Relationship expert Esther Perel said 'The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.'
And I'd agree. Life is relationship. But relationships can be challenging. If you're like most humans, that includes the one you have with yourself. In this week's edition we explore some ideas around love and relationships (now that cupid has done the rounds for another year...), and create some space for you to ask and answer some honest questions about how you show up to your relationships. May these reflections open up some deeper possibilities for your relational life.
ONE MINUTE INSIGHT
Understanding how we relate to others and the patterns we adopt can help make way for the creation of more fulfilling relationships. Here are a few things to ponder:
▶ Which relationships in your life feel easy and supportive? ▶ Which relationships in your life feel challenging? ▶ How do you show up differently to those relationships? ▶ How do you feel about yourself in the context of those relationships? Consider what your answers reveal for you.
DEEPER DUE DILIGENCE
Attachment Styles, Love Languages, Erotic Blueprints, Sternbergs Triangular Theory of Love, mother wounds, father wounds, relational trauma... When it comes to understanding love and relationships, lack of external information is certainly not the limiting factor. For most of the people I support in my coaching practice, relationships will come up at some point or another. What we often discover are some old unconscious ways of being in relationship that belong to the past and are hanging around, not really helping. One of the most common patterns is "transactional relating". The name explains itself. Essentially, we keep a tally. And it's not surprising, because for those of us who adopt this strategy, we learnt very early on in our lives how it worked. "If you don't go to bed right now you won't get a story." "If you don't eat everything on your plate you won't get dessert." Or it might be even more blatant: "If you loved me you'd behave yourself." (No parents, this is not a cue for you to feel guilty about anything. Muster your compassion, please. And remember that gem of wisdom from Peter Crone that '...people can't be held accountable for that which they're oblivious to.') This starts getting all messed up when we grow up and get jobs, because often money can feel like love, too: "If you make your target this year you'll receive your bonus." It makes sense that we might feel on some level that there is something that we have to do in order to receive love (or what every proxy we use for it), or that we are entitled to expect something from another in order to give it. ...and maybe we do! In a business context, transactional relationships are generally appropriate, but then when we start looking at deeper levels like loyalty and interpersonal connection, things can get complicated quickly. Unless you're Divine God or Universal Source energy manifested in human form, probably there are some conditions appropriate for your love, attention and connection, depending on who it's with. Own that. But consider this also:
Love is an all-inclusive concept. It includes you too.
We don't say things like 'I am "IN" love' for nothing. Notice how people in new relationships often take care of themselves better - they might dress up nicer, go to the gym, eat better, work less? Perhaps one of the biggest and most insidious reasons for falling "out" of love is that we forget to relate to ourselves from that place of love. In love. From love. As love. We might (unconsciously) shift toward that transactional way of relating... ...and then we're only a small step away from withdrawing and disallowing/rejecting when things get tough. In my experience supporting people in a very personal way over the last 4 years, I've observed that perhaps the biggest thing you can do to enhance the strength and value of your connection with others is to shift how you relate to yourself. More concretely, how you acknowledge your own feelings and needs (what are those?! Here is a cheat sheet). Conversations about reciprocity and boundary setting, as well as deepening intimacy and connection, then become secondary. Because healthy expressions of these concepts are a result of a healthy relationship with oneself, and not an aim in and of themselves. It happens automatically. But I know you're not here just for a spiel on self-love. With Valentine's Day fresh in the memory, let's look at interpersonal connection a moment. There is this weird thing that happens when we get into a relationship, whether romantic, plutonic, friendship, professional or otherwise, that we start to see things in others that are actually more a reflection of ourselves... To help understand this a little more, imagine that every relationship has three components - you, the other, and the relationship itself.
The relationship acts like a mirror, so you can't see what's on the other side - "The Great Unknown" (cue importance of healthy communication skills). Further, the mirror reflects back to you what is happening on your own side ("The Mirror Effect"). Maybe the mirror reflects a quality you haven't recognised in yourself, or maybe it reminds you of an uncomfortable experience from the past. For example, one might feel irritated that their partner is indecisive, and yet fail to recognise that they themselves are a terrible decision-maker! Or, they might feel the need to take the lead in decision-making, which reminds them of what they had to do as a child because their parent asked them to make a lot of decisions at a young age. This experienced is often accompanied by a LOT of pressure on oneself to "get it right". In any case, it's worth acknowledging that any assumptions we make up about the other independent of the relationship, and expectations we hold, belong to us. They live on the "My Stuff" side. And we get to be responsible for 100% of that. Sometimes relationship patterns can blur the lines here, and we find ourselves relying on others to fill us up, to make us feel enough. Or on the contrary, in an unhealthy dynamic knowledge around one's pain points could be used to keep them in a disempowered position (often the case where narcissistic abuse is concerned, but this is likely less common than pop-psychology might otherwise suggest). So what about that 50% of the relationship itself? This is the "us" part, where true commitment, safety and intimacy resides. This is the "garden" if you like, which both sides must tend to for a healthy relationship to exist. Centring yourself IN love will greatly assist with this. It's fair to say that relationships are extraordinarily complex. Deep connection with others takes immense amounts of courage and willingness to see one's bright sides as well as their dark ones, as more and more is revealed through the mirroring process. Sometimes we do need to find external resources to help us work things out, and that's okay. Support is out there in many shapes and forms, from books and podcasts to therapy with a skilled practitioner. Receiving any of it requires your openness, courage, and love (as an all-inclusive concept). I'm not a relationship expert and I do not work with couples. What I can offer however is the support to get into right relationship with yourself and to see things more for what they are, so that you can be powerfully responsible for them (100% or 50%, depending on what we're talking about). Stay curious. Be willing to have your questions answered and your answers questioned.
MORE TO MUSE ON...
What I'm writing about: have you ever considered that all of the characters in the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves are all in your head? Humour me a minute... read along here:
What I'm reading: One of my favourite voices on relationship dynamics, from infidelity to eroticism and everything in between, is Esther Perel, who I quoted above. She's written two powerful and honest books which I suggest you look up if you're experiencing challenges in relationship and looking for a first step in greater awareness.
Something to listening to: I was glad to join Sudhanya Mallick, data analytics expert and keynote speaker on emotional intelligence, on her Real Talk with Sudhanya podcast recently. You can check out our multifaceted conversation which covered everything from personal development, the (real) pressures of the rat race, performance v health, supporting men, rationality v emotion, infidelity, ego, shame, the inner world and mythology right here:
Whether you are in a relationship or out of one, you have an opportunity to start treating yourself like someone you love, to include *you* in the concept of love. Do that, and watch all of your relationships transform. What would that look like...? Take a few minutes of Anne-time to reflect on that today. I'd love to hear what you took away from this weeks edition. Your feedback helps make these newsletters more helpful for you. From love, and
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