How many happy couples do you know?
I mean really, genuinely happy, not just “hanging in there.” I’m guessing the answer is: not very many.
I mean we’ve all heard the famous statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and obviously most relationships fizzle out before the couple ever makes it to the altar. Of the few that do stay married, author and researcher Pamela Haag found that a majority are only “semi-happy,” as she termed it.
Which means that even though they don’t have obvious, glaring problems like addiction or abuse, neither partner feels really happy or fulfilled.
Author Dana Shapiro, after conducting countless interviews for his book, You Can Be Right (Or You Can Be Married), goes so far as to put a number on it, saying, “I think 17 percent of marriages are happy.”
A more reliable number is impossible to come by. While research studies have yielded lots of statistics about relationship compatibility and staying power, happiness remains elusive and unquantifiable. But the anecdotal evidence, like the above observations from Pamela and Dana, is not encouraging.
So what exactly is the problem?
We all feel a deep longing for love, connection, and companionship. That’s why you’re here now, reading this, right? But if all of us out there are looking for a happy, loving relationship, why is it so hard to find? Why is it that so many of us keep meeting the wrong people? Why do our relationships get off track, and end so badly, over and over again?
I believe it’s because so few of us are genuinely happy with ourselves.
The cold, hard truth is that most of us are driven by an inner sense of discontent. We aren’t satisfied with who we are, deep down, and we aren’t happy with the life we’re living. This core unhappiness keeps us searching for that special something – whether it’s wealth, fame, success, wine, food, or the perfect lover – that will finally make us feel okay.
But that special something doesn’t exist.
You won’t find happiness in a partner, a relationship, or anything else. Happiness is an inside job. It comes from knowing who you are, what you love, and what you want out of life. It comes from loving and accepting yourself, just as you are, even as you strive to better yourself each day.
If you are struggling in the romance department, here are 5 things you need to know about cultivating the most important relationship of all: your relationship with yourself.
1. Embrace Your Loneliness
The single biggest hurdle to real intimacy and connection is, paradoxically, our fear of being alone. We can’t stand being by ourselves, so we come to each new relationship with the unspoken hope that this will be the one that lasts forever, that saves us from being alone, once and for all.
Basically, instead of mature individuals looking for a loving partner, we are more like frightened children running from our loneliness.
This sets us up for failure right from the start, because instead of approaching a new partner as a fellow human being, we idealize them as the solution to our problems. Then we feel hurt and betrayed when they fail to live up to that ideal!
This dynamic is responsible for such classic behaviors as being submissive, controlling, co-dependent, needy, manipulative, and on and on – none of which are healthy (or sexy).
Don’t run from loneliness. Don’t numb it with wine or chocolate, or Netflix binging, or whatever. Don’t bounce from partner to partner because you can’t handle being by yourself.
Have the courage to look at that fear, to face your own demons and learn from them. Discover what the underlying issues are, and heal them.
Make peace with loneliness. Learn to love yourself, to enjoy your alone time, and make the best of it by nourishing your soul and doing the things you love to do.
Just doing this one thing will change your life. I promise! You will discover that you don’t need anyone else. That you are unique and amazing, you are more than enough. And being alone is a beautiful thing when you genuinely enjoy your own company.
2. Learn From Your Past
The people who show up in your life are, in a sense, reflections of you, and your state of mind. This doesn’t mean that you always attract people who are exactly like you. What it means is that just like a mirror image is flipped, or reversed, we tend to pair up with those who compliment us.
Basically, a control freak will tend to wind up with a submissive partner; an addict will tend to end up with a co-dependent, etc. In this way, our past relationships can teach us a lot about ourselves – even when they fail spectacularly.
As you look back over the course of your life, do you see the same patterns playing out again and again, in one relationship after another? Do you always fall for the same type of person? Do you always get scared, pull back, and run away when things get serious?
Whatever pattern you can discern in your love life, if you look closely, you will discover your curriculum, your love lesson, your growth opportunity.
That is, if you can look at it honestly, with an open mind, without blaming the other person and letting anger and resentment cloud your judgment. Sometimes it takes a therapist, or some neutral third party, to help us sort all that out, before we can get the proper perspective.
But once you can clearly see where you’ve gotten off track in the past, and where you can do better in the future, then you have the opportunity to do some powerful and life-changing inner work.
Which brings me to number 3…
3. Focus On Your Personal Growth
Forget about finding the right person. Focus on being the very best person you can possibly be. Dedicate each day to learning and growing and making progress, and being the kind of person you would want to meet and fall in love with (see #2).
Basically, you can choose whether to focus on what you don’t have (namely a partner), which leads to all sorts of bitterness, sadness and self-pity. Or you can choose to focus on using the time that you do have to do something worthwhile, to better yourself and enjoy your life.
The famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne has a brilliant quote which says,
“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp; but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
I think the same holds true for love. If you are desperately chasing after it, it only eludes you all the more. If you forget about finding love, and instead focus on making your life awesome – then love, like the butterfly, may just come and perch upon your shoulder.
Does that sound like nonsense? Like some kind of Zen koan? Maybe it is. But give it a try, and see for yourself. I dare you.
The bottom line is this: being single is not an interlude between romances. This moment, right here and now, is your life. What are you gonna make of it? Are you waiting on someone, or something to happen to you? Or are you living, and learning, going after your goals, and making each day count?
(Ah, another perfect segue…)
4. Find Your Passion And Your Purpose
Before you can really share your life with someone, you’ve got to actually be living your own life – not going through the motions, doing what everyone else does. Who the hell wants a partner who has no passion?
Figure out what it is you love, what makes you feel alive and on fire, and go after it with everything you’ve got. This takes personal growth to the next step: personal transcendence. In other words, find something bigger than yourself and dedicate your life to it.
Finding something worthwhile to live for is one of the cornerstones of true happiness and fulfillment. But more than that, it gives you a glow, a magnetism, an energy that others can see and feel. It makes you more interesting, more exciting to be with, and yes – more attractive. Passion is very sexy, there’s no denying that.
It also puts you on your right path. Call it fate, or destiny, call it whatever you want. All that matters is that you’ll finally be doing what you are meant to do, what your soul longs to do. And you’ll be surrounded by people who share your passion and your interests, and who appreciate your talent, your drive and ambition.
Which, by the way, means that you’re much more likely to cross paths with Mr. Right.
5. Remember That Your Happiness Is Your Job
But when you do finally meet that special someone, don’t expect them to fulfill you, complete you, or make your life wonderful – that’s your job. If you put that responsibility on someone else, they are eventually going to feel smothered and burdened and end up running for the hills.
Or even worse, you are setting yourself up for co-dependence, abuse and manipulation.
So instead of waiting for someone else who makes you happy, get to work making yourself happy. There are some simple, powerful, scientifically proven steps that anyone can take toward greater happiness and well-being:
Finding your happy place can be as simple as unplugging from electronic distraction, and focusing on the little things – like the beauty of a sunset, a cup of coffee with your best friend, or a wholesome home-cooked meal.
Stopping to savor these simple joys is the single biggest key to a happy life.
At the end of the day, whether you are single or hitched, your happiness is up to you. If you’re not happy with yourself, with who you are and the life you’re living, you’re not going to be happy in a relationship, either.
The best you can do is bounce from romance to romance, enjoying the chemical high of the honeymoon phase, temporarily forgetting everything else. But when the high wears off and you come back down to earth, you’re still gonna be faced with the same problems, the same life, the same lessons.
You can keep ignoring it, and putting it off, or you can say “Yes!!!” to growth and healing, and living your awesome and authentic life.
Because only when we have mastered the art of being alone, and making ourselves happy, can we share that happiness with another. Only when we have a healthy relationship with ourselves, are we truly ready to have a healthy relationship with someone else.