What I Learned from a Decade of Failed Relationships (part 1)

battered heartMy original intention was to write a single post chronicling lessons learned from my relationships over the past ten years. As I began writing, too much content emerged to put in one blog post. What began as a single entry has become a series. Apparently I have learned more than a few things from a decade of failed relationships. I describe them as such because none resulted in the ultimate goal of marriage.

Last year it occurred to me that I had been divorced for 10 years. 10 years! Pretty crazy for someone who really enjoyed marriage. I loved all married life offered yet it has eluded me for over a decade. It is certainly not from a lack of trying. I have dated and been involved in more relationships than I care to acknowledge or ever wanted.

For the most part, I was seeking the next Mrs. Richard. Even when I was not, what was meant to be casual dating often turned into something more than intended. As you might expect, some of those experiences did not end well. Ok, many of them did not end well. But those endings were the beginning of understanding a thing or two about relationships…

Despite choosing to write a series on the subject of relationships, this initial blog post remains lengthy. For those who do not have the time or attention span to read an excessively long blog, the key ideas are outlined below:

  • The one constant in all your relationships is YOU! Time spent focusing on your partner is a distraction from the inner work required to create a healthier you.
  • Your most important relationship is with yourself. How you think and feel about yourself colors your understanding of and relationship to everyone and everything else.
  • We are multidimensional beings composed different parts that make up the whole our being and doing. Inner conflict results when these parts do not interact harmoniously.
  • All endeavors begin with the self. The more mature, intact, balanced, whole, secure and aware we become, the greater our chances of creating successful, healthy, happy, harmonious relationships with others.

 The One Constant in All Your Relationships is YOU

Relationships are composed of two separate individuals seeking to co-exist. A container is created which holds and supports each individual as they grow collectively and individually. Each is responsible for themselves and each is responsible for the relationship. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts but each part is of vital significance and yours should be your primary focus.

My failed relationships typically ended with me finding fault and placing responsibility for its demise on the other party. Despite the ability to own my deficiencies, the focus was on hers. She was either self-centered, mean-spirited, too unavailable, too needy, too incompatible, too much of something or not enough of something else.

What I failed to acknowledge was the common denominator in all my relationships was ME! The time spent analyzing, fault-finding and character assassinating my Exes only ensured I would cheat myself out of the inner work required to attract different partners, avoid relationships with no potential, stop forcing square pegs into round holes and learn to relate and respond in ways more favorable to relationship success.

We bring the totality of ourselves to the relationship equation – the good, the bad and the ugly, our strengths and weaknesses and our gifts, talents and imperfections. Time spent focusing externally only keeps us from the truth that, in all our relations, the one constant is us.  So maybe, just maybe, it behooves us to focus more on the role we play in our relationship failures than our partner’s.

Your Most Important Relationship is with YOURSELF

The most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. Many argue that our relationship to God or our higher power is the most important. While this is true in one respect, how we think and feel about ourselves colors our understanding of and relationship to the Divine and everyone and everything else. Those lacking in the belief that they are worthy and deserving of the Creator’s blessings struggle to receive them, often even to see them.

One of the more powerful interventions I use in my practice is simply to have people look at themselves in a mirror. How we think and feel about ourselves is revealed in the answer to the question, “what do you see?” Many see a self defined by internalized messages of parents, peers and other key figures during the formative years.

Neurologically primed to tune into the negative, the positives are often lost or rendered insignificant. Some receive few, if any, statements of their worth or value. What is said and done to us as children communicates powerful messages that, indeed, become our inner voice and the reflection we see staring back at us.

Others struggle to look deeply into themselves because of their lived experience. I have worked with clients who can only see past traumas reflected back to them; their own self-image a reminder of the abuse they endured.

I half-jokingly, half-seriously say your mirror should be your best friend. If the person staring back at you is constantly tearing you down, it will be pretty difficult to face the world with power and confidence. The idea of your mirror being your best friend is not vanity. I am not speaking of arrogance or ego inflation but a humble reminder of your inherent worth and the unique gifts and talents you bring to the world.

It does not matter what anyone has said to you or done to you. A power far greater than anyone who has condemned you, abused you or spoken ill of you decided you should be here…in this life, in this place, at this time. Is there any greater indication of your worth and value than that?

How we think about ourselves influences how we relate to others which influences how others relate to us which shapes our relationship destiny. If my core belief about myself is that I lack worth and value, I will attract others who confirm this belief. When they do not, I will unconsciously create relationship dynamics to fit this narrative.

This is more commonly known as self-sabotage. I seek a good man but attract a bad boy. I seek an attentive woman but attract a self-absorbed diva. When Mr. or Mrs. Right comes along, I am not attracted or push them away.

The Challenge of Multidimensionality

How we think and feel about ourselves is not the only factor influencing how we relate to ourselves or the self we bring to relationships. While we are one part of the whole of our relationship, we are also multidimensional beings composed different parts that make up the whole of us. Most of us think of ourselves as one single self; a single entity interacting with the external world. In truth we are several selves with any one of them capable of dictating our actions and interactions.

Think of yourself as a bus with the different parts of your personality representing its passengers. At any given time any one of them can take the wheel. The question is who (or which part of you) is driving and do you want that part in the driver’s seat? The course of our lives, our decisions and choices and their inevitable outcomes depends on which part of us is driving our bus.

Multidimensionality is not to be confused with Dissociative Identity Disorder (more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). That is an entirely different matter. Have you ever said, “A part of me that wants to __________?” This implies another part that does not or wants something else. The devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other also illustrate this point.

In my own experience, a part of me likes to sit home and read books. A very different part of me likes going to parties. Yet another part of me likes playing sports while another would rather write this blog. The passengers in our bus emerge at different times in our lives for specific purposes but do not always function harmoniously.

Inner conflict represents different parts of ourselves warring against each other. A lonely and needy part may desperately want to enter a new relationship while a hurt part may resist. The part that desires independence may surface in response to a partner’s request to take the relationship to the next level. The part that desires control may conflict with the part that realizes the need for compromise.

Know Thyself

The importance of this point is summed up in the ancient wisdom that commands us to know thyself. Remove the speck of dust in our eye before removing the plank from the eye of another. Let him who would move the world first move himself. Be the change you seek in the world. These quotes from the Bible, Socrates and Gandhi point to the fact that all endeavors begin with the self.

The quality of our relationships reflects the quality of the self we bring to them – the level of consciousness and psycho-spiritual maturity we have attained and the harmony existing among the parts that form the whole of us. The more mature, intact, balanced, secure and aware we become, the greater our chances of creating successful, healthy, happy, harmonious relationships with others.

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