Ever wonder why you can’t seem to find relationships where you are treated as well as you want to be treated?
Maybe you’ve had a series of mismatches. Or maybe you’re in one long relationship that is somehow promising and lonely at the same time. Is this you? If so, there is a way better way to live your life so that you are not constantly disappointed by not being in a partnership that feels good, loving, supportive and fun.
What if I told you that you are probably spending 80% of your tears and effort in the wrong places?
No wonder you’re tired.
You’re afraid that down deep, the real answer is that you can’t be in a better relationship because you are not good enough. After all, the one constant factor in all of this is you, right? Great relationships are for “other people.”
More deserving people.
Wrong. Great relationships are for everyone. No one is served by relationships in which either partner feels lesser, unheard, unappreciated, unwanted, or unimportant.
And yet, what do you do if you are in one? Or you keep finding yourself in new ones?
The first and most important step is to stop focusing outward. Some people do this by focusing on the other person’s shortcomings (like, “he never wants to do anything fun,” or “he never remembers my birthday.”) Some people do this by focusing on trying to BE what the other person seems to want (like, “He wants someone prettier, I’ll try to get in shape.” or “He doesn’t like a complainer, I’ll try to focus on the positive.”)
Are You Trying Too Hard?
Can you hear how hard you are trying? I am in awe of how hard people work to try to get the love they want. By the time someone comes into counseling, they may have spent decades on top of decades doing this. So when it doesn’t work, it feels more and more hopeless.
Ok, so how do you get this great relationship you want?
First, by recognizing that trying to change the other person doesn’t work. Changing yourself to make someone else happy, is never going to work.
So what works? In counseling, the first thing I do is to help you look inward. That may sound hokey, so I’ll try to give a clear example just to give you an idea of what I mean.
Where To Focus
Let’s say you want to be with someone who treats you with respect and who makes you a priority. If you focus too much on what they do “wrong,” and maybe blame yourself because you don’t inspire them to do better, you may miss some crucially important things. You might not notice that you are not treating yourself with respect. You may notice that you don’t make yourself a priority. To throw out a specific example: you keep weekends free to spend time with him even though he never plans anything for the two of you. You tell yourself it’s because you like to spend time with him, and you may think it’s “playing games” to do otherwise. And yet, deep down you really, truly want to be respected and prioritized because that’s the kind of connection you know in your heart is right for you.
You know what you want, and yet you settle for something else. Again.
I believe the most important thing keeping you from getting what you want is that you are denying it to yourself. If you respect and prioritize yourself, you will quickly weed out people who don’t.
Scary, I know. You might even tell yourself that this is selfish, which is a common excuse for not having boundaries. But is the risk of someone walking away really scarier than spending months, years, or decades surrounded by anyone who ultimately doesn’t respect or prioritize you?
So what does it look like to finally respect and prioritize yourself?
For one thing, you might fill your life with enjoyable activities. Take a class. Go out with fun friends. Work out. Do things with family. Paint your room — or your nails — or the town.
Whatever it is, treat yourself the way you would like someone else to treat you. If anyone else wants time with you, you evaluate it based on whether it’s what you really want, and, importantly, whether the invitation shows that you really matter. For instance, a last minute invite to watch t.v. and order pizza is not the same as an offer to go ice skating or to dinner and a movie.
I’m Not Against Pizza!
Obviously there is nothing wrong with the occasional couch night watching t.v. and eating pizza. The point is a finer one, and it’s this: the way to find or build a much better relationship begins with getting very clear about what you truly want, and then learning to say no to anyone who is not interested in the same thing.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.