Simple Guidelines for a Fulfilling Relationship.
Dwayne and Natalie kept having regular arguments about kids, money, sex, household chores, and more—the usual stuff in a long-term relationship. Every day there was some problem that needed urgent solution, but no matter how many problems were resolved, others popped up to replace them.
Dwayne called me one day to complain about some lack of thoughtfulness on Natalie’s part—and to explain how considerate he was being—when I interrupted. “You’re making this far too complicated,” I said.
“How so?” he asked.
I explained the futility of chasing individual conflicts and dissatisfactions, and taught him that a happy relationship isn’t that complicated. There appear to be a great many Real Love principles, what with thousands of blogs, video chats, pages of books, audio downloads, and more.
After finding unconditional love for ourselves, however, a relationship can be distilled into fairly simple guidelines. If we were simply to ask ourselves three questions consistently before or during our interactions with others, those interactions—and our relationships—would immediately, and often dramatically, improve:
First Question: How can I be more loving here to my partner?
As Dwayne talked to me, he was laser-focused on all the things Natalie wasn’t doing for him. That’s understandable when we don’t have enough Real Love in our lives and therefore feel desperately empty. We demonstrate our emptiness with the frequent use of the plaintive or accusatory words “he,” “she,” “they,” and “you.” In that condition, we can only see people as objects to manipulate for what we want or as threats to protect ourselves from. These behaviors make a loving and fulfilling relationship impossible. The moment we place our attention on what WE are not getting, or on what is being done to us, the present interaction begins to slide quickly downhill.
Solution? We must find this love—from people who actually have enough to give—as described throughout the Real Love body of literature and summarized succinctly at Finding Real Love.
There are several variations on the question, “How can I be more loving here to my partner?” that could be useful:
- How can I be more loving in this interaction? In the instant I ask this question, my tendency to criticize disappears, and I become an asset in the situation at hand. I cannot count how many times this question has averted for me a potentially disastrous conversation—not to mention the many times I did have a disastrous conversation because I did not ask this question.
It is worth noting the word “can.” The question is not, “How SHOULD I be more loving in this interaction,” because the more burdened we are with obligation and guilt, the less we are able to bring. To be sure, we need to stretch our abilities to give, but if we are not consciously aware of what we’re doing, we can cross the line from stretching to snapping with surprising speed.
- What can I bring to this relationship? Not only is it helpful to identify what I can bring to a particular interaction, but it can be beneficial to regularly consider what I can bring to the relationship overall. In other words, I need to think pro-actively about loving situations I can create in a regular way, rather than simply waiting for interactions to “happen.”
- What does my partner need? Sometimes my partner’s needs are somewhat different from what I can bring to him or her. On those occasions I need to consider what my partner needs, not just what I can bring. Sometimes I won’t have everything my partner needs, but my sensitivity to those needs will usually be felt.
Second Question: What am I grateful for NOW?
Another way to ask this might be: What am I grateful for now, as opposed to fussing about what I want to have? Gratitude is a powerful way to live, an enthusiastic and delighted appreciation of what is true. If I’m grateful for what I have now, it’s simply impossible to be unhappy. It’s impossible to be dissatisfied with my partner.
Third Question: What expectations do I have of my partner?
While it is normal and even desirable to have expectations that we’ll be happy in life, the moment we heap those expectations—along with their attendant demands—on another person, the results are predictable:
- Disappointment. Who could possibly fill all our expectations, which have built up over a lifetime of not getting what we need?
- Arrogance. The more we have expectations of people, the more entitled we become to them, leading to a sneaky kind of arrogance that makes healthy relationships impossible.
- Anger. When we have no expectations of someone, how could they make us angry? We don’t get angry at the mailman for not delivering the pizza we ordered. We get angry precisely because people behave in ways that don’t meet our expectations. If we can come to a relationship without expectations—another way of saying “demands”—every kind act becomes a gift, every pleasant interaction becomes Christmas.
How can we get rid of expectations?
- Get sufficient unconditional love. When we’re full, expectations immediately decrease or disappear. To illustrate, our demands for food decrease dramatically when we’ve eaten all we want.
- Understanding. The moment I have an expectation of my partner, I’m declaring that her right to choose is eliminated by my needs. When I see the unspeakable arrogance of that, it’s difficult to continue with my expectations.
- Loving. The more I focus on loving my partner, the more my expectations naturally fade away.
Making It Real Simple
You can make all these questions and recommendations in a relationship even simpler:
- Make a decision that even though you make mistakes, you will not be bogged down in shame but will continue to learn to love your partner.
- Make a decision that even when your partner makes mistakes, you will let them go and work on the assumption that he/she is learning to love you as well as they can. With that assumption, you won’t get angry, you’ll be more loving, and your relationship will be greatly enriched.
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