This week, I met with a wonderful young man who wanted to talk about falling in love one day. It was a tough subject for him. He was brought up in very typical circumstances and had therefore developed a belief that relationships are difficult, imperfect, full of compromises and require a bit of work to maintain. His past experiences had verified these beliefs and he was very good at criticizing himself over what appeared to be mistakes.
It surprised him to hear me admonish him and emphatically state that great, warm, perfect relationships exist and are available for anyone who wants them. He was surprised. He was relieved. There had been too many trips to the bars with buddies full of advice on how to pick up women: how he needed to act, what to look like, and how to talk.
How miraculous it was to hear that some people have fulfilling, enriching, satisfying and authentic relationships. You have a decision, I declared. You can decide to have the usual type of marriage, or you can decide to join the happy, healthy, whole segment of the population, who are all running around dating and mating with each other. They are not the majority, but they exist. And they enjoy healthy, satisfying long term relationships. He decided, I believe, to go with the minority on this.
But, how to unlearn all the previous assumptions about how difficult and painful relationships are?
One of the first things we can do when aiming for better relationships, with everyone, is to realize that excellent relationships do exist. And, as I've written before, it takes two healthy, joyful, whole people to make one healthy, joyful, whole relationship (there are no exceptions to this law). It is helpful to know what these look like, what they feel like, so we can retrain our expectations. Here are my observations of some symptoms of really satisfying relationships.
Each person in the relationship feels they can be authentic and express exactly who they are. It takes two fairly secure people to allow each other to just be, but people in these great relationships often report the wonderful ease of getting to be exactly who they are.
The relationship is not drudgery or wearing on anyone. It exhibits even energy exchange and good individual boundaries. The symptoms are that no one feels overly exhausted or worn from participating. Often, two people in this type of relationship say they feel uplifted, or have more energy, from the experience of being together, rather than the opposite.
Appreciation for the relationship and the other person seems to be a hallmark of some very happy ones. Sometimes I have clients who are on their second (or third) marriage but their previous not-good experience has taught them to really appreciate the qualities of the new partner. When two people sit around and appreciate each other, what are the odds they are going to have a bad experience with each other?
What I mean by this is not necessarily always agreeing, but almost always being out of high drama. Around these excellent relationships, there is a sense of calm, peace, ease as far as the relationship is concerned. Even in tough times, people with great connections seem not to make their relationship bear the brunt of their troubles. In other words, one symptom of a not great relationship is sense of constant negative drama.
Other words and ideas that relate to the above that I have noticed are joy, fulfilled, satisfied, fun.