What I Learned from a Decade of Failed Relationships (part 2)

dont think about it

It Will Work or It Won’t

Two possible outcomes exist at the beginning of every relationship – it will result in a lifelong commitment or ultimately end. One party, for whatever reason, will conclude the relationship no longer works or the decision to part will be mutual.

Yeah, that kinda kills that buzz that comes with new romance. You know what I mean. That period when the birds are always singing, the sun is always shining and you can’t wait until the next time you see your guy or girl.

Statistically speaking, the odds are not in favor of a lifelong commitment and it does not take an elaborate research project to figure this out. For those who are married, think of the number of relationships you had or how many people you dated before finding The One. If you are fortunate enough to have found your One and Only on the second or third try, think of your friends and acquaintances and how many attempts it took for them. The same question applies to those who are still looking.

This non-romantic approach to starting a relationship is not intended to kill your buzz or take away from the joy of new romance. One of the best pieces of relationship advice I received was to enjoy it while it lasts because this period will fade. The high ultimately wears off and the task of two separate entities seeking to co-exist in the container of a relationship is at hand.

A second piece of lasting advice I received is that perspective is everything. The awareness that your new relationship may or may not last is important because it can serve as a litmus test to discern readiness to enter a relationship.

I often ask clients contemplating a new relationship how they will be affected if things do not work out. When the answer is “devastated”, I invite them to question their readiness. If nothing else, understanding the odds are not in favor of an enduring partnership can foster a healthy balance between reason and emotion. As Brad Paisley says in the song, I’m Still a Guy, “love makes a man do some things he ain’t proud of”. Same holds true for women.

Commitment is a Process

In the oxytocin fueled intoxication of infatuation, the tendency to believe he or she is The One is a cruel trick of the mind. For God’s sake how well do we really know someone in two or three months of dating?

My approach to dating is best described in the following way. Two people at opposite ends of a room are mutually attracted to each other, desire some form of connection beyond friendship and begin taking steps toward each other. With each step, more is revealed and more is known. To the extent there is comfort at each stage of the process, the next step forward is taken. Because conflict is inevitable, at some point the process of moving forward will come to a halt.

A few things can happen at this point: One or both parties will decide things will not work and leave the room entirely. One or both may take a step, or two, back and re-evaluate the relationship. They may ignore the conflict and proceed (this only ensures it will resurface and be a source of disconnection for the couple). If the conflict is adequately resolved, the process of moving forward continues.

The beauty of conflict is that, if properly resolved, it fosters greater connection and intimacy as a certain openness of one’s inner experience is required. Not always comfortable or easy but can result in two or three steps forward in the relationship building process.

These steps forward ultimately result in the two individuals meeting in the center of the room which symbolizes commitment. Commitment first begins with the decision to become exclusive. Engagement for marriage represents another process of moving to the center of the room and the decision to marry (or co-exist in a lifelong relationship) represents yet another.

Courting vs. Hooking Up

The old people where I come from call this process courting; not a term you hear much these days. Today we hook up. Too often movement from opposite ends of the room to the center occurs in one giant step.

Courting is a process and a very important one. Too many find themselves committed without fully knowing who they are committed to only to discover the dead bodies in the backyard, 13 children from previous hook ups or some other deal-breaking reality after the fact. A bit extreme, perhaps, but does happen and people often find themselves entangled with another in ways that are hard to disentangle.

Give it time but don’t waste time trying to fit square pegs in round holes. Know what you want and do not want before anyone even comes along. Know your deal breakers, what is negotiable and what is of no consequence with regard to your wants in a partner and a relationship. Ask questions, communicate, share, face and resolve conflict. Don’t move too fast…or too slow. Discern compatibility, choose to commit consciously and determine whether he or she has earned the privilege of your commitment. Base your choices on your head AND your heart.

Dating and relationships are complicated endeavors. Much can and should be done to avoid the missteps that cause relationships to fail but despite our best efforts to work toward success, nothing in life is guaranteed. Our relationships will either work or they won’t.

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