What do you believe about relationships? And do you believe it because it’s happened to you – or does it happen to you because you believe it?
This is a tricky question, but an important one. Let me explain.
For a long time, I (Ruth) believed that my partners never showed up for me fully, or gave as much as I did. This really seemed to me to be true. For instance, I dated a woman for a year who could only spend one night a week with me, and only at my house. So, once a week for a year, she came over, I made dinner, and then we made passionate love. After she left, I would clean up.
For a while this was okay with me, because I like to cook, and we had a great sexual connection. But after awhile, I started to feel resentful. Eventually I brought up my resentment with my partner, and her response surprised me.
“But I’ve offered to bring takeout many times,” she said, “And you always say No! And I’ve offered to do dishes – I’ve even started doing them – and you tell me to stop!”
Whoa. This was an obvious example of how I was creating an experience I didn’t want to be having, because I believed it was the one I would have. Obvious – yet I didn’t see it until she pointed it out to me! I literally hadn’t registered that she had made those offers, and I had refused them.
(She did dishes so slowly it drove me nuts, and I felt like I’d rather spend the time in bed with her. And I preferred my own cooking to takeout. But the bottom line was – she tried to give back, and I refused…)
Talk about blind spots! The problem with blind spots is, we can’t see them 🙂 (That’s part of why it can be so helpful to work with a coach.)
Now, in my relationship with Michelle, that same feeling that I’m “doing more than my share” sometimes comes up. When that happens, I try to do one or more of the following:
1) I consciously try to look more objectively and fully at the situation, to see what I see. For instance, a few days ago I had a moment of annoyance about Michelle’s having left some food on the counter. But when I thought about it more, I realized that I often leave a mess in the kitchen too – and that Michelle had recently done some big jobs around the house.
2) I make a request in a neutral, non-blaming way – like, “Hey, love, I’d really like it if you helped me with X.”
3) I tell her what I’m feeling – again, in a non-blaming way. “You know, I don’t know if this is accurate, but I’ve been feeling lately that I’ve been doing more of the housework than you, so I wanted to have a conversation about it.”
4) I decide to be okay with doing more, in a specific situation, because what I’m doing is more important to me than it is to Michelle. For instance, I like having flowers outside, so I made the choice to buy them and plant them – so it kinda makes sense I’m the one to water them, too (though when I go away for a few weeks later this summer, I’ll ask Michelle to water them, and I know she will.)
In all of these ways, I stop having the experience that I have to give more than my partner does. But this can only happen because I’m also willing to stopbelieving that I have to give more. Belief and experience are closely related…
Now, sometimes what you think is happening, really is happening – though even then, it could be because of your beliefs. Here’s an example of that from Michelle’s life.
Earlier in her life, Michelle had three major beliefs about love:
1) Real love lasts forever.
2) Real love means giving myself up.
3) Love means I need to give more than the other person does, so she’ll love me.
And in her first long-term relationship – with an abusive partner we’ll call “Mary” – Michelle played out all of those beliefs. She promised to stay forever (and she did stay for much too long). She gave herself up completely. And she gave much, much more to Mary than she received – for instance, she supported Mary financially for years, and also did all the grocery shopping and cooking.
Once Michelle finally got out of that relationship – which didn’t happen until Mary threw a chair at her – she could’ve just said to herself, “Well, I was right. Love did mean giving myself up.”
But instead, she decided to get curious about why she believed she had to give herself up for love… and with the help of therapy and meditation, she realized that it was because she didn’t think she deserved better.
Over time she recognized that she needed to love herself more, and know that she deserved love, in order to be able to find a better relationship. So she did some focused work on changing her beliefs. Over time (using tools we now teach our clients), Michelle became able to love herself… and to be in a very different kind of partnership now (with me!)
So here’s what we’d like to encourage you to do: Get curious. Notice what you believe, what happens in your relationships, and what the connection is. If there are people you trust, ask for their input too. Remember that you probably have blind spots – and consciously try to see beyond them.
It’s worth the effort – because it will help you get to the love you really want.