Relationships are so hard.
People, I truly believe they are the most difficult things we humans have to deal with. And although I want to focus on committed romantic relationships here, I do believe all relationships can challenge us, enrage us, soften us, break us, uplift us, and grow us.
I shudder to think of the first half of my marriage. I was the very definition of selfish, self-centered, and self-seeking. Of course, at the time, I would've told you (and did tell many) that I wasn't selfish at all. I was merely seeking self-actualization. I was figuring out who I was. I had to learn to love me before I could love my husband.
I was just trying to be happy.
It's easier, from where I stand now, to see my mistakes. But it's no easier to admit that I, too -- a therapist for goodness sake! -- was caught up in the "Me" culture.
So how can we improve our relationships? How can we grow love when there's now disappointment, pain, and mistrust? How do we refocus our thinking in a way that can be so much more helpful and healing for our relationships?
Change your "me" to "we".
Stop focusing on what feels good to you, or what you want for you, and begin thinking about what is best for the relationship itself. The WE. Because the we is so much bigger than the me. The we is a third entity that's been formed by the commitment of two people who loved each other and had every hope of happily-ever-after.
Yes, it's hard. No, you don't feel like it. And maybe your partner doesn't either. And maybe it's just too late for all that.
Imagine you and your partner in a small canoe. In the beginning of the relationship, you can't get close enough. You're practically in each other's laps! Now imagine the two of you in the same canoe after 5 or 6 years. It's getting a little tight in that canoe, right? But we're still smiling, still paddling. Now it's the 15th anniversary. You know every detail of that canoe, can identify every scratch, and know what's hidden under the bow. You're trying to enjoy the view, but you're getting a little nauseous from the choppy waters. After 20 years, you realize the hard wooden seats hurt your backside. It's the same old thing, day after day, and you're sick of it. And sick of the person sitting across from you, too. Maybe you've even stopped paddling, and started imagining another form of transportation.
And this is all normal. Just normal stages of relationship. The problem comes when our normal thoughts and feelings lead to destructive behaviors.
"Ah, if I could just jump out of this damn canoe and swim for awhile...by myself! If I could just swim to shore and get away from here, from this!" Or the thoughts may be more like this: "Yeah, I'll stay in this canoe, but I'm not doing any more paddling. I'm sick of doing all the work for her." Or: "If he just leaves me alone and lets me do my own thing, I'll stay in the canoe. But I hate it. Hey look at that guy over there..."
And of course, sometimes we jump ship with little or no warning. We just bail. It gets so hard. The paddling is tiring. We've lost our way, and we no longer trust our partner to navigate. He doesn't want to go the way I want to go, and so now what? And what happened to those first few years, when we couldn't get close enough to each other, when we shared the compass and paddling was a joy?
Life happened. And it happens to all of us. ALL of us.
But our canoes, our marriages, look different from the neighbors' and from our best friends'. So we assume we're the only ones having to endure the boredom, the distance, the misery. The truth is that, after years in relationship with another imperfect person, all of our canoes get scratched and scarred. The seats get loose, you drop your paddle. You hit that big rock, remember? It was a serious blow! And it left this hole that's never been repaired.
So maybe you turn to your partner and focus on repairing it. After all this time, after the investment both of you have made, maybe you change your focus from "me" to "we". The canoe, and everything you have in it, is your WE. And maybe your WE deserves everything you have within you. Not whenever your fellow paddler decides to give more, or stops complaining, or pays more attention, or agrees to do things your way. But right now.
There is hope to repair the damage. There is hope to get moving again, in your refastened, unsightly, salvaged WE.