Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Relationship Philosophy

I am certainly no relationship expert, but it seems like such a simple concept.   Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, and they live happily ever after, right? Well, maybe not…

I’ve heard theories about people coming into your life at a certain time and for a certain purpose, and some staying for a time and others staying forever. Or when that purpose is met, and your growth is complete, you lovingly and respectfully release each other to continue your respective journeys. But does it really work?

From my point of view, it should be simple. When two people meet, they come from two different sets of experiences that shape them and influence not only who they are, but what they need to feel comfortable and secure in a relationship.  Don’t confuse this with the need to be in a relationship to feel comfortable and secure, which stems from insecurity rather than self-awareness. I’m talking about how the basic human experience results in a natural set of rules and boundaries that become each unique individual’s guide to navigating all of life’s situations. Much like traffic rules for navigating each state vary, there aren’t right or wrong rules, just different rules. Can I turn right on red here? Make a U-Turn there? What is the maximum speed limit?

When two people meet, they learn basic things about each other. Likes, dislikes, values and beliefs. They determine what they have in common and if they want to get to know each other more. As the relationship advances, they start to learn about each other’s unique experiences and the resulting boundaries that have developed (some might say baggage, but who doesn’t have experiences that have left a deeper imprint?). Perhaps this is where my theory becomes too idealistic. In a perfect world, both adults have enough self-awareness to understand and articulate the traffic rules for navigating their state – emotional state, that is.

And those rules and boundaries could be anything. The child of an alcoholic might have a boundary that doesn’t allow for alcohol in the house. A victim of domestic abuse might require that disagreements be resolved without raised voices. A person with a physical handicap might have a need for a single story home with no stairs. Choosing to continue a relationship at this stage doesn’t require that your rules or boundaries be the same. However, if a person’s experiences have shaped boundaries that are significantly different from yours, another choice must be made. Simply stated, do I respect and care for this person enough to consciously honor their boundaries out of love, or do their boundaries constrain me to the extent that I cannot operate within them and still love and honor myself? And either decision is OK, because it acknowledges and honors the human experience. All too often, though, people make a decision that isn’t loving to either party – to try to “cure” the other person of their limits, or get them to move boundaries that we perceive as unreasonable based on our own unsympathetic perspective.

If the choice is to stay together, then you have chosen to become a partner to that person. And as that relationship progresses to new levels, such as physical intimacy, cohabitation or marriage, the partners learn more about each other. They see the best and worst of each other. They experience each other at their strongest and their most vulnerable. They know, at the most intimate level, the worth each other has that can’t be measured against outside standards, the beauty within each other that can’t be seen with the naked eye, and talents their partner has that may never be exposed to the outside world, the potential their loved one has to achieve greatness in their own way, and their capacity for love, patience, understanding and acceptance. And in this stage, trust runs deep. It isn’t developing, it is established. Assumed. The connection experienced is strong. Visible to those who see it. Yes, it takes work to maintain, but that work should be a joy, not a burden.

But, obviously, many relationships end. Why? Perhaps the choice wasn’t made to honor the other’s boundaries. Perhaps circumstances caused those boundaries to be reassessed and moved. Perhaps the emotional maturity required to honor those boundaries was lacking. Perhaps they stopped seeing each other’s inner worth and beauty. Perhaps outside influences caused distractions and damaged trust. Perhaps the connection became a burden to maintain.

Indeed, like many, I have lived through my share of tearful relationship breaks and ends. It can be tempting to focus on the decisions made not to honor our boundaries, or to betray our trust, or to simply not be the partner we desired.  The problem with this focus is it that it can lead one to the conclusion that “I wasn’t good enough” or "You weren't good enough." When actually, we are all as good as we are supposed to be, even when facing an experience that shifts our inner navigation rules. If that moment comes, I urge you to refocus on acknowledging the life experiences that led you or your partner to no longer pursue love for each other, and respectfully choose to continue loving yourself.

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