We make our relationships so much harder than they need to be. The difficulties started when conversations became texting, feelings became subliminal, sex became a game, the word “love” fell out of context, trust faded as honesty waned, insecurities became a way of living, jealously became a cyclical routine, being hurt started to feel natural… and running away from it all became our go-to solution. Let’s stop running! Let’s start working together to face these issues—to break the cycle, to communicate, to appreciate, to forgive, and to LOVE the people in our lives who deserve it.
The first step is letting go of the heartbreaking cultural story—or fairy tale—of “happily ever after.”
Our always-in-your-face, airbrushed media culture—with its continuous stream of picture-perfect highlight reels—has built the expectation in us that life is supposed to be like an endless day at Disney World. And nowhere does our media culture present a more skewed set of expectations than around our relationships. We are swayed to believe a great relationship is all sunshine and roses, despite the fact that most of us have witnessed firsthand plenty of examples to the contrary.
It’s time to get our heads wrapped around this once and for all!
Human relationships require effort and compromise. They require two people to practice patience and presence, and thoughtfully extend themselves for the sake of the other. They require us to redefine the fairy tale story of love that our media culture has attempted to brainwash us with.
It’s time to take a stand and acknowledge the fact that we’ve been fed lies most of our lives. We’ve been told that love is a feeling worth finding, but the reality is that love is an action worth investing in. It’s something two people must commit to as a daily ritual.
When you’re able to accept this new reality, and get past the fantasy about things needing to be magical all the time, you make room for the real joy of engaging deeply in a real relationship, which holds a powerful, flexible space that widens itself to accommodate the necessary struggles.
Let this sink in right now…
When your marriage, friendship, parenting, etc. gets difficult, it’s not an immediate sign that you’re doing it wrong. These intimate, intricate relationships are toughest when you’re doing them right—when you’re dedicating time, having the tough conversations, and making sacrifices for each other.
Truth be told, there is no soul mate, best friend or family member out there who will solve all your problems. There is no love at first sight that lasts without work and commitment. But there are, of course, people out there worth fighting for. Not because it’s easy, but because they’re worth it. Not because they’re perfect, but because they’re imperfect in all the ways that are right for you. You challenge each other’s thinking and behavior, but also support each other’s ability to change and grow. You complement each other’s flaws in a way that allows your souls to unite and operate more efficiently as one over the long run.
The awareness of all this, as you know, is often incredibly hard to come by. Especially in the beginning. And to that end, let me share a quick true story with you about one of our newest course students (I’m sharing this with permission):
What We Have Been Searching for All Along
About a decade ago on his 37th birthday, after spending his entire adult life loosely dating different women, he finally decided he was ready to settle down. He wanted to find a real mate… a lover… a life partner—someone who could show him what it meant to be in a deep, monogamous, trusting relationship.
So, he searched far and wide. There were so many women to choose from, all with great qualities, but none with everything he was looking for. And then, finally, just when he thought he would never find her, he found her. And she was perfect. She had everything he ever wanted in a woman. And he rejoiced, for he knew how rare a find she was. “I’ve done my research,” he told her. “You are the one for me.”
But as the days and weeks turned into months and years, he started to realize that she was far from perfect. She had issues with trust and self-confidence, she liked to be silly when he wanted to be serious, and she was much messier than he was. And he started to have doubts … doubts about her, doubts about himself, doubts about everything.
And to validate these doubts, he subconsciously tested her. He constantly looked around their apartment for things that weren’t clean just to prove that she was messy. He decided to go out alone to parties with his single guy friends just to prove that she had trust issues. He set her up and waited for her to do something silly just to prove she couldn’t be serious. It went on like this for awhile.
As the tests continued—and as she, clearly shaken and confused, failed more and more often—he became more and more convinced that she was not a perfect fit for him after all. Because he had dated women in the past who were more mature, more confident, and more willing to have serious conversations.
Inevitably, he found himself at a crossroads. Should he continue to be in a relationship with a woman who he once thought was perfect, but now realizes is lacking the qualities that he already found in the other women that came before her? Or should he return to the lifestyle he had come from, drifting from one empty relationship to the next?
After he enrolled in our Getting Back to Happy Course a few days ago, desperately looking for answers, this is the gist of what Angel and I told him:
One of the greatest lessons we learn in life is that we are often attracted to a bright light in another person. Initially, this light is all we see. It’s so bright and beautiful. But after a while, as our eyes adjust, we notice this light is accompanied by a shadow… and oftentimes a fairly large one.
When we see this shadow, we have two choices: we can either shine our own light on the shadow or we can run from it and continue searching for a shadow-less light.
If we decide to run from the shadow, we must also run from the light that created it. And we soon find out that our light is the only light illuminating the space around us. Then, at some point, as we look closer at our own light, we notice something out of the ordinary. Our light is casting a shadow too. And our shadow is bigger and darker than some of the other shadows we’ve seen.
If, on the other hand, instead of running from the shadow, we decide to walk towards it, something amazing happens. We inadvertently cast our own light on the shadow, and likewise, the light that created this shadow casts its light on ours. Gradually, both shadows begin to disappear. Not completely, of course, but every part of the two shadows that are touched by the other person’s light illuminate and disappear.
And, as a result, we each find more of that bright beautiful light in the other person.
Which is precisely what we have been searching for all along.
Time to Practice
Let’s consciously remind ourselves, again and again, that there is no shadow-less light.
Let’s embrace the fact that the deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated as is, and that too often we try to be sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image of what we want them to be—what we think we need, love, or desire. But these actions and perceptions are against reality, against their benefit and ours, and always end in disappointment.
The foundation of love is to let those we care about be unapologetically themselves, and to not distort them to fit our own egotistical ideas of who they should be. Otherwise we fall in love only with our own fantasies, and thus miss out entirely on their true beauty.
- Instead of looking for more signs of what’s not working in your relationships, look for signs of what is. – Because, as you know, what we focus on grows stronger in our lives.
- Instead of trying to change others, give them your support and lead by example. – If there’s a specific behavior someone you love has that you’re hoping disappears over time, it probably won’t. If you absolutely need them to change something, be honest and put all the cards on the table so this person knows what you need and why.
- Instead of getting frustrated and tuning out, tune in. – Here’s a quote from our New York Times bestselling book: “Tuning out, ignoring, disengaging, refusing to acknowledge, etc. All variations of the silent treatment don’t just remove the other person from the disagreement you’re having with them, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship you have with them. When you’re ignoring someone, you’re really teaching them to live without you. So, tune yourself back in!”
- Instead of looking for “easier,” appreciate the sacrifices. – Remind yourself of what a healthy long-term relationship is: a practice where two people wake up every morning and say, “This is worth it. You are worth it. I am happy you are in my life.” It’s about sacrifice. It’s about knowing that some days you will have to do things you dislike to make the one you love smile, and feeling perfectly delighted to do so.
And remember, relationships of all kinds are rarely 50/50 at any given instant in time. You can’t always feel 100%, or a full 50% of a relationship’s whole—life is simply too unpredictable for that. So, on the days when you can only give 20%, the other person must give 80%, and vice versa. It’s never been about balancing steady in the middle. Healthy relationships are about two people who are willing to make adjustments for each other in real time as needed, and give a little more when the other person can’t help but give a little less.
Yes, it’s a practice, love is. A daily rehearsal of honesty, presence, communication, acceptance, forgiveness, sacrifice and stretching the heart and mind through new and vulnerable dimensions.
Let’s practice, together.
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