In the Land of Relationship, there is nothing truer than the age-old adage that hindsight is 20/20. We invest enormous amounts of energy trying to figure out how fucked up the "other" person was. We are driven to look at what was wrong with the other person because it is a way of being self-protective, as in, "if I know what is wrong with him/her I wonít ever be with someone like that again. Oddly enough, relationships just donít work like that. Knowing what was wrong with your former partner will not fix it so that you donít get screwed over again. There is only one way to avoid that and it is by looking at yourself. In a nutshell, the question isnít "what was wrong with "Ex"?". The vital question is " How the hell did I get so stupid?" If you are feeling a little squirmy and uncomfortable right now as you read those words, you just know you have some thinking to do.
Ignorance is when you have no idea at all how you get yourself into fixes; bad relationships, shitty jobs, abusive friendships, money problems, addictions - name your poison. Stupidity is when you know damn well that there is something inside, specific to yourself, that drives those situations, and yet you continue doing the same shit over and over expecting to get a different result (this also is the laymanís definition of insanity, by the way). Blind stupid is when we get that déjà vu feeling, and we donít heed it by taking a look at what is really going on (And no, I'm NOT talking about looking at the situation, NOR the other person Ė but rather what is going on with US!) Itís sad when we have some idea about what places us into crap situations, what holds us back, holds us down and immobilizes us - yet will do nothing to change it. Sure, we might end the relationship, quit the job, lose the friendship, "manage" the addiction, change the geographical location even - but we donít change ourselves. As sure as sheep shit, (and they do), we will find themselves back in the same puddle. Itís like a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs, but ultimately going Ďround and Ďround in circles. WAKE UP! Life is short. WAKE UP!
How do you begin? The process is simple but it isnít easy. It requires time, effort, sweat and generally a great deal of discomfort. People donít like to do this work because it doesnít feel good. It rattles us, puts us off balance, shames us, makes us afraid and brings up thoughts and patterns we are not altogether sure we can "manage". Some of us cannot do this work alone, and are better off undertaking it in a therapistís office, or in a support group, or with a trusted friend. It is not work that "has" to be undertaken. Many people will jump through all kinds of hoops to avoid ever really looking at themselves and their relationships. You do not ever "have" to do this work, but the consequence of not doing it is to attract more of the same bullshit. Life is an infinitely patient teacher. If we donít get the "lesson" the first time around, it seems we are re-presented the opportunity to "get it" as many times as necessary. Some of us have the same lesson gifted to us repeatedly over the course of a lifetime and go to our graves still ignorant, still acting from the same unconscious patterns. WAKE UP!
If you are tired of sleep walking your way from one bad relationship to the next, here are some steps to heighten your awareness. It might save you from another bad relationship, or it might even save your life. Donít do these exercises in your head. Putting them outside yourself is much more powerful and therapeutic. Consider keeping a journal or starting a word-processing document to work through these questions. If you want to take it a step farther, consider doing the following exercises and taking them to a therapist, a support group or a good friend. Ultimately, thinking is only a first step. Not much can change through merely thinking on it - action is required for change. However, without thinking, action is reactive, random and ineffectual. Working through these exercises can move you from reaction to response and allow you to be an informed participant in your life, and in your choice of relationships. This looks simple, but is actually a significant undertaking. Donít try and skim through these. You will get out of it about what you put into it. Bullshit and lie through these exercises and you do nothing but cheat yourself.
- All relationships leave very important clues about who and what we are. Itís much easier to delude ourselves into thinking we are blameless when we donít have to look closely at history. Having a relationship history staring you in the face makes bullshitting yourself a LOT harder. Make a relationship history. Try to remember all the relationships that you have been involved within. Put them in chronological order. It can be useful to literally draw a vertical line and mark it off year by year so you can have a clear visual. Write about them. What motivated you to get into the relationship? How did it begin? What were you looking for from that relationship? What did you think the relationship was going to be about? What was good about it? What was not good about it? How long did it last? How did it end? Who ended it? How did you feel about the ending of the relationship? How did you feel about yourself? In a couple of sentences finish each relationship by finding one or two (or as many as you can think of) things that you could learn about yourself from the relationship.
- Take your completed relationship history and look through it very carefully. Look for patterns, themes and repeating incidents. If this seems very difficult, do the exercise with someone who knows you well and can help you explore the patterns. It can be hard to ask for help for this undertaking. When we start seeing our own role and involvement in creating the messes in our lives it can be used to beat ourselves senseless with it. Blame, guilt and shame are absolutely counter productive here. You need to be able to identify the patterns so that you are free to change them. If it is all about everyone else and what they "did to you" it means you are a victim, helpless to affect change. When you can see where you are contributing to the problems, you can make changes. Personal accountability is the most empowering tool for healing. Sometimes we bitch about all the shit in our lives to our friends and intimates. Because these people love us, they listen and commiserate and comfort. This can be the safety valve that allows dysfunction to continue. We release that pressure and pain - remove the discomfort just enough so we can re-enter the situation and continue with it. This exercise is not about that kind of support. It is about getting the honest and direct third party feed back that encourages us to look deeply at ourselves and make changes. Prettying things up and spoon feeding us more bullshit is not useful. Ask for the truth and if the other person really gives a damn about helping you move forward - they will find the courage to tell you the truth.
- Think about the relationships you saw as you grew up. How did your parentís relationship work? Other family memberís relationships? What were you told about relationship and the nature of "love"? You are going to have to be aware that many of those messages will not be verbal - they will be unspoken and so much more powerful. If you have a sibling or other family member that you are close to, this can provoke very intense sharing that can prove mutually advantageous and powerful for gaining insight. Consider the qualities in your parentís relationships that you are trying to either avoid or emulate in your own. Notice similarities and differences. Think of how you took on or rejected different aspects of the adults you grew up around. If you think you are avoiding making the same mistakes by saying, I will never be like my mother", think again. It seems to be that kind of thinking that attracts the exact same experiences. Itís like life says, Ďso you think you got it all figured out? Try this!í Then there you are, just as fucked as ever your mother was - it might look different - but if the patterns manifest the same results - WAKE UP!
- Try some free association. Take a few minutes and get comfortable. Find a blank piece of paper or use your word processor if itís more comfortable. Think of the word "relationship" - and free associate - what are all the things that come up into your head about what relationship is, what it isnít, what you want and what you donít want. Keep going for as long as you can, write ALL the thoughts that come up whether they seem relevant or not - the trick is to NOT think - just let the thoughts flow. When you are finished take a look at what you have written - use a highlighter or colored pens or markers to circle the things that seem to be links to other themes or patterns you have noticed. Are there items that make you feel good and that you want to incorporate into your relationship? Are there items in your list that make you feel uncomfortable? Do some of the things surprise you? Take some time and really examine your list - this is the extraneous dross that goes on in the back of your mind all the time - this exercise just moves your unconscious thoughts to a conscious place where you can have a look at them. You can do this as many times as you want.
- Ask yourself what being in a relationship allows you to not have to face or address about yourself or your own life. Some of these things are difficult to get to. For example, did you grow up believing that being in a relationship would make it so you didnít have to be responsible for yourself financially, emotionally or socially? Relationships can be a great way of not having to face the things we could or even should do in our own lives. We can postpone our own decisions, not strive for our own goals, and forget our own ambitions and dreams. We can avoid having to find out how we would fare in the world on our own, and that means we can avoid being responsible for our own lives and always have another person, or people, to blame for why we donít succeed. It means we donít have to face our own fears. Sometimes maintaining a bad or abusive relationship saves us from having to figure out how to support ourselves financially, or return to school, or to be a single parent, or to date again, or to possibly have to be alone for a long time. Sometimes even a shit relationship can feel safer than figuring out what you need to do for yourself.
- Make a list of all the things that are important to you in your life. What people matter to you? Are you maintaining quality relationships with the people who matter to you? If you are not, why arenít you? What are the things you want to do, be, achieve? Are you doing what is necessary to get to those places? If not why arenít you? Often we put other relationships on hold and stop doing the activities that nurture and nourish. Sometimes it is because the energy to maintain an abusive or dysfunctional relationship is so high that there is no energy left over to do anything else at all. Sometimes it is because we get lazy and start to skim along the surface of our lives rather than delving into the meat and potatoes of it. Sometimes it is ignorance. We donít take the time to figure out who we are and so we donít notice when we arenít being ourselves. This is an exercise that pinpoints our excuses, all the reasons we allow ourselves to opt out of the responsibility for our own lives. If you were to take each of those reasons or excuses and come up with three proactive steps to change it - you would be well on your way to a more balanced and healthful life, which includes balanced and healthful relationships.
- A final exercise that is easily incorporated into a life strategy is looking at developing personal responsibility and accountability. This is not the type of responsibility that occurs from balancing your checkbook or getting to work on time, although that can be a part of it. Rather it is learning to become self aware and live authentically. Throughout the day ask yourself what you think, what you feel, what you believe. When you answer those questions, check to make sure you are acting in a way that is congruent with what you believe, think and want. Everything you say and do moves you one step closer to where you want to be and who you want to become (and letís face it, life is very much a work in progress). If what you are doing isnít taking you forward, it is taking you one step farther from where you want to be. No one else makes these choices for you. You are the only person in the driverís seat of your life. Where you end up is completely dependent on what you are willing to do in between now and then.
The greatest thing about all of this is it is never too late to begin to be authentic, truthful and personally responsible. The only thing that is necessary is a willingness to become self-aware and to be congruent. Building healthy relationships isnít difficult. The challenging part is learning who you are, what you want, and figuring what you are going to do to get yourself there.
Life is an adventure and should be treated as such. There are no excuses for woosie lives, and shit relationships. We donít have to participate in idiocy. We can opt out of garbage and create healthful lives. We may have been ignorant, we may have made stupid choices but we can get smarter. Whether all the points youíve read in this article further your efforts to create a good relationship, or get you out of a bad one is up to you. Maybe the information will fit. Maybe you will have to shelve it for awhile and come back to it when you are ready to address your situation. Maybe it will never fit and you can eventually throw it away altogether. One thing for certain, you can not read these words and ever claim ignorance after them. From here on forward, you know too much to turn back, too much to be a mushroom, kept in the dark, growing on shit. From now on what happens to your life happens because of stupidity and an unwillingness to learn more, stretch further, grow past and move forward to being all that you are able to be. No excuses, no one to blame. WAKE UP!