We are in an interesting time period. We literally have access to the world with our chosen device. I constantly google any random question or idea that pops into my head. Brad and I are currently trying to figure out if it is legal to bring macaroons home from Paris — apparently it’s not!
Many people are moving farther from the home where they grew up, where opportunities are greater. Families spread far apart instead of residing in close communities. I am watching my soon-to-be 15-year-old take a completely different approach to college shopping because she sees the world as much more accessible. Yet, with all the access and freedom, research is showing that loneliness is on the rise.
So, how is this playing out in relationships? Because we tend to be more isolated, we are turning to our person for everything. As Esther Perel stated, "Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life, in terms of children, and social status, and succession and companionship. But now, we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition, I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise."
Phew! That is a tall order for anyone to ever fulfill. Because we are not perfect humans, we all have our strengths and our "opportunities for growth.” Many times, as a relationship progresses, we naturally start to focus on (what we consider to be) our partner’s weaknesses. As we focus on what we are missing, we can start to compare our relationship to other relationships. We may begin to focus on individuals who embody the characteristics we feel our person is lacking. The interesting thing is, we struggle to see the other person or other relationship as a whole. Instead, we zoom in on what we are missing, and edit out the rest, which is ultimately an unfair comparison.
I see many couples who are actively trying to decide whether or not they want to stay in their current relationship. So, here is my latest advice on how to sort this all out: sit down and write a list of what you are seeking in your relationship. For example, someone who is honest; someone who is kind, someone who is open to adventure. A great father; someone who cooks (this one is definitely on my list)! This list is individual for each person — we all have different ways of finding meaning. Next, circle your must haves. What do you absolutely need in order to be happy? What can you not live without? Now, look at what you might be missing at the moment. Is it something you and your person can work on? Is it something that can be fostered?
Not all relationships can be (or should be) saved. There are relationships that are toxic and abusive that must end for the health of the individuals. There are relationships that end because the individuals’ core needs can not be met, for a myriad of reasons. But, there are many relationships that can grow, heal, sustain, and thrive. I have watched couples overcome the most adverse circumstances to create the relationship they had been seeking. The key seems to be if two people are willing to grow as individuals while “leaning in” to the needs, wants and desires of their person. I know it sounds cliche, but the grass really is greener where you water it.
On that note, there are several ways to address your relationship needs: self-help books, therapy, workshops, and retreats. The key is not to stay stuck while fantasizing about "better options.” Check out www.thethrivingrelationship.com for resources.