We’re taught to work hard from the time that we’re little until we grow up. Through our working years, it’s a given. Work hard, get results.
But what happens when we apply this work ethic to our relationships?
Sometimes we luck out. We meet the right person, settle down and build our very own white picket fence. The work it took to meet them and have a happy relationship pays off.
More often than not, something is missing. And the worse we feel about that, the more we try to jam things into place. If we’re single, we read about what to do, we go on dates, we attempt to remain open, we force ourselves to go speed dating and on paper, it’s all straight from the perfect dater’s handbook.
If we’re already in a relationship, we might feel the dread. If you’ve ever worried that your relationship was not enough, or not working, you know exactly what I mean. It’s that cold, stomach-churning sense of worry that things aren’t okay.
So we try to fix, fix, fix and mold our pairing into something more suitable. We might feel like they’re pulling away, or that the relationship isn’t exactly what we want, so we start doing. We schedule date nights and we have long, agonizing talks about our feelings. We go to therapy and cast around for new tools to use relate to each other. We heard the mantra at some point that couples who play together stay together, so we try to get our partner to take up photography (or whatever).
And somehow, even with our Herculean efforts, all falls flat.
We get disappointed.
We feel disillusioned.
We start to think that this love thing really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
This gets exhausting right? Aren’t you tired of wishing and hoping, wondering, analyzing, and brainstorming about what you can do to “make things work” but still feeling like it’s hopeless?
Yeah, I get it. And it’s not your fault.
So What’s Missing?
Let’s rewind for a second. Remember when you were just learning about the opposite sex and came across the idea of romantic love? Okay, not that exact day, probably, but remember your first crush? Why did you want them? Why were you interested in the first place?
It was most likely a feeling of some type.
And, feeling is why we do EVERYTHING in our lives. We spend our days striving to feel a certain way. We want to feel the satisfaction of sex, love, attention, admiration, respect, comfort, satisfaction that our needs are met, and so on. Feeling full after eating is.. a feeling.
Reasonably, we look to our romantic partners to provide some of this emotional fulfillment— or if we happen to be particularly unrealistic— all of it.
I think you can agree that no matter who you’re with, you want to feel good when you’re around them. Or, you might stick around to avoid feeling guilty about leaving. Either way, feelings are at the center of it all.
And, guaranteed, they want the same from you.
Humans are endlessly complex creatures with simple needs.
That’s why we forget sometimes that at the heart of any relationship is a simple trade. To boil it down to it’s most basic, we do all of this effort— the relationship dance– to feel a certain way (even if it’s simply lust before passing our genes along).
Neither of you are operating an emotional charity. Make someone feel the wrong way long enough and you WILL drive them away. Make them feel the right way long enough and well… your relationship struggles become a thing of the past. If you were blissfully spinning around in circles, Sound of Music-style, you wouldn’t feel that creeping sense that something is missing, right?
But while we’re doing all of this fixing, relationship-achievement-striving, sometimes we don’t realize that the entire goal is to FEEL a certain way around another person and have them FEEL a certain way around us.
We feel like all of our hard work should pay off in the form of the relationship we really want– after all, striving is how we got everything else, right?
During all of this busy-ness, often we don’t look around and think about how all of this makes us feel. Unfortunately, sometimes it feels lousy for us and intolerable from the other end. But just the same, we keep striving, hoping that all of this will amount to something, anything, to stave off the terror that we might end up alone.
Paradoxically, when we ignore our true feelings and do mindless striving instead, we often do end up alone in spite of all of our efforts.
And we’re back in that place of awful, gut-gnawing anger and frustration that once again, “The One” hasn’t panned out.
The good news is that we’re in charge of a LOT of this, simply due to the fact that first, we get to choose how we feel at any given time AND we get to choose how we interact with our partners.
We can also choose to find out what really makes them feel good and do those things.
Not because we’re pandering.
Not because it’s inauthentic.
But because all relationships are a trade.
We’re doing things to feel something. Every minute of every day. This isn’t sinister, it’s just the reality. If you commit yourself to making another person feel good— how THEY want to feel it— then you’ll never be at a loss for romantic partners or business associates or friends.
The tricky part of that equation is that you must get in touch with your own feelings and take the time to understand how THEY want to feel.
May it be through education about what men or women are like— or with the individual you’re after (and even after 28 years of marriage, you can still be “after” your love). So often we go about trying to do things to for someone else that would make US feel good and assume that it works the same for them.
Think of the way you would treat someone else’s leashed dog you wanted to meet.
You’d probably ask the owner if the dog was friendly. If given the go-ahead, you’d probably stick out your hand to let the dog smell you before trying to pet it.
And you would do all of this because it’s the “right” way to interact with a dog, right? You don’t think to yourself “well I love hugs, so I’m going to hug this strange dog, right off the bat.” You’d probably get your face bitten off, or at least a scary, warning growl.
But all the time, we try to do this with other people. We think about what we like, then try to approach them with exactly that, using the rationale, “well I would love to be called 43 times a day, so why WOULDN’T I just do what I’d like?” Unsurprisingly, the object of our affections is not impressed and we feel hopeless by call number four.
It’s here, in this fallacy– believing that they’ll want what we want, then trying to DO, DO, DO more of that– where many, many misunderstandings live. It’s where our striving utterly fails us.
What makes the person in front of you feel good might be the polar opposite of what you want, and vice versa. It might be that you’ve been HOPING to feel a certain way in a relationship, so you do all of those things for someone else, thinking that they’ll get it and reciprocate, but you both keep falling short.
It isn’t the action itself, it’s the continual application of action in the wrong direction. So… what the heck should you do instead?
Always Consider Your Results Before Taking Action
To put this into real terms, let’s look at it from a problem solving perspective:
Say you’re not thrilled with the frequency by which someone else calls or texts you. It happens, but it’s just not enough for you.
The way to get them to contact you more is NOT to go on a rip about how you don’t hear from them enough the next time they call. Doing that doesn’t make you feel good, right? No shock here, it’s a downer for them too.
If you think about the result that you really want to achieve— the way you want both of you to feel— then it’s impossible to tackle this issue by starting on the bitter bus. You’re forced to think in a more strategic fashion and work with what they’re already doing to inspire them to WANT to make you feel good by calling you more.
To use another example, say they leave their socks in the middle of the living room floor every day when they get home from work.
If you want to avoid feeling like you’re a nagging crazy person, you’re going to have to find a way to inspire them to want to make you happier around the cleanliness of the house. Browbeating will not work. It does not and never, ever will inspire happiness for either one of you.
That’s why when you think about what you’re doing to get or improve any relationship, it helps to step back and then approach it from a “how can we mutually feel good” perspective. Notice that this doesn’t mean you just doing whatever they want because you know they like it– that’s people pleasing and it’s one-sided. It implies that your own needs don’t get met. It means that you take the time to look at the problem differently. It changes the questions you ask them and yourself.
It’s super cheesy, but if your relationships aren’t going the way you want, instead of “striving,” think “thriving” first and then work backwards from there.