I've been having a lot of conversations lately with clients and friends about relationships. Stories of heartbreak, breakups and miscommunications seem to be the norm as of late. While it's easy to blame the sun sign, the full moon, or planets in retrograde, at the end of the day, most of us blame our partner – or whoever we are experiencing the relationship issue with.
But it takes two to tango. And while I am not advocating self-blame, judgment or criticism, if you're unhappy, it is important to look in the mirror and see how you may have contributed to your situation.
I like to think that life happens for us, not to us. Every “mis-take” is just an opportunity for growth and a re-take after you've learned your lesson. Relationships are no different. Yes, people lie, cheat, and steal, but I think a vast majority of issues could have been prevented if one party or the other had initiated a conversation right when he or she first noticed the potential for a problem. But we don't. We hold back, reassess, put our walls up, and bide our time until the molehill becomes a mountain. As a result, we don't get our needs met, our feelings get hurt, and little issues become insurmountable ones.
Although there are often many factors involved in any relationship issue, I think doing the following would certainly help prevent or minimize many relationship issues:
- Set healthy boundaries and enforce them – as a recovering codependent, boundaries didn’t used to be something I knew I should be setting, let alone enforcing. But as I have healed my codependency, I have realized just how important boundaries are. We are not meant to be walked on, taken advantage of, drained. We are meant to be loved, cherished, and taken care of – and that must start with you loving, cherishing, and taking care of yourself. Part of that self-care involves setting limits around your time and energy. The limits that you set for yourself – for your own sanity, really – should not be taken lightly. It’s fine to test your boundaries, especially if they are limiting beliefs in disguise, but that should still be on your terms.
- Letting go of expectations – one might think this is contradictory to setting boundaries. After all, shouldn’t you expect your boundaries to be respected once you have clearly set them? Absolutely. But here I am talking about a different set of expectations: expecting the other person to meet your needs when you haven’t clearly stated what they are. For a relationship (romantic, friendship, or even work-related), you have to let the other person know what you need. Because relationships involve a party of two (or more), you should be clear about what you need for the relationship to be successful. You must then be able to communicate your needs to the other party – after all, no one is a mind reader. You cannot expect them to know what you want unless you tell them.
- Realize that no relationship is without issues – when I was a kid, I wanted to be Cinderella. I kept waiting for my Prince to come save me so we could live happily ever after. Here’s the reality: there is no happily ever after. Relationships take work, and it’s so easy to take each other for granted. On the plus side,
As Crystal Andrus said, “When you feel yourself becoming angry, resentful, or exhausted, pay attention to where you haven't set a healthy boundary.” Or other issue. If you’re upset, that’s a sign that there is an issue that needs to be resolved. Whatever this issue may be is just as likely to be your issue as your partner’s issue (refer to it takes two to tango above). We feed off of each other. If you are upset with your partner for doing – or not doing – something you wanted him or her to do, ask yourself where there was a breakdown in communication. Did you actually ask them to do whatever it was or did you just expect them to, but failed to communicate your needs? Even if it seems so simple to you that they “should have known,” communicate it anyway. Trust me on this one. It would have saved me a lot of grief several times over!
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – There are going to be issues (see #3). It’s your job to figure out which issues are your deal breakers and which ones, at the end of the day, really don’t matter all that much. For the former, those are big deals that shouldn’t be taken lightly (see #5 below); for the latter, as hard as it may be sometimes, you have to let it go. Before I got into my current romantic relationship, I had a heart-to-heart with myself to figure out what I really wanted and what mattered to me. (I find it’s easier to do this when you are not in a relationship because you aren’t thinking of anyone in particular when you make your list, but even if you are in a current relationship, give it a go – just make the list about you and your needs and not your partner’s faults.) Every once in a while, I go back and look at my list. It’s a good reminder of what’s most important to me and that some of the little things that I fret about really aren’t worth ‘sweating over.’
- Listen to your intuition – I once dated a man who I knew – on our third date – was the wrong man for me. But for several reasons, I chose to ignore that inner voice of wisdom and got into a relationship with him anyway. 6 months later, I was broke and heartbroken. Here’s the deal: You are the best authority on you. Not your ego, but your intuition. You know what you need and what you want. You know what your deal breakers are and what matters less to you. You know in your heart whether this relationship is the right one for you. If it’s not right for you, then by all means, get out. But if it is the right one, then your relationship is worth fighting for – as long as both of you are willing to go “all in.”
What’s worth fighting for and what can you let go of?