There have been endless articles, self-help books, TV shows, movies, blogs, and media of every kind that have tried to tackle this issue.
However, I have yet to see anyone just get to the real point of the matter.
Why don’t relationships in today’s world work?
Of course, there are some exceptions and some people are happy for a time, but, in the end, most romantic relationships fail. We may not want to admit this, but we all know it is true.
I would like to suggest something that may seem a bit cynical on the surface but, from my experience, is not only true but ultimately hopeful. Most relationships do not fail because they end but because they never worked to begin with—even if the people involved in them believed they were working. This is why so many people wake up one day and say, “What happened? It was all going so well.”
The thing is, it was not going well. We all just think it is going well, which is not the same thing.
Here are four things I’ve found to be true in relationships:
1. Most relationships are based on attachment.
Relationships do not work because they are almost all based on attachment. They are based on taking love and not giving it.
Here is what I mean by this:
When a healthy person truly loves and respects themselves, they are able to meet other people who love themselves and form amazing relationships of cooperation, accomplishment, love, and joy. When a person does not truly love themselves, they have no idea how to have a truly healthy relationship with another and instead attach to them and expect to get love from them.
When we expect to get love from the person we are in a relationship with, we are attached to them. It is a classic case of zen attachment.
This is not the same as giving love. It is described in contemporary psychology as codependency. However, what is generally referred to as a condition that affects a small number of people is, unfortunately, in reality, the norm.
2. Most relationships are based on getting love—not giving it.
This may seem like a shocking statement, but it is what most of us experience. Most relationships are codependent to one degree or another. They are at least in part based not on giving love but on needing it from another.
Why is this? It is because we live in a society where we are not taught in adolescence how to love ourselves.
We live in a society that values other things over self-knowledge, self-understanding, and self-love. Unfortunately, these are the most fundamental building blocks of who we are and what we will be able to accomplish in our life. When we are not instructed about how to learn to know ourselves, we are at a severe disadvantage in life. One of these disadvantages is that we are not able to have healthy romantic relationships.
3. Modern society doesn’t teach us how to love ourselves and others.
Traditionally, all human societies had an initiation process at adolescence that taught people many aspects of how to be an adult, not least of which is how to know and love yourself. In the past couple of thousand years in the West, and more recently in the East, these initiations began to weaken and became less and less extensive.
In many cultures, adolescents spent a year or more being educated exclusively in this area, being taught such things as communication skills, how to interact in romantic situations, how to learn who you are, and how to love yourself. Many indigenous cultures still taught these skills until fairly recently, but most of these cultures now no longer exist in their traditional form.
Our current culture teaches people almost nothing at all in this area, and therein lies the problem. If you do not know how to love yourself, which almost none of us do, then you are destined only to attachment and codependent relationships.
I know, this all sounds pretty grim. We may be prone to dismiss this information simply because it is so hard to hear, but things are actually more hopeful than they may appear.
The truth is that the skills you need to learn to love yourself are now readily available and easy to learn. In fact, I will provide some of them later in this article.
4. Women are better prepared than men.
Women actually fare better in this way than men do. Women do get some low level of initiation. They have publications that give them at least some information. Even if much of it is not perfect, it at least exists. Women also discuss their emotions with each other and are able to learn some of the fundamental relationship skills.
In order for a person to love themselves, they must first have some emotional awareness, and many women are fairly emotionally aware. Most men, however, have little to no emotional awareness. There are even many men who pride themselves on not feeling sad, not crying, not “giving in” to emotions. This is not a great situation.
When we deny our emotions, they do not cease to exist; they simply go underground. We learn to suppress and repress them, and the energy of the emotion is then stored in our body. With men, it will sometimes then burst out, generally in a fit of uncontrollable anger, simply because it cannot be stuffed in any more. In certain circles it is still said that women should not hold leadership positions because they are too prone to emotions.
What is being missed here is that when you allow your emotions to flow in a natural way, as many women do, you are aware of them and able to deal with them. When you deny and bury them, as many men do, they then control you without your knowledge and you end up making some terrible choices. In fact, the men who accuse women of being controlled by their emotions are the ones who are, in reality, controlled by their emotions without their knowledge. This is a dangerous situation.
The fact that most men are not aware of their true emotional state is a real problem in a relationship that involves a man. In many cases, the woman in a relationship is somewhat aware of what is happening, but the man is completely unaware. This is why men so often become confused and have no idea what is happening in their relationship. Of course, there are some men who are more aware—but they are the minority.
Here are some changes that will fundamentally improve any romantic relationship:
Both people in the relationship need to take time to learn who they are. This can be done through having a daily practice of some kind. This might include meditation, grounding, yoga, emotional release techniques, daily affirmations, mirror work, shaking practice, somatic work, energy work, qigong, EFT, or NLP practices. There are many practices available. Try a few and see which one is the best fit for you.
(Note on yoga: Most yoga these days is practiced as a form or exercise or aerobics. This may be great for your cardiovascular system, but it does not function as a true daily practice. It must be done in the traditional way, where it is about awareness of body, spirit, and emotion—not as a purely physical exercise.)
Attending workshops, reading books, and watching videos can greatly improve your self-awareness. The trick is to find the good ones.
Emotional Release Technique
One skill I highly recommend for everyone, but especially for men, is emotional release. There are many different forms of emotional release, but all help to release the emotions that we have stored in our bodies. This can be especially helpful for someone who does not cry or express their emotions on a regular basis.
A simple way to do this is to simply lie down on a bed or sit in a chair and close your eyes. Think of an issue you have, something that you want to change, and then simply feel the sensations in your body when you think of it. Allow the emotions to exist in your body the way they naturally do.
There is no wrong way to do this, just do it as best you can. Let the emotions sit for a few seconds (maybe 10 seconds or so). Then, send love or compassion to the place in your body in which you can feel the emotion. Hold that feeling, that emotion, with compassion, the way you would hold a baby. After a few seconds, ask your body if it is ready to release that feeling.
Just gently ask if it is ready to release. If it is a negative response, then ask if it can release just a tiny bit of the emotion. If that is negative, ask if it can release a tiny bit of that, and so on. When you feel a bit of it release, repeat the process.
Steps for emotional release, summarized:
>> Think about the issue.
>> Allow the emotion.
>> Hold it with compassion like a baby.
>> Ask if a little can be released.
>> Repeat this at least five times and up to as many as feels comfortable.
I have spent up to an hour doing these releases to great effect. There are also many other types of emotional release out there that you can try.
Mirror Exercise Instruction
Another simple daily practice you can do to help build self-love is a mirror exercise. Every morning after you get up, look into a mirror and look in your own left eye. Remember that it is reversed in the mirror. While looking in your left eye, say to yourself, “I love you unconditionally.” Repeat it a few times until you really mean it. The key here is to actually feel the love—not just say it mechanically. It may take a couple weeks to get the hang of it. Do this for 30 days and see what happens.
Attention Exercise Instruction
It can be helpful to realize that most of the way you behave and what you think is actually not you. It is behaviors you picked up from parents, family, friends, teachers, the media, society…none of this is really you.
So, each time you do or say something and you feel like it was not right in some way, think about where it came from. Where did you learn that? Who is really saying that? Is it your father? Your uncle? A teacher you had in elementary school? A news program you saw? Where did that behavior you do not like come from?
It will be much easier to let go of that behavior when you realize that it is not you anyway. It was never you. Let it go.
If you practice paying attention in this way for a period of time, you will begin to let go of all the parts of your personality that are not really you, and your true self will begin to emerge. You will begin to be able to be yourself.
How Love Functions in a Relationship
Once you learn to be yourself just a bit more, once you learn to love yourself to a decent degree, you will begin to notice that you can be yourself in a relationship (your real self), and you will also know that you are fine without the other person. You simply love them.
Once you have enough love for yourself, your cup of love will start to overflow. You will be able to give love instead of needing to get it.
Love is about giving, not taking. It is also about giving when you can afford to give it, not when you are running low. If you give while you are running low (not loving yourself first), you will subconsciously need to take.
We have all heard the instructions on an airplane to put your own oxygen mask on first. Love works in the same way.
A relationship can be successful when it is based on the giving of love, not on the needing of love. If you regularly find yourself feeling like you will die without the other person or are jealous or envious of them, you are attaching to them and do not love yourself.
It is time to start loving yourself.
Suggested Reading List:
Making Love Real, Danielle Harel, PhD and Celeste Hirschman, MA
Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins, M.D., PhD
The Alabaster Girl, Zan Perrion
The Book, Alan Watts
Body of Health, Francesca McCartney, PhD