that I clean up the “messes,” literally or symbolically.
It’s my take that relationship breakdown has a better chance of occurring because we don’t ask certain questions from the get-go and instead, make assumptions that love is enough to sustain it. This isn’t necessarily so.
The questions to ask if you are face to face with a prospective partner and if asked of you, to be answered with naked honesty:
What models did you have for loving relationships when you were growing up?
What did you learn from them and what did you learn from those that weren’t healthy?
What did you learn about self love?
How was love expressed in your childhood?
If you were a survivor of abuse, how have you done your healing work?
If addiction was present in your family, how has it impacted on you?
How do you want your relationship to mirror that of your parents and how do you want it to differ?
If someone disagrees with you, how do you face it?
When things don’t go the way you want, how do you handle disappointment?
How do you express emotion, most especially anger?
What was the best thing that ever happened in your life?
What was the worst thing that ever happened in your life?
How do you deal with change?
What brings you joy and satisfaction?
What are your values—particularly social?
How do you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
What is your take on child raising when it comes to discipline and consequences?
How do you face loss?
When the inevitable dark nights of the soul occur, what sustains you until the morning comes?
What are your spiritual beliefs? (For some who see themselves as atheist or agnostic, what enlightens and enlivens you and from where do you get your sustenance?)
Let’s talk about our sexual desires, experiences and needs.
I am a big believer in full disclosure; knowing that there is a difference between secrecy and privacy. Without necessarily disclosing the names of all previous lovers and interactions, it is important that a partner know if there are others still in your life. Safer sex practices are crucial as well.
If you were in a committed relationship that shifted, how has your heart healed and are you ready for a new one?
Do you remain friends with former partners? (By the way, I see that as a strength if the friendships are healthy and not fraught with jealousy and manipulation.)
How do you balance needs for “we time” and “me time,” so that you nourish yourself as well as the relationship?
How do you use your resources…saver, spender, sharer with money, time and energy?
Do you want a relationship, or do you need a relationship?
Who are you without one?
Of course, these are inquiries that take place over time and not all at once on a first date. The professional interviewer in me laughs at the Ally Mc Beal internal dialog absurdity of that scenario.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Edie Weinstein
Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photo: uditha wickramanayaka/Flickr
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