I don’t usually write about the topic of relationships as I officially don’t specialize as a coach in the area. On top of that I am a firm believer that as a coach I should always not only “walk the talk” but be an example of producing successful results in my area of “expertise”. In regards to relationships I have a fair share of both good and bad personal experiences, lessons learnt, a track record of long term (e.g. 7 years, 3 years, etc.) as well as short ones (3-6 months affairs which I don’t personally consider “a relationship” per se) and substantial time invested in theoretical research from a psychological perspective. Yet, I still steer away from the topic as I haven’t “achieved” the generally accepted success story in this field – i.e. happily married with two children (or more) with a wonderful partner. I do continue to hurt people along the way of my trial and errors, and I am by no means perfect example of a girlfriend for which I sometimes feel the urge to apologize deeply and I often do with no real relief for the other party unfortunately.
However, it would be insane not to acknowledge that relationships affect us profoundly and have an implication on how happy, motivated or successful we are. In the words of Tony Robbins: “the quality of your life is the quality of your relationships”. This is true for all relationships but it is especially applicable to the romantic ones. We can all agree that if our love life is not going well everything else suffers. Regardless of how many things are going right if your relationship is not – then I am ready to bet you are not going to be able to appreciate, enjoy and continue the momentum you’ve built in the other spheres.
We are creatures of connections and love. Most people on their death beds talk about the relationships they’ve had and the time spent with their special ones. Rarely if ever anyone mentions how proud they were of the successful career they had or the money they made. I am not suggesting those are not important. However, if we want to have a meaningful life and have the strength to build successful careers and strong, compelling goals – we do need to take conscious care of our relationships too.
So, with all of the above in mind and with large arsenal of conversations in which I end up discussing what’s right and wrong in relationships - let’s have a look at how to improve and link this area of our lives to that of career goal setting. This time, however, I will be walking the talk with you and reporting on progress as opposed to having a “ready product” from which I share what really works.
I want to stress again that I am NOT an expert on relationships. However, I’ve had major successes and major fails. Experience coupled with constant reflection and theoretical research is what I will use to give you “the best” of what I am personally going to apply.
Let’s begin with the main 3 lessons I’ve learnt and take the logical action steps from there
Relationships are a game for two BUT most probably “the problem is in your receiver” (Bulgarian proverb I love)
If your relationships are consistently failing or the same thing goes wrong over and over again “the problem is in your receiver” – Bulgarians would say. Our relationships can be looked at as mirrors which show us our good as well as our bad sides. Repeated problems and/or complains, being stuck in the past, not finding “the one” for years, only having short term relationships or jumping from a long term one to another long term one to another long term one – it is all a sign of a personal trait that needs to be looked at and worked on.
The good news is that personal development and self-awareness is more and more popular and more and more individuals are working on becoming a better version of themselves. This naturally leads to higher chances of what we call “mature” communication and conscious appreciation. The expectation is that nowadays, although relationships are harder to form, those that do form last longer and are more stable.
The bad news is that it is hard to not only be self-aware but actually act upon our areas for development.
There is a belief in us that “we deserve” respect, love and appreciation for who we are… just the way we are. For those of you familiar with the “Bridget Jones’ concept” – an adorable, slightly overweight freak turns to be a male magnet because she is just being very natural – is the expectation for both men and women. Why should I be any different than what I am now? Why should I change for love? I should just find that one person who will accept me for what I am right now, adore me forever and “we’ll live happily ever after”. On top of that that one person should be gorgeous of course and make our knees weak for many years to come :)
Reality is – no one owes us anything!
We are not born with the right to demand that much from anyone. No one can demand that much from us either. However, a bit of psychology plus mass media brain washing comes in place here. Subconsciously we are all programmed to demand unconditional love just as many of us (but not all) received it when we were babies. There was nothing that was required from a new-born for it to be loved. The hypothesis is that throughout our entire lives we look for that same unconditional love and we feel entitled. On the other hand – mass media, movies and the fairly new concept of romantic love has its impact on all of us too and it reinforces the already embedded urge for unconditional love. Romantic comedies, romantic dramas, chick flicks… it is a growing industry that feeds the mind with expectations of New Year’s love miracles, magical circumstances and obviously faith sorting it all out at the end. I am not disputing the existence of any of these, however, we need to be a bit more active on our part than leaving it all to luck.
Notice what the re-occurring problems or complains are in your relationships to date. Make a list of them. What have you complained about the most? What annoyed you the most in your partners? What have others complained about the most? Look at what you’ve put down and notice trends. What are the one-offs and what has been consistent?
I have complained consistently that my partners don’t talk to me enough. I’ve often felt that it’s a struggle to get words out of their mouths. “The communication is just not flowing” – I’d say. It’s a general men’s trait, I was told. Or “you shouldn’t be expecting this from a guy”. I tried to ignore it, to be the entertainer, to be the silent one… or so I was convinced until I started to realize that maybe it was a struggle to get words out of MY mouth. I could talk about anything – tell stories, what made an impression on me, analyse the world around, feelings, senses… yet it wasn’t what others wanted to really hear. In fact I’ve overlooked comments saying: “you actually don’t talk”, “you haven’t told me anything”, “you are very quiet”… What if other people were just a mirror – showing me what I was really like. I found it and still find it difficult to talk about myself, hence I was waiting for someone to potentially take care of the communication so I listen to them more and don’t need to be “exposed” by talking about myself. I wanted them to ask me questions so I can talk comfortably about myself if need be. There is further digging into why exactly I am not fully comfortable to be “exposed” and areas to work on but you get the idea. My major complain was my own major flaw. If I expected others to talk I needed to start first.
What does the behaviour of others and your complains show you about you!?
Some common ones I hear and is worth thinking about are:
- Men/Women always disappear after a few dates
- I get bored with the men/women I date after some time
- Men/Women always look at what they can get out of me
- Men/Women are liars
- Men/Women are insensitive/ too sensitive, drama queens/drama kings
- I always end up with men/women who are jealous
- The men/women I dated always made me feel I am not good enough in some way
- No one nowadays makes a real effort
Related Articles: 5 Beliefs That Hurt Your Relationships & How To Let Them Go
You should have a better idea now on what you should be reflecting upon. Remember, however, that none of that is you! It is a quality, it is a current state, it is trait – but you have the power to change it if it affects you and your life negatively. We are not born jealous or unable to talk about ourselves – these are symptoms created and reinforced over time. Just as we adopted them we can get rid of them. The first step is knowing about them.
As I mentioned, however, it is difficult to act upon the information that you might gather from this exercise. This is not to discourage you but rather to motivate you. It is important to acknowledge that it is actually not a “walk in the park”. It is hard work to “unlearn” something that has been practiced for years and has deep roots. Be gentle to yourself and try to minimize the self-criticism. When you uncover a trait or two that you’d like to work on – do so with humility and for every little progress you make in different situations – reward yourself with the thought of job well done. If it was easy everyone would be their most perfect self, but it is not easy. It’s brave and requires courage to look at yourself with honesty.
Finally, and this is important, when you change aspects of yourself that does not mean that all relationships you currently have will automatically improve. Some will and some may not. However, in all cases you will move away from the “mirrors” that no longer reflect you and find partner(s) that are more suited for your new, better self. You only have control over yourself and unless your partner is willing or ready to go that mile with you at this time – it is unlikely that you will force them. I know you still would try, though J
The quality of your relationship really depends on the quality of the relationship you have with yourself.
What does that mean? It basically means that the uncomfortable phrase “build self-love” is imperative!
In the past I ended up with partners who, I though, make me feel “not good enough” or “inadequate”. Well, from lesson number 1 you should know that there is no coincidence in that and no one can ever make you feel something. I am essentially the master of my feelings and you are the master of your own. The first time I experienced it I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t see it coming to be completely honest. My “mirror”, however, showed me that this is an area to be worked on. In fact – although this issue may be uncovered in the previous exercise – it deserves a space of its own due to the huge importance it has.
How do you build confidence and self-love is thankfully an area I can talk about with a bit more comfort, having achieved substantial progress from the days of complete despair and belief that “I should always have my manicure done if I want to be loved”. I am not saying I am 100% confident in myself and I love me truly and deeply all the time. I am still a work in progress. A nervous wreck and definitely overreacting at times when still trying to protect myself from perceived harm coming my way. However, the fact that I have the strength to stand up for myself, to be happy with who I am right now, without that being an excuse of not wanting to change further, or simply my ability to calm down very quickly when an unpleasant situation occurs is all great testament of what works.
The actual steps and the logic in building confidence and self-love in detail are here: How To Build True Confidence just so I don’t overload you. Find and add your ways of achieving it.
Knowing your areas for development and taking proactive steps to improve, plus building a true sense of self-love and ultimately confidence will definitely make a difference to your love life. I guarantee. Experienced and tested, although I believe we never remain a fixed constant and working on your this area continues through different stages of our lives.
Final touch with LESSONS #3.
Know what you actually want!
It sounds obvious yet I haven't mastered this one. In fact it might surprise you that the simplest one in theory is the hardest in practice. Let me explain. You probably don’t make an exception.
On a logical level I do believe I am well aware of what I want from a partnership. I do believe you think you are there too. To gain full clarity, the first step is to make a list of everything that matters to you and you want to find in your partner. From the colour of their eyes to the qualities such as bravery and passion. DO NOT STOP writing until you have exhausted everything you could think of. What family and background should that person have, what qualities, how many children they want, what is their favorite music, etc. After you have compiled a fairy big document (please do take more than one page, this is important) – start making a note of what is really a “must” and what is just a “nice to have”. Reduce and clean up your list until you are satisfied. Review it over time and make adjustments when and where needed. This is excellent as it not only clears your ideas but it also forces you to create a mental image. It makes what you look for real and attainable. As I mentioned this is the logical part. The ideal case scenario.
The subconscious, irrational struggles, however, come in place when there is a contradiction between the ideal and the childhood associations with what the face of love looks like. First relationships and first loves, background and parents, a movie that made an impression on you - they all play a role in shaping our preferences. We might on a logical level desire a well-rounded individual with wonderful qualities, but our childhood dream of the girl next door or the bad boy might haunt us a lot longer than we’d like to admit.
Take time to create a second list of what you’d really deeply want to have without any filter on it. “The Honest List”! No one is going to look at what you put down on that paper. Is it the attitude, the chase, the curves, the car, the smell, the dimples, the movement or even the accent? We all have “buttons” that if pressed we forget about the rational side of what we want. By knowing what pushes your buttons you are more in control and you can make a fairer evaluation of what might mislead you in certain cases. As always, awareness is a synonym of having more power over yourself.
Have you noticed any trends? Are you going in cycles of good to bad, bad to good? What personal needs are you fulfilling even with the most dysfunctional relationships you’ve had to date? If you’ve been stuck in the past – how has that benefited you? There is always something “beneficial” that we think (or subconsciously feel) we get even from the most ridiculous actions we choose to do.
Last but not least – make a final third list of who you need to be in order to attract your ideal partner! That is right - we need to acknowledge that potentially in order to attract and keep our dream man/woman we need to become more ourselves. It is only fair.
As you can see, working on improving your relationships can almost looks like a full-time job that does take effort and conscious though as well as planning. Also, I am only giving the main, most important basics that will produce results – i.e. “the best” practices I’ve used and intend to use again. Going deeper into the field it can expand immensely and the advice, techniques and all else can make you feel as inadequate as you’d ever felt. When I first started my research for this blog, I thought to myself I might as well just give up not only on writing it but on trying to improve further. However, putting a little concise structure is all we need at the end to make it easier.
Let’s Re-Cap: 3 Lessons - 3 Steps To Take
Lessons #1: “The problem is in your receiver”
Step to take: Review your complains and re-occurring problems in your relationships to date. What does that give you as information about you? Those are the areas that you can look into improving and be mindful of. Although relationships are undoubtedly a game for two, know that the other part is usually a “mirror” of your own good and bad sides.
Lesson #2: “The quality of your relationships depends on the quality of the relationship you have with yourself”
Step to take: Understand that self-love and true confidence are essential in order to be a healthy contributor to a relationship. In the “How To Build True Confidence” you can find the ways which work and the resources needed to get you really started. From eliminating self-criticism to even meditation for the more daring ones – you will find it there. Remember, that if you ever felt “inadequate” or “not good enough” – it is not someone else’s fault. There are individuals with strong and controlling, even bullying attitudes, but at the bottom of all it is you – and you must build a healthy sense of worth that can dis-attach you from such relationships.
Lesson #3: Know what you actually want!
Step to take: Create two lists – one that outlines all “must” qualities and traits that your partner should have and another that outlines that deeply rooted desires from a partner that you subconsciously have from early age and teenage years. Be aware of the contradictions that may arise and know what your buttons are and notice the trends that appear clearly now in your past and current relationships. Work to develop the qualities that will make you compatible with the woman/men of your dreams. Treat them with respect before you’ve met them.
Finally, let’s bring all this into the context of career goal setting. I am assuming here that you know how to set professional as well as personal goals. If you don’t then just think of a SMART goal setting:
That is: be Specific, make it Measurable, make it Agreed Upon, make it Realistic and Time bound – i.e. if you want to lose weight for example be specific like: “I want to lose 5kg, measuring every Friday morning and I will achieve that by eating healthy food bought from the market as agreed with my wife, by the end of 2016”. Now, set your goals from a career perspective as well as relationship perspective and make sure you keep those aspects of your life balanced. Here are 5 Tips on how to compartmentalize and make it work.
Motivation, happiness and success follow when we are stepping on a strong personal ground that is built on our most special relationships. Put the right seeds by focusing your energy on it and you will reap the rewards that have a much wider impact that we can ever comprehend at times.