What We Owe Someone in a Relationship.

Via Kimberly Lo
on Sep 30, 2013
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No one owes you anything.

This is a popular refrain in the world of self-help, especially when it comes to that favorite topic of topics: relationships.

Other things that are so common place that they have practically become mantras include:

You have to love yourself first in order to be loved.

If you truly love someone, you will want them them to be happy no matter what.

No one can hurt you without your permission.

While many of these have a grain or several grains of truth in them, like many things, they are subject to abuse or misinterpretation.

For example, while ideally one should love themselves before they attempt to love others, there is no formula to measure how much love one needs for themselves before they can go about loving others. Also, it’s worth noting that some experts have debunked this saying it is a myth.

As one put it, “[E]veryone has the capacity to love, no matter how little they love themselves,’ she says. ‘It can take a lifetime for people to love themselves, but learning to love someone else can help.”

Love comes from within and it also comes from others.

To some degree, we are all flawed, messed-up people. If we waited until we were self-actualized, enlightened beings to be in relationships, then it’s probably safe to say that 99.9% of us would never be in a relationship. (I certainly wouldn’t be.)

Another truth is that most of these “experts” are anything but. If anyone really knew the secret of successful relationships, then it’s safe to say that he or she would have more money than Bill Gates and make the Dali Lama look like a slacker in the humanitarian department.

As I pointed out in a previous post, the area of self-help is by and large an unregulated industry. Having letters after one’s name like  “M.D.” “M.A.” and/or Ph.D.” is no indication that these people know more than you.

While I tend to be a live and let live sort of person in general and feel that most self-help is harmless and may even be beneficial to many, the truth is, this trend is worrisome to me for many reasons.

Over the years, I have met several people who’ve had negative experiences with various forms of self-help, in their quest to find love.

In my experience, the people who most often flock to these various schools of self-help are people who have commitment issues of some kind who are looking for someone or something to give them a get out of jail free card or the permission to leave relationships without any sort of consequences.

Needless to say, those that do this do not get what they are looking for.

The truth is, one does have choices: you can choose to quit your job, you can choose to end relationships, leave your partner for someone you believe is your soulmate, but the idea that there aren’t going to be consequences because you are being honest or “honoring your truth” is ludicrous.

When we get into relationships with others, be  it a parent-child relationship, a romantic partnership or a business partnership, we enter it with certain promises and expectations whether we actually say them or not.

Of course, things can and do change. It is possible to one day to wake up and realize that you are in a relationship that no longer works. In those cases, I believe it really is for the best to part ways.

However, there is a right and wrong way to approach this, and many of the self-help junkies I have encountered tend to choose the latter and justified it by saying they didn’t owe the other person anything.

I disagree with that.

When I am in a relationship with someone be it a romantic one, a platonic one, etc., it means I owe them the following:

  • Honesty
  • Respect
  • Facing the fact that they may feel hurt, disappointed, sad, angry or any combination of things if I choose to end the relationship.
  • Accepting that doing what I believe is right for me is not without consequences.

The fact is, I am no more of an expert on relationships than anyone else. However, it is unsettling to me how many adults I encounter seem to think they can have their cake and eat it, too, or that somehow, because they are “putting themselves first” that means everything is going to be just fine.

Sometimes it works out that way, but sometimes it does not.

The only truth I have found is that relationships require work. They can be hard. They can be frustrating. However, they can also be rewarding and sometimes that requires admitting that you are wrong about some things including what you believe is right for you.

Perhaps if we stop to look at our relationships from the viewpoint of the other people who are in them or look at how we are treating people instead of repeating mantras that may or may not be grounded in any actual truth, we can collectively have better relationships with everyone including ourselves.

In any case, it is a start.

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Ed: Bryonie Wise






About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework, travel, and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


8 Responses to “What We Owe Someone in a Relationship.”

  1. Kathy Thompson says:

    Kimberly – great article. I concur. It seems most people do not want to take responsibility for their actions. I was in a relationship where my partner wanted his cake and to be able to eat it too. All I asked for was an honest conversation – was promised that but it never happened. He walked away and moved in with his ex's best friend. I was crushed. However, it has been a great learning experience. Truth and respect seem to be missing from many people's lives and that is sad. Thanks again. Blessings

  2. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thanks for your comments, Kathy! Unfortunately, your experience is not unique. I have heard many similar tales. I do think that many people completely miss the point or are using various methods to justify their own selfish actions. Blessing to you as well!

  3. Amnon says:

    Thank you, Kimberly Lo!

    Your realistic approaches in your articles are far more helpful than a lot of the self-help crap 'out there'. The same is true about your responsible attitude – it is mature, and very valuable in a world of irresponsible immature (narcissistic) physically adult kids.


  4. Jesse says:

    I love your article and perspective. Thank you Kimberly.

  5. Ashley says:

    Good article, I have to say though – people with those letters behind their name DO know more than you, that's a fact (unless you have the same letters sitting there of course) It doesn't mean they know YOU better than you do, but it's not responsible to turn people away from helping professionals. Seeking help from a professional with knowledge and experience is very different from 'self-help', many of us who earned those letters will tell you that too. Let's be careful to separate the two out – and even maybe just give the former a shot – especially if you keep going back to that self-help section! namaste

  6. Sandra says:

    Kimberly, every single of your articles just clicks with me. I love the way you see things logically and fuzzfree, and after reading this one I was like “thank you for taking away the pressure from many of those lines we use…. sometimes unconsciously to avoid love and the optional pain that comes along with it.”

    Keep the good food for thought comming.


  7. Savera says:

    Kimberly – great article. Given the amount of crap that goes around in the name of spirituality and finding oneself these days, this comes as a breath of fresh air ….! It seems people lack the ability to not only take responsibility for their personal motives in a relationship but are also ignorant to even the needs of families.

    Trust and friendship and commitments are long forgotten words in a world where people are busy in their selfish pursuits – right or wrong ! Relationships are increasingly moving towards half truths and disrespect !

  8. Carol Knight-Moore says:

    Great article Kimberly! I was in a relationship for 26 years when my wife came to me last New Year’s Eve and asked for a divorce! I never saw it coming! I was devastated! 6 months later she walked out. I am disabled and on SSI, she was my sole support. In the six months before she left I tried talking to her to find out what happened. The main thing she told me was she wanted to live her “own life and be her authentic self.” She also met someone on Facebook and moved in with her when she left me. We are a lesbian couple and were married in 2013 after being in a deeply committed relationship for 24 years. I’m having a difficult time getting through this because I don’t understand how things can turn so fast. I have done a lot of reading on mid life crises and women going thru menopause both things I believe she is going through. She is 52 and I am a young 73. She has also been a little self centered and selfish through the years but I never held things against her or resented her for it. Reading your article verified for me see what I have been saying all along that you have consequences for your choices and there is more to life then just being true to yourself, there is being true to the person who you promised to spend the rest of your life with.