Posted by: silverliningsblog | September 4, 2011

Loving and Leaving: Beginning and Ending Relationships

A few months ago, I re-entered the dating scene, after a 12-year hiatus. Awkward and unsure of myself, I held my breath, jumped into the deep end and tried speed dating. For the uninitiated, speed dating involves going to a bar or lounge, where 10 guys move from table to table talking to 10 girls for a few minutes each. At the end of the night, everyone fills out a card and checks off who they are interested in dating. If two people both check “yes,” they are a match and are given each other’s information.

The speed dating went well and I ended up dating two really great guys. While I remain single, I gained wonderful new friends and learned a lot about the ins and outs of dating, as well as how to begin and end relationships with love, integrity and kindness.

Some things I have discovered:

  1. Dating in your thirties is much different than dating in your twenties.
  2. There is a lot involved in finding the “right” partner.
  3. New relationships can be an emotional roller-coaster ride.
  4. Conflicts can be resolved with a willingness to put the relationship first.
  5. Ending a relationship can be done with love and without blame.

Dating later in life

I believe the main reason dating later in life is different is because by now, we are much more self-aware. We have a good idea of what we like, what we don’t like, who we are and who we are looking for. For the most part, I think this is a good thing. Because I believe in the law of attraction, I think it is good to reflect on what we want in a life partner, and even write it down. That way, we are more likely to be clear on what we are looking for, attract it, and recognize it when we see it.

There is, however, a downside to coming to the dating table with a checklist of things a prospective partner must have, do and be. If we expect every point on our checklist to be met, we risk ruling someone out on a technicality that in the end, doesn’t really matter. After all, we are all more than the sum of our likes and dislikes, qualities and flaws. The essence of a person cannot be discovered using a checklist. It takes time to get to know and experience a person fully, and the checklist approach can force us to judge prematurely and choose based on superficial knowledge of a person.

Finding the “right” partner

I am coming to realize that finding the “right” partner is a very complex task. I think most of us are looking for someone with whom we connect on every level: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That alone is a tall order.

On top of that, we are looking for compatibility of interests, values and living style. We also hope to find someone who shares our outlook on life, political and religious beliefs, and dreams for the future. And we need to find someone who agrees with us on “deal-breaker” questions like whether we want children and where to live.

Because there is so much involved, it is worth taking time to get to know a prospective partner well. I also think it’s important to establish a connection with someone and focus on core values and needs, rather than getting too hung up on individual checklist items.

Get me off this roller coaster!

I am finding dating to be a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. At first, there is hope and excitement that this might be the person for me (and I for them). The initial adrenaline rush is followed by disappointment when things don’t turn out as hoped. Next comes a period of doubting myself and wondering if I will find what I am looking for. I must admit, I’m not terribly fond of roller coasters – they make me dizzy. 🙂 So I have been looking for a way to smooth the ride a bit.

Many of us (myself included) have in the past been guilty of falling into relationships largely based on physical chemistry, without knowing enough about our partners. Later on, we become frustrated that we are incompatible and our needs aren’t being met, blaming the other person for what ails the relationship and trying to get them to be what we want them to be and do what we want them to do.

In Choice Theory, psychologist William Glasser suggests there is a better way. He says we tend to choose partners without knowing enough about how well matched we are. Then we try to control their behaviour using external control psychology (punish the behaviour we don’t like; reward what we do like). Most people do this, whether they realize it or not, as it’s ingrained in our culture.

“It takes a lot of energy to try to control others so they’ll give us what we want or need. And still, no matter how hard we try, we can’t get them to do it perfectly, so there are always times when we withdraw our love. In these situations, both sides lose. Loving people…means you’re willing to keep your heart open to them, show them compassion, and accept them for who they are.”

—Marci Shimoff, Love for No Reason

Instead, Glasser says we need to take responsibility for our choices, and realize that the only behaviour we can (and should try to) control is our own. He says everything we do and feel is a result of our choices, so if we don’t like who or what is in our life, we need to learn to make better choices.

How this applies to relationships is that we need to work harder to make a conscious decision when choosing a partner. To do that, we need to make sure we know enough about a prospective partner before committing to them.

One key thing we should learn about is what our partner needs. Glasser says all humans have five basic needs they look to fulfill:

  1. Survival – the drive for security and stability (for example, whether we are savers or spenders, risk-takers or risk averse)
  2. Love and belonging – the need to love and be loved (as defined by how much we are willing to give to others, not get)
  3. Power – the amount of control a person likes to have over their environment, situations and other people (for example, wanting to have things your way, have the last word, or be seen as being right)
  4. Freedom – the need to be free and not be controlled by anyone or anything (for example, not wanting to follow rules, conform, or stay in one place for long)
  5. Fun – the need to have fun, laugh and learn new things

The strength of these needs is different for each of us. It is determined at birth, and forms the basis for our personality. According to Glasser, the more similar our personalities and the closer our need strengths are (especially for survival and love), the more likely the relationship is to thrive.

“The best marriages share an average need for survival, a high need for love and belonging, low needs for power and freedom, and a high need for fun.”

—William Glasser, Choice Theory

Therefore, it pays to find out how compatible another person’s needs are with ours before committing to a relationship with them. And there is no sense falling into the trap of thinking that with our love, the other person will change. This is external control psychology. If things aren’t good in the beginning, they are unlikely to get better later. Better to choose someone with whom you are compatible to begin with.

For example, while I may have a strong need for love and belonging, my partner may have a lesser need. This difference will likely cause conflict. I may feel he is not giving enough. He may feel I am too needy. Neither is really true: everything is relative, and it is simply a question of differing levels of need.

Glasser says there is no sense in blaming the other person when a relationship doesn’t work out. Instead, he says we need to understand that it is simply how we are each hard-wired. In short, we can’t get more than our partner is able to give.

I realize I have been guilty of blaming in the past. I have judged previous partners when my needs were not met, thinking they were intentionally holding out on me. I understand now that our needs were simply different, our personalities incompatible.

Resolving conflicts in relationships

If you are already in a relationship and discover some of your needs are different, this does not mean you have to give up on the relationship. Instead, you can choose to create what Glasser calls an “other-centered” relationship. This type of relationship is based on what each partner can give to the other, rather than what each person wants to get.

In an “other-centered” relationship, couples solve problems by creating a “solving circle.” In this circle (which can literally be drawn on the floor so that both people intentionally enter it), the relationship takes precedence over individual needs. Instead of focusing on what they want from the other, each person says what they are willing to give/do to resolve the conflict, and strives to reach a compromise. Before speaking or acting, each person asks themselves, “Will what I am about to do or say bring me closer to my partner, or move us further apart?”

I don’t know about you, but I know this is the kind of relationship I am looking for and want to help create. I know in the past I have made mistakes in how I resolved conflicts and tried to get my needs met. With this new and better method of conflict resolution, I feel equipped to make better choices and put my relationships first.

Leaving relationships lovingly

Sometimes we are already in a relationship by the time we realize we are incompatible. If the differences are too great and cannot be resolved, we may choose to end the relationship.

I think too many romantic relationships are ended in anger and bitterness. This is a shame, because in doing so, we lose out on the opportunity to continue to have a friendship with the person, or at least to have both people walk away with dignity and peace of mind intact.

When we must end a relationship, I believe it is important to do so without blame. It is most likely that the relationship failed because of differences in levels of need, not because there was something “wrong” with either person. I know I have been guilty of the blame game before. I commit to not doing it in the future. I realize now my past partners did the best they could. And I hope they realize that I did too.

“Celebrate your uniqueness…your differences don’t mean that anything’s wrong with you…they’re just part of your natural variation.”

—Doreen Virtue, Daily Guidance from Your Angels

Choosing love

With any luck, the information in this post will help you (and me) make better choices about future relationships, so that we are better matched to begin with and avoid the pain of having to end a relationship. Once we find a partner, we can use the principle of “other-centeredness” to keep the relationship strong and healthy. And if we do have to end a relationship, hopefully we can remember to avoid blaming and always speak and act out of a place of love.

May all your relationships – romantic and otherwise – be blessed with love, joy, harmony and happiness.

“There are four questions of value in life…What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”

—Actor Johnny Depp’s character in the film Don Juan DeMarco


Responses

  1. What a beautifully written summary of such an extremely complex topic! I really enjoyed reading your post, Karen.

  2. EXCELLENT post!


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