In my many years of leading personal development workshops, people often attend because they are looking for answers about how to develop healthy, lasting relationships. It is obviously an important issue because we as a society struggle to accomplish those healthy, lasting relationships. Our divorce rates are higher now than ever and our attempts at a second or third marriage are even less successful than our first. I know there are exceptions to those trends and I am determined to be one of those exceptions; however, the statistics are compelling and disturbing.
I have been reminded once again this month of how important it is to ask the question; what kind of love do I experience in my relationship? Is it the kind of love that is healthy and growing? Does it support my personal growth and the growth of my partner? Does it build on a mutual sense of purpose where the relationship serves as an example to other relationships and other individuals? Is it capable of resolving conflict and learning from mistakes?
Or, is it the kind of insecure, selfish relationship that focuses on the immediate needs of the individuals and the relationship, filled with conflict and confusion?
Christine and I run a program together called Couples Connections. I want to take the next few blogs to talk about some of the reasons that we struggle in relationship and hopefully offer some suggestions about how to overcome some of those struggles.
In every relationship there is a process that will take us to a healthy, lasting relationship. There are three definite stages that must be acknowledged and worked through. The first is Codependence, the second is Independence and the third is Interdependence.
Codependence: Addiction or Love
I actually think that most relationships begin in codependence. A simple definition of codependence states that, “you have an excessive emotional of psychological reliance on a partner…you are dependent on their approval for your sense of worth and identity.”
If you are codependent you are convinced that you need your partner in your life to be happy and fulfilled. Codependence is built around familiarity and habit. This kind of familiarity and habit feels similar to addiction where there is a constant level of insecurity and feelings of desperation when you do not feel acknowledged, accepted and approved by your partner. The truth is; relationship can be an addiction. It does not matter whether there is excessive turmoil, destructive abusive behavior or a complete disconnect and indifference; there are couples who will continue on in the relationship because of familiarity and habit. When I ask couples why they are still in this kind of destructive relationship; they often say, “I love them.” But, is this love?
At this point I will usually say, ‘you say that you love one another, but your behavior is far from loving.’ I wonder if we have not confused our definition of love with addiction and codependence. This kind of love is tantamount to pain addiction.
Okay; so, many of us begin in relationship believing that we could not live without our partner and we desperately need them to be happy and fulfilled. Fortunately, that is not where the story needs to end.
Independence: I Love Myself
The second stage in relationship moves me toward independence. It can be a quite daunting time in relationship because there is a realization that my relationship is no longer built on “need.” The insecurity and desperation I felt in codependence is replaced with self assurance and self confidence. This does not mean that I no longer love my partner; it just means that I am no longer dependent on them for my happiness, contentment or fulfillment.
Achieving independence means that I can get clear about the kind of relationship I want. Once I have that clarity I will draw from my courage and self respect to ask for what I want and the determination and self confidence to teach my partner how to treat me.
The key to a healthy relationship is a healthy individual. The health of my relationship begins with a commitment to know myself intimately and to learn how to love myself wholeheartedly. It is out of that love for self that I am able to love someone else wholeheartedly. Anyone who is not committed to their own personal development will struggle in relationship.
This can be a scary time in relationship because it can feel like you are falling out of love. However, if both partners are aware of the process and continue to discuss this natural evolution in relationship, it will be freeing.
Interdependence: I Choose You
The third stage in relationship development is Interdependence. This is the stage in which a relationship experiences the health it seeks. At this stage, I no longer feel that I need my partner to give me a sense of identity or to make me happy. I have discovered that within myself; however; I can also acknowledge that having my partner in my life makes my life fuller and richer. Because I can acknowledge this, I choose them gladly to share my life.
Interdependence means that I am in a partnership. This means that my partner and I share the responsibility for creating the life we want. It goes way beyond a sense of differing roles and responsibilities within a relationship, it finds a way create a sweet spot in the everyday ebb and flow of life. I really believe that sweet spot looks different for every couple, but it is a must if you want the relationship to be meaningful and effective.
A simple example of this for Christine and I has to do with our meals. I work from home and Christine works at least two days a week away from home. We will juggle who makes the meals and often we make our dinners together. There is no stress concerning meals because we have figured out what works for us and it makes our lives together much easier. And, easier is what we are looking for.
Ask yourself; what kind of love do I experience in relationship?
If you can admit that it is not always the healthy love that you want, then what will you do to create a different relationship?
I encourage you to contact me if you want to discuss this possibility further.