A glance at many magazines today will offer practical advice and “how to” strategies for the pursuit of the man or woman of our dreams. Let’s face it—sexy tag lines and catchy subtitles make for good print copy but do little for building healthy and sound relationships. Projecting our wants, expectations, or intentions onto our partners-to-be only serves to foreshadow the inevitable relational demise. It is as if we build in our own obsolescence from the very start.
How is that possible you may ask, “when I’m doing all the right things, paying close attention to selecting my partner, and looking at what he or she has to offer the relationship?” I admit that these words sound counter intuitive, however, first consider this proposition.
Would you marry yourself or someone like you? Do you like the person you are and what you have to offer, enough to marry yourself?
Some time ago, I put this question to a client in therapy. During our session, in his plunge toward self pity, he began to lament the state of his personal affairs, citing one futile relationship after another. “I don’t know what else to do.” With exasperation he cynically sneered, “Just when I think I’ve found someone ‘special’ and things are going ‘swell’, she leaves me. How does this happen that I pick the same women who cheat on me time after time?”
That’s when I asked him to humor me since I was about to ask him a question that might strike him as weird. “You’re right that is a weird question—“Geez, no, I wouldn’t marry anyone like me!” He went on to state that he was amazed that anyone liked him at all. That response or a variation of its kind often followed when I posed that same question to other clients.
Our courage to look inward at our own fallibility and dark side will go a long way toward building the healthy relationships we desire; not just in romantic expression but in all the personal interactions of our lives. To know one’s dark side is to embrace the aspects within about which we feel shame or guilt. While our tendency might be to bury or dismiss those parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge, this deep seated inner truth will only serve to undermine any positive changes and inner strength we strive toward.
Initially our tendency might be to assess what our partners bring to the proverbial party without assessing what we have to offer. Are we that emotionally available person we are seeking? Do we remain open to constructive criticism and risk being known or do we defend ourselves into isolation staunchly committed to defending our self-righteous deception? Is it okay to be lonely just as long as “I’m not wrong?”
These are the hard yet essential questions to be answered. Only when we like the person we are and work toward becoming will we attract that very same energy which we seek in others. The journey to know spiritual peace and fulfillment is an inside-out endeavor.
That first step begins by defining what we want to change about ourselves and being honest about who we are. If you don’t really know what it is you want to change about yourself because you are too close for honest introspection, start with observing behavior in others that we find uncomfortable or unpleasant. These behaviors that we observe in others acts as our reflective internal barometer. In essence by being willing to note these unlikable behaviors in others we are facing reflections of our true selves and that is a good indication that we are ignoring who we truly are.
The initial work in defining what we want to change takes an honest assessment of our most rejected parts of ourselves. It is easier to seek the completion of ourselves and acquire what we believe we inherently lack than to actually empower it from within. How often are we drawn to attractive people while believing deep down that we ourselves are not as good looking or unattractive? When we accept and love our qualities without seeking to acquire them, we form the strongest foundation for intimacy.
By beginning with that one simple but profound step we begin the enlightened journey toward feeling inner peace and fulfillment. As propositions go, there is no better partner with whom you can say, “I do!”
© Copyright 2008 by Debra L. Kaplan, MA, MBA, therapist in Tucson, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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