It’s said that we humans are social animals. Though some of us are more comfortable than others spending time alone, we all depend on others to build lives of sustenance and meaning.
We might like to think of ourselves as strictly autonomous, our destinies shaped by our own sense of purpose and the amount of sweat we are willing to expend, but all of us organize our lives around our relationships—at home, at work, at the grocery store, on the road—anywhere we share space with others.
We simply cannot advance our lives without attending to other human beings. So, why do so many of us feel dissatisfied with so many of our relationships?
The irony of an interconnected world where so many people feel isolated and disempowered is not lost on most of us. But what should we do about it? We volunteer, bring goodies to work, watch our neighbors’ pets, and keep abreast of our friends on social media. Yet, so many of us feel trapped in lives and relationships and careers that we don’t want.
In order to build productive and fulfilling relationships—with a colleague, a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend—we must first learn to have an honest and loving relationship with ourselves. To some, this might sound like pop psychology ho hum, but herein lies the paradox. We can’t have a meaningful relationship with anyone without first being honest with ourselves about what we want and what we are willing to give. We must learn to love ourselves, with all our flaws and regrets, before we can attempt to love anyone else.
The best relationships do not rely on what the other can provide. In fact, those relationships are doomed to fail. When we embrace who we truly are and accept the other person in the relationship in their entirety, only then can we open ourselves to the empathy and respect it requires to build trust and intimacy.
When you love someone….
“Unless you love everybody, you can’t sell anybody.” – Dickey Fox, Jerry Maguire
There are many kinds of love. The ancient Greeks, who understood that love was at the center of every relationship, had four ways of defining love:
- Agape: unconditional love (perhaps between a parent and child)
- Philia: the bond of friendship
- Eros: erotic love
- Storge: the bond of empathy
I’m not suggesting that we are trying to “sell” ourselves, but being able to “love everybody” does mean that you are more likely to be understanding and to be understood. You are more likely to connect with people who will trust and admire and listen and give back to you. You will be more successful.
“An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.” ― Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978
A good coach can help
All of us get stuck in the stories we tell ourselves: My boss hates me. My co-worker is a snake. My mother is a nag. My child is a disappointment. My husband is a clod. Sometimes these things are true, to an extent. But the longer we tell ourselves these stories, the more we convince ourselves that happiness is out of our hands.
We feel like the victims of the relationships we should be most committed to, and as a result, we become passive, secretive, dishonest. This (sometimes low-level) spiral of despair, just hums beneath our consciousness, stemming from a deep-seated fear of being honest with ourselves about what we want and what we are willing to change. The longer we focus on the way the other is “making” us feel, the longer we can avoid looking within.
Looking within can bring clarity, but it also brings the risk of blowing up the fragile story you have told yourself is you. What if I told my boss I want a raise? I might get demoted. But do I even want a raise? What if I told my husband I am unhappy with something fundamental to our marriage. Would he push back or ignore me or tell me something he wants me to change? What if he asks for a divorce? What if I demanded more responsibility from my son? Would he rebel, or worse still, fall into a depression?
Some of us conclude it is easier to escape, but there is no escaping from ourselves. A good coach can help uncover the stories so you can write new ones filled with loving and rewarding relationships.
Donna Justice, ACC
JustUs Coaching and Consulting