There’s a scene in the 1996 movie ‘Jerry Maguire’, where Tom Cruise famously says to Renée Zellweger, “You Complete Me”. It’s a dry your eyes romantic moment, but it’s at the heart of what goes wrong in relationships.
We are drawn to another person for a sense of completeness. We hope that this relationship will heal or fill an empty space in our life. And for a short time we are wrapped up in a cloud of ‘feel good’ hormones and everything looks and feels better. Then, our brain chemistry normalizes, reality comes crashing in, and we notice that the partner we chose to fill our void, is trying to make changes in us to fill their own. Welcome to codependency!
Is there a better way?
Modern relationships come in many forms; dating online or in person, cohabiting, marriage, divorce, single-parent dating, remarriage, to name a few.
I’ve experienced all of these and as a researcher and writer on self-leadership, I have a few pieces of advice for those of you who are still looking for ‘the perfect relationship’.
- Would you live with you? Before we can successfully be in a relationship with another person, we need to be comfortable with ourselves. We don’t have to be perfect, that’s not what self-esteem means. We need to be comfortable with our imperfections. We need to know what we want, need, value, and believe or how else will we authentically communicate this to a partner.
- Learn from the past, don’t repeat it. Your past relationships are not failures, they are part of the learning process to understand what you want, need, value, and believe. If it didn’t work, be honest with yourself about why that was and avoid repeating the pattern. For example, if you are looking for someone to fix, to make your feel better, and they leave you after being ‘fixed’ – there’s a good chance that will happen again.
- Understand that the only person you can change is you. People to grow and evolve together but only when they accept each other as they are. The fatal mistake in relationships is to try and change something in someone else. You can communicate how a behavior makes you feel, but the choice to change rests firmly with them. And saying, “If you loved me, you’d do this…” is manipulation 101 and never ends well.
- Don’t settle. For a relationship to last, it has to be physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. We often try to settle for 2 or 3 out of 4. If the sex is great but you can’t enjoy a movie together because of a difference in intellect or education, then things are going to turn sour. If you can express your emotions with each other, but spiritually your values clash, then a schism is on the horizon.
- Communicate. This is the most fundamental of relationship advice – and the most powerful. Learn to authentically communicate your wants, needs, values and beliefs and listen openly to your partner without judgment. You are unlikely to be in relationship with your clone, and so there will be differences, but these conflicts can often be resolved by communicating in the following way; a) here’s what’s happening, b) this is what I feel, c) this is what I need, d) and so this I my request. The power of this 4-step communication strategy is that there is no blame. You are not making it your partners fault you have a feeling or an unmet need, but you are giving them an opportunity to adjust their perspective or behavior through a request.
Relationships can hurt because we open ourselves up to another, but they can also be a catalyst for us to be the best version of ourselves.