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by Marina Michaels
Relationships are perhaps the hardest thing for any of us to manage well. Even if you are single, unless you are a hermit living on a remote mountaintop, communicating with others only through notes left under a rock, you still have relationships with others. And even then, the hermit still has some kind of relationship with those he or she corresponds with. In short, we are seldom so alone that we aren't in some kind of relationship with someone.
What kinds of relationships can we be in? We can be in some kind of relationship with
This article is a very brief introduction to romantic relationships. Although any kind of relationship can have its own challenges, it is the romantic ones that often give us the greatest number of challenges. In it, I am going to share some insights I've had and some lessons I've learned over the years. It is my hope that you will find something valuable in this article that will help you be happier in your own relationships. With a little thought, you can also apply the principles in this article to other kinds of relationships as well.
You may well ask me why I feel qualified to speak about this topic. What makes me any more of an expert than anyone else? I am not saying that I am. However, I do know that I have reached a certain place on my journey where I seem to have learned enough to share some things that have worked very well for me that might also work for you.
I've had my share of bad romantic relationships. Perhaps everybody has. Currently, I am in the best relationship I have ever had, and although it still isn't perfect, it is a far cry from anything I've had in the past. The various men in my past lied to me, cheated on me, stole from me, were verbally abusive to me, were disloyal to me in front of others, told heinous lies to all my friends to try to create problems between my friends and myself (with, alas, some success), and tried to control my every waking moment—who I spoke with, who I spent time with, even when I was supposed to be awake and asleep. Not every man did each of these things! But there was a general pattern of lack of respect and love that I was allowing in my life.
Now, I have a man in my life who truly loves me. He listens to me, honors me, treats me with respect, would never even think of stealing from or cheating on me, and is sensitive to what is going on with me. He knows me well—faults and good points alike—and loves me for everything. Many of my quirks that annoy or baffle others, he understands and finds endearing or amusing (in a good way). It feels amazingly good to have someone understand me so well and yet still love me so intensely. We've been together now for almost three years, and the relationship is stronger and more vital as time passes. And, to put it delicately, things in the bedroom just keep getting better too. It may not last forever—I am still too new to this to be able to tell—but it is so many light years better than what I've ever had before that I know that I will never allow myself to have anything less again.
But it didn't just happen this way. I've done a lot of hard work to reach the place where I could allow myself to have such a relationship.
What I hope to do in this article is summarize in a very short amount of space the key principles of what I did so that you can perhaps also find yourself making better choices for yourself.
There are many books that helped me along on my journey, and also one spectacularly good class I took in college. The class focused on becoming more conscious in relationships (and in life in general), and on learning to look at each situation as a learning experience. It also taught us to look inside ourselves for answers, rather than to look outside ourselves both for answers and to blame others for what was going on in our lives. Our teacher further taught us to search for the gift in every challenging situation, rather than to think that every situation was just something bad that was happening to us. It was a very enlightening class, and I made good use of what I learned from then on.
The result has been that, rather than blaming my partners for what was going wrong, I looked inside myself. That doesn't mean that my partner wasn't necessarily doing something unproductive too (for example, my first husband had a great deal of difficulty in telling the truth and in being faithful, neither of which are things I want to be around). Instead, what it meant was that I asked myself why I had chosen to be with such a person, and why I chose to continue to be with such a person if I continued to be with them after discovering such things about them.
The answer is always inside. It isn't always obvious. Sometimes it takes a bit of digging, or a lot of digging, to get to the root cause of the choices we are making in life. Sometimes it can take years and several relationships. In my case, I was able to solve a piece of the puzzle with each relationship, so that some things got better and better (for instance, after my first husband, I never had another partner who cheated on me). But then other issues would arise. Something like peeling an onion, we each have layers of issues, and once one issue is resolved, a deeper issue can arise.
One of the things I noticed as a repeated pattern for me was that I would get involved with someone who shared some set of traits that my mother had. Since my relationship with my mother was not a happy one, some people would say that I was recreating with other people the relationship I had had with my mother because I was trying to heal her. This is one of those almost-right statements that can get people into a lot of trouble. By saying that I was trying to heal her, such people are placing all the blame on my mother, and are saying that the only thing I need to do is quit healing her and all will be fine. But this isn't the truth.
The truth is that I was trying to recreate my relationship with my mother so that I could heal the relationship, and thus heal the hurt inside me. I wanted to heal all the harm done by the various things my mother said and did (and didn't do), and I wanted to heal it by having someone like my mother love me and treat me differently than she had done.
When it is put that baldly, of course it is obvious that it wasn't going to happen. The things that made my mother a bad mother would also make a person a bad romantic partner. Choosing someone like my mother and hoping that the outcome would be different was futile.
But recall that I said I noticed this as a repeated pattern. It took me a long while of self-examination and introspection to figure this out. It wasn't like I went out and consciously said, "I want to be with someone like my mother so I can heal the relationship." I don't think any of us do. Instead, I was attracted to people and fell in love with them for other reasons, though unconsciously I was choosing someone like my mother, and only saw the "real them" later.
Also, even when I spotted a pattern, even when I knew in my head that it wasn't okay for someone to be treating me in a certain way, it wasn't until I "got it" in my heart that I would be able to move out of that pattern for good. This meant a lot of work on learning to like and love myself enough to not allow myself to be treated badly. That was a hard one for me.
So what helped me start to see these patterns? First, as I mentioned, I had been introduced to the idea of self-examination at a young age. I kept a journal over the years and was honest with myself about what I was feeling and experiencing, and about not blaming someone else for choices I had made. In addition, I read a large number of books, many of which were not helpful, and a handful of which were (see "Recommended Reading" for the list of some of the most helpful books).
The basic principles about relationships that I have derived from reading, thinking, and doing are:
While not everyone necessarily recreates their relationships with their parents—by which I mean, finds and falls in love with someone who shares traits of the parent(s) who caused them the most grief when they were children—it seems to be wide-spread enough that it is the first thing I recommend people take a look at when they are having difficulties with any kind of relationship. This applies not just to romantic relationships, but to relationships with bosses, co-workers, friends, etc..
But how, you might well ask, do you go about doing so?
I developed a method on my own that I found very useful. I created a list of all the traits I didn't like about a person, then made columns for each parental-type figure (caretaker) in my life who was the same gender as that person. After that, I placed a checkmark in the appropriate column for each trait that any given caretaker had exhibited. For example, for a husband, I wrote the traits I didn't like, then created columns for my father, step-father, a significant uncle, and three grandfathers. Here is a sample that might make this clearer.
|Traits I Don't Like||Father||Step-father||Significant Uncle||Grandfather 1||Grandfather 2||Grandfather 3|
|Criticises me in front of others||Yes|
|Randomly does things to scare me||Yes||Yes|
|Won't keep agreements||Yes|
|Ignores my accomplishments||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Of course, the traits in another person's list will be different, and my list was different and a lot longer. But what this revealed to me was which of my significant caretakers shared the largest number of traits with my husband at the time. Once I knew that, then I was able to focus on examining that caretaker relationship and coming to a greater awareness and perhaps a sense of peace with that relationship, which in turn helped me come to a greater awareness and sense of peace in my relationship with my husband.
When I first did this, I was surprised to find that it was my step-father who exhibited the most traits as my husband at the time. Since my step-father and my mother had married when I was seven and divorced when I was 15, I had thought that I had resolved all issues with my step-father a long time ago. Becoming aware that there was more to look at from a more adult perspective made it possible for me to examine some old childhood hurts and come to a new understanding about them.
If you want to use this method, I encourage you to play with this method and personalize it in ways that make sense to you. For example, since I am heterosexual, I used persons of the same gender. I haven't tested it, but it is possible that it might be more productive to use persons of the opposite gender if you prefer people of the same gender for relationships. For example, if you are a gay male, you might want to list your significant female caretakers.
After I had identified a caretaker who was still an issue for me, I was then able to address those issues. Believing as I do that we can not only affect the now and our future by the choices we make, but that we can also affect our past by re-imagining it, I came up with another method to help myself re-create that relationship in a better way. Basically, the method is to take that list of traits I didn't like, and create a new list that starts off with, "My ideal father (or mother, or whatever), ..." and then continues with a list of all the things I wish had happened. I found it helpful to place this list in the present tense, as though that person existed in my life in the now. Here is a sample list to show you what I mean:
My ideal father..
While creating such a list, I would take a few moments for each item to imagine it happening. For instance, if my father always missed my plays in school, I would imagine him attending each play and being proud of me no matter whether I did well or flubbed my lines. Still putting myself there in the Now, I also imagine how happy I feel to see his face in the audience, and how safe and secure I feel when he puts his arms around me if I feel insecure about how others might have reacted to my missing a line.
This is just one method for discovering and addressing childhood hurts, and definitely is not the only one I used. There are many other methods given in the books in the section titled Books About The Self and Relationships. In particular, the books by Harville Hendrix provide a wealth of exercises to do both alone and with your partner.
I mentioned having a positive outlook before. I don't think I can emphasize this enough. Have you ever been around someone who is constantly negative, decrying everything, saying nothing will work, always putting the worst possible interpretation on anyone's words and actions? If so, you know that it doesn't feel good. And it is never fun being around someone you don't feel good around.
But more importantly, what that kind of attitude says to others is that things just won't work out, so there is no use trying. This is a deadly lie. As soon as you believe that something can't be worked out, you are going to stop trying, right? But in the majority of cases, if you had only kept trying, then it could have been worked out. Yes, there are some cases where the other person just isn't reasonable or rational or willing to come to an agreement. But in most cases, people truly do want to resolve things and make them better; they just don't necessarily know how to.
That's where having a positive, optimistic outlook can help. I've discovered that it is almost magical how much a situation can be improved just by saying, "I am sure we can work it out," even when I have no clue as to how, exactly, we are going to work it out. But by saying that, I am saying a number of things:
And you know what? The vast majority of the time, by golly, we do find a way to work things out where everyone is happy.
Likewise, in every aspect of life, it is important to focus on what is good. This doesn't mean you deny there is anything bad in the world; far from it. If you don't allow yourself to see certain things because they are uncomfortable to see, then you are going into denial, which is a form of insanity. Don't go there. Acknowledge that there are bad things, evil people, and so on, but focus on what is good and move from there
After reading this article, you may well (and rightly) be thinking that relationships are a lot of work. And they are.
Oh, they don't have to be. You can choose to have throw-away relationships in which you enjoy a person until they are no fun anymore, and then just walk away from them and on to the next person. And if that is what you want to do, of course that is fine.
But if you don't want that—if what you want instead is one long-term relationship that keeps deepening and getting better and better as time passes, one in which you feel the person knows you and loves you just for who you are, one in which the conflicts are manageable, then yes, work is required.
You might not be with that person now. You might be with someone who is in your life to help you learn something vital about yourself, so that you can move forward with your development and on to a better relationship. But if you do this work, you will end up in better and better relationships, until, if it is your soul's choice, you find that one person who is perfect for you in all ways, who is a joy to be with, and who helps you be the best person you can be. May it be so for you.
As I mentioned, I've read a large number of books on my journey. Not all of them were useful; many were filled with fluff and very little substance. But lucky you! You get to benefit from my experience.
The following books were the most useful to me in learning more about myself and human nature as they apply to relationships. In addition, I have recommended the following books to a large number of people, and every one of them has said these books were invaluable to them. Perhaps they can be for you, too!
For becoming aware of how things can harm a child that an adult might not think twice about, read the very short Healing The Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families, by Charles Whitfield. Don't be put off by the use of the word "dysfunctional" in the title. Some of the things that cause distress to a child can happen in any family. He reveals, for example, that moving is as stressful to a child as experiencing a war is to an adult, and even very functional families can and do move. Despite the title, I found this book to be more useful for gaining awareness about the things that can harm a child, and isn't as useful for figuring out how to heal those things. Nonetheless, awareness is the first vital step! It is packed with invaluable information and is, as I mentioned, quite short. When checking to see if this book was still in print (which it is), I found that he also created a workbook, and there are a few other books on this topic that look interesting as well. I've ordered those for myself, and if they are useful, I will post the links here as well.
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix. Although this says it is a guide for couples, I found it incredibly useful on my own (since the person I was in a relationship with at the time was not interested in this kind of thing). Harville Hendrix speaks directly to the idea that we are unconsciously seeking out people who match our family patterns. He isn't the first to come up with this idea, but he is one of the clearer writers on the topic, making this book invaluable. One of the key ideas that Mr. Hendrix conveys is that we need to realize that it is up to us to accept our childhoods as they were and to stop trying to heal those childhood relationships by re-creating them. Instead, what we need to do is become more conscious and aware of what our issues are, accept what happened, and create new, healthy, adult relationships that are not based on our childhood wounds.
Since I read the couples book, Mr. Hendrix has also come out with a workbook, Getting the Love You Want Workbook: The New Couples' Study Guide, which, although I haven't seen it, is probably also quite useful.
Keeping the Love You Find, by Harville Hendrix. Although this sounds like it is for couples, in fact it is for single people who are currently not in a relationship.
I haven't found any better book on this topic that Do I have To Give Up Me to be Loved by You?, by Jordan and Margaret Paul, which, predictably, has a workbook.
On a related topic, Susan Forward's Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You is an excellent work on that subject, and is short, fast, and to the point.
Patricia Evan's Controlling People: How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal With People Who Try to Control You has helped me in enormous ways. I have a much clearer understanding of people who try to control others or take credit for their work and ideas, and also a great deal more compassion for them, as well as a much better idea of how to handle situations with such people.
More people have been or are being emotionally and verbally abused than, I think, realize it. Abusers can be encountered in the family, at work, while shopping, among friends, and so on, as well as in one's romantic relationships, so even if you don't think you were or are emotionally abused, I highly recommend reading The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself, by Betty Engel. It is a short book packed with good information. And despite the title, men can benefit from this book as well. Even if you weren't abused, it is useful to know how to recognize and deal with abusers when you run into them, and to understand how abuse affects people.
In addition, The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond, by Patricia Evans, is just as useful.
One of the key things that I took away from these books is that, no matter what an abusive person says or how they claim they will stop being abusive, for the vast majority of cases, the truth is that only one of two things is true:
In only a very tiny number of cases is the abusive person actually someone who just doesn't know how to be any different. In those cases, with counseling and many years of work, that person can eventually learn to be different. In most cases, however, the only answer to an abusive person is to end the relationship. But you can't end it until you find the strength and self-love in yourself to do so. These books can help you with that.
There are a huge number of books available on personality types. The vast majority of them disguise the fact that they are using what is called the theory of the Myers-Briggs personality types in their works. Myers-Briggs based their work on Carl Jung's ideas, who in turn based his thoughts on theories that go back thousands of years. Excellent theories, mind you, based on acute human observation. I have found that studying the Myers-Briggs types has helped me in any number of ways, including in all my relationships—friends, family, co-workers, and partners. Type Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, and Work, by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen, is perhaps one of the best books to read on the subject.
In addition to the books listed above, I have also gained an enormous amount from the following books. By paying attention to my spiritual life as well as my emotional life, I have found a greater sense of peace and understanding and acceptance in relationships, and have come to understand how many choices we truly have.
If you do no other spiritual work, I highly recommend that you read and work through A Course in Miracles, published by the Foundation for Inner Peace. This is one of the most influential works in my life. This edition has three books in one: A text, a year-long course, and a small manual for teachers (i.e., anyone who wants to teach this material). The book was given to the author, Helen Schucman, by Jesus.
One of the core principles is that every moment, we have a choice of whether to spread love or fear. Even if we choose to spread fear one moment, we can choose to spread love instead the next moment. This single principle can be an excellent test to give yourself whenever you are about to say or do something: Ask yourself whether what you are about to say will foster love or fear, then choose accordingly.
My experience with the Course was that when I first read through the text, I found many of the concepts difficult to understand, or even somewhat outrageous. I struggled through it, and it took me two years to do the workbook that is designed to take only one year. Nonetheless, my heart was gladdened somehow by what I was reading, and I tried to put the principles into practice as well as I could. (And still do.) Some years later, I opened my copy of the text again to take a look, and was amazed to find that somehow in the intervening time the text had become clear, understandable, and not at all outrageous. I felt I was reading a different book! Of course, what had happened was that I had been able to change my world view enough by practicing the principles, and also through the other influential works I had read, so that I had come to a greater understanding of the Course.
In addition to the Course, I also highly recommend The 15-Minute Miracle Revealed, by Jacquelyn Aldana, and her companion workbook, My Miracle Manifestation Manual. Ms. Aldana tells of how her husband was dying of cancer, their 20-year marriage was on the rocks, and their business was failing, By inventing and practicing a simple yet powerful set of steps each day, steps that take only 15 minutes, she was able to heal her marriage in 12 hours, their business revived quickly, and her husband was free of cancer in just a few months. What is the difference between the two books?
If funds are tight, purchase the Manual, which includes information on the principles as well, along with helpful pages for each step of the 15-minute-miracle process. I don't practice this every day, but every single time I have performed these steps, something good has happened for me.
I mentioned that the Course in Miracles was one of the most influential works on my life. The other set of works that have had an enormous affect on me are some books by Jane Roberts channeling an entity named Seth. Seth reveals information about how we are completely in control of every last aspect of creating our realities, which can be dismaying if you have a lot of disasters in your life, but also empowering as you come to realize that, if you are in control, then you can create something different. This is true for your relationships as well. There are no victims! In addition, it is my belief that the Seth works are encoded with healing energies, energies that help you absorb and start to implement the principles even if you don't try to do anything outwardly.
The books I most highly recommend from the Seth works are:
Copyright © 2006 by Marina Michaels. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, please see my contact information page.
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