8 months ago my wife and I were talking about divorce. Yes. DEE-VORCE. The big word.
At the time we were married for almost 4 years and had known each other for 5. We got married fast. 3 weeks after we’ve met we were motorbiking in Vietnam for the winter holidays. Back from there we started living together. A couple of months after we were spending summer in France. Another 6 months and we were married.
YOLO style. No time to lose. Let’s have some fun. Mouahahaha.
Then, out of nowhere (yeah right you little fucker), things started to go deep shit.
So, after 4 years, we decided to take a little break and spend some time apart.
During this time I grabbed a book called Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix.
And it was a very interesting read.
I was already familiar with boundaries, honest communication, values and all those stuff, but strangely I never really thought about applying that directly to my marriage. Dumb!
It was so interesting and so right on time that I pressured my wife to read it. Which she did! Crazy. It happens that this is book is actually so famous that they even have a Chinese translation! Double-Combo-Maxi-Crazy.
So below is a rough summary of what I’ve learned and my take on building a healthy relationship.
FALLING IN LOVE
I’ve always felt that falling in love was a trick by Nature. You know, like hunger. The only purpose of hunger is to remind us to eat so that we don’t die. I think the only purpose of falling in love—that is, the feeling—is to make us mate and procreate so that we don’t die as a species. No more no less.
That’s not very romantic, true. But real love—the conscious choice, not the uncontrollable feeling—is much more powerful in my opinion.
Hendrix worked for decades with couples as a marital counselor and his theory on how we fall in love goes a bit deeper, and is quite interesting.
We all suffered traumas as children. This is inevitable. Maybe we were always criticized by our parents, maybe we were not listened, appreciated, maybe we were not fed correctly, or held enough, or bullied by our classmates, or felt weird, or different or uncomfortable.
You know how different kids behave differently to the same situation. Actually adults are the same. There’s a mix of nature—our DNA—and nurture—our environment—which made us the person we are. And during our childhood, this mix created our own personal traumas.
Again, No one can escape it. These traumas are the cause in adulthood of our natural emotions, and our natural reactions and behaviors related to those emotions.
So Hendrix argues that when we have the feeling of falling in love with someone, we do it with a person whose character is a mix of the negative traits of our caretakers.
But why would we do that?
The thing is that we don’t do it consciously.
Hendrix states that when we meet someone that has the negative traits of our caretakers, we unconsciously see it as a great opportunity to resolve our unsolved childhood traumas. So we are inexplicably attracted to these people.
Personally I find the theory amusing. I never really decided whether I truly believe it or not but it’s not important. It’s just a theory. What is important is how I act today.
And regarding action, Hendrix is defining 2 different ways of loving: the conscious love and the unconscious love. This is what interests us here.
THE UNCONSCIOUS LOVE
The unconscious love is the one where you let yourself guided only by your feelings. You fall in love, life is all pink and flowers and rainbows and unicorns.
But for how long?
If you’ve already got that experience, you know that it doesn’t last forever (research says 3 years max) before you fall out of love. Once it’s gone, what’s left? If you’ve based your relationship solely on how you feel, you’ll probably end up with not much. And then you’ll start noticing all the little annoying things that you don’t like or that you’ve decided to discard at the beginning of the relationship.
But now it’s time to change your partner!
And guess what? This will never happen. People change only if they, themselves, decide to change for a reason that is truly personal. If you expect them to change just for you, good luck. You can wait forever. And you’ll end up frustrated and resentful.
And like a baby—because when we live unconsciously this is what we are—who doesn’t receive what they want what will you do? Scream and cry. Ok maybe not literally, but you get the idea. Maybe you’ll just give a bad face, blame your partner for your own lack of courage, honesty or whatever else, and go get some revenge fucks on the side.
Welcome to a toxic relationship where nothing get solved.
THE CONSCIOUS LOVE
The conscious love is the one where you need to use your brain a little more. You have to ask yourself. You have to know yourself.
What kind of person are you looking for? What do you like in someone else? What makes you respect and admire a person? What kind of relationship are you currently looking for? What are you ready to accept and what are you not willing to compromise on?
Answering these questions will bring you incredible clarity.
To give you an example, here is what I’m looking for in a girl I want to date seriously:
- Curiosity towards life: I like girls who like to experience new things, are curious towards new people rather than judgmental, like to discover new places, etc…
- Commitment to personal growth: I like girls who enjoy reading, learning, taking classes, who know that without personal growth you die inside.
- Sharing and communicating: I like girls who tell me what they truly feel and think. This is linked to my need for connection. To connect to someone I need to truly know a person, and to truly know a person I need that person to be vulnerable and to show me their real identity. There is no right or wrong here, it’s just who I am, and I had to discover that for myself. Your need for connection might be completely different from mine or much less important and it’s ok as long as you know about it.
- Self-responsibility and self-respect: I like girls who know that their needs and wants are their responsibility, not mine. I can be here to help if I’ve decided so, but I’m not the one responsible for making their dream happen. I’m not a walking wallet, a driver or a caretaker. I’m not a replacement for their parents. I like girls who know how to take care of themselves.
- Sexual assertiveness: I like girls who are sexually comfortable and assertive. I like equality. I don’t want to be the boss, I want to see my girl taking care of her needs and asking for it when she wants it. Hear me honey? Haha just kidding (but please still take note).
- Honesty: I like honest communication. When something is wrong or if I did something that my girl is not OK with, I want to hear about it. I don’t want to see a bad face and having to guess. Tell me straight to my face what the problem is and we’ll look for a solution.
- Integrity: I like girls who do what they say and live their lives according to their own values. I enjoy seeing my girl standing up for herself even if it’s not what others expect from her. I like to see that she prioritizes the way she sees herself over the way others see her.
- Independence in allocating her time: I like girls who also have their own things to do, their own goals and dreams. If a girl always wants us to be together and do everything together, I just feel like drowning. Again, this is related to who I am. So I had to know myself first in order to understand what kind of person suits me best. Maybe you might love a girl like this.
- Easy going: I like girls who are fun, open, at ease with themselves, not taking themselves too seriously, have a sense of humor.
There it is. Big list, isn’t it?
You might even think “wow this guy for sure is hard to satisfy!”.
But 2 things here.
First, this is my personal blueprint. Yours might be totally different and there is no right or wrong here. You just have to know, yourself, what you personally value. Your list could be much smaller, or much bigger. Up to who you are.
And second, these are the requirements for my highest level of commitment, which would be for a girl I want to build my life with. In that case yes, I would want to find someone that matches most of these criteria. But if I’m just looking for sex, having a cute smile (or a nice pair) might just be enough.
HOW TO APPLY THAT TO YOUR LIFE
If you’ve read my other articles you know that I’m a big fan of action. It’s great to read articles and theories but if you don’t make these theories actionable, they tend to slip away. Only by constant repetition of action you’re able to create healthy habits.
So let me tell you.
If you’re single and looking for a partner
If you’re single and looking for a partner, here is what you should do:
- Define what you like and what you want in another person. What makes you admire, respect, smile in another human being. (This is not restricted to dating actually, it is useful for any kind of relationship.)
- Define what you want at the current moment: serious relationship? just sex? friendship?
- Meet as many people as you can and filter. Screen through people. For the ones that match what you’re currently looking for, express yourself clearly and honestly. Let them know what you want to do with them. Don’t lie to them, don’t make them believe you want something serious if it’s just about sex. You’ll be the one in deep shit later. Lacking integrity with yourself is worse that lacking integrity with others.
By defining what you’re looking for and expressing yourself clearly and honestly, you’ve made your part of the deal. How people answer you is not controllable, so you can’t do much about it except accepting. If you get rejected, it’s alright, it’s not about you anyway. So just move on.
If you’re in a couple and it smells like sewage
This is where I was standing. Like up to my mouth. And here is how I was able to bring the much clarity needed:
- Define what you like and what you want in another person. What you admire and respect. Ask yourself where, in this current relationship, your partner fails to meet these expectations (that doesn’t mean that your partner has to meet them, it’s just for you to be clearer about what you personally look for in another person).
- Express to your partner honestly and calmly what kind of person you are, what kind of person you’re looking for, what makes you move, what you can accept, what you cannot tolerate, what you are ready to work on, what you appreciate. That’s the only way for your partner to know who you really are and what they might be doing about it.
- Invite your partner to do the same kind of work on themselves. A couple is 2 people (at least, sometimes more in France!). Both have to know what they need and both have to learn how to express themselves clearly. Only if your partner accepts the discussion then you’ll be able to move forward as a couple.
- Finally, once you know what your partner needs from you and what you need from them, make the decision whether or not you are interested and willing to do the work needed.
Because yeah, big news, relationship is a constant work. It’s an investment of time, of energy and of emotions. But when it’s done consciously, with care, with appreciation, with communication, with connection, with acceptance, with love and with respect, it’s totally worth it.
SOME COUPLES CANNOT BE SAVED
Ultimately, whether you are single or in a couple, this work on yourself will at the bare minimum bring you in a place of clarity.
And if you haven’t realized yet, this is the most important point to get from this article.
You cannot force someone to be with you. You cannot change your partner to be the person you want them to be. And you shouldn’t.
In a place of clarity, you accept people as they are. You accept events as they come. Resentfulness, frustration and blame disappear. Peace settles in your heart.
And then you realize that all you can do, all you can control, is knowing who you currently are, what you want in life, who you want to become, and what actions to take.
Clarity doesn’t mean that things will get easy. Clarity doesn’t mean that all your problems will be solved. And clarity doesn’t mean that your couple will survive.
But it will become clear to you whether you and your partner share uncompromisable core values, or whether each of you can work on fulfilling each other’s needs. There is work involved, but this is a choice and it needs to be made by both parts.
If your values are too different, or if one of you is reluctant to work towards helping the other one getting their needs met, then you know it’s time for goodbyes. Clearly, honestly, and with personal responsibility. No drama involved.
Like healthy adults.