I am an active observer of human behaviour and relationships. I am extremely curious about people. I ask a lot of questions of everyone I meet and actually listen to their answers. People tell me things. Lots of things. My dates would often be deep into some relationship secret and stop and say “why am I telling you this?” I frequently have to explain that I’m just curious and they can always tell me they don’t want to answer. I have no agenda other than I’m interested.
As a result, I am a keeper of a lot of people’s secrets.
There are patterns to relationships that are slowly becoming clearer to me. This realization has been helped by some recent discussions with a few blogging friends, but finally solidified after a recent conversation with my Mom. We talked about me and my ex, me and Johnny, some relationships I’ve been exposed to through this blog, and relationships in general.
I’ve realized people are a bunch of users.
People use each other and form unhealthy relationships. We all use people at some level but if the balance is too far off you are asking for trouble and a likely failure of the relationship.
At first I saw this as zero sum – but it’s not. It’s a matter of percentages.
A common question I ask people: “What do you get out of this interaction / relationship?”
The answers are fascinating and sometimes disturbing.
On one extreme, people describe the personality or characteristics of the other person – for example: they are wonderful, kind, intelligent, dedicated, family oriented, etc.
On the other extreme, people describe how the other person makes them feel, or the things they do for them – for example: I feel safe when I’m with them, they make me feel desired / beautiful, they are passionately in love with me, they are helpful, they are always there when I need them, they support and encourage me, they do the dishes and leave the toilet seat down, etc.
What would you answer if I asked you that question?
(Take your time…I will wait…)
Here’s the thing: if your answers are all in the second category it’s likely you are using that person.
When you are asked about your dentist you probably describe they job they do on your teeth. In that situation you’re both using each other, you’re receiving services in exchange for money. That’s not a relationship, it’s a trade. If you are asked about your relationship and you describe the services they provide, there’s something wrong. He makes me feel good about myself, thus I’m in a relationship with him. That’s not a healthy relationship: you are using them.
If you are getting out of a bad relationship and meet someone who makes you feel great – you should probably ask yourself how much you like their actual personality. Do you actually like the person or just how they make you feel? Do you love the person or just what they do for you?
Relationships built solely on need, where you are using another person, won’t last. Or if they do, they are probably miserable. A healthy relationship is based on feeling loved, absolutely, but it’s also based on loving your partner. Loving each other, flaws and all, is what will get the relationship through all the trials of life and last the test of time.
Did you know that the incident of second marriage failure is significantly higher than first marriages? And the third, even higher? Aren’t we supposed to learn something from our experience? The statistics suggest we get worse at picking our mates the second time around. I think it’s because we are using them, in a bad sense of the word. We are building unequal relationships that don’t stand the test of time.
It’s also because we don’t step back to figure out how not to make the mistake the second time around…but that could be a post unto itself.
That said, we all use one another to a degree and it isn’t easy to change.
There have been people I’ve engaged with in the past who I honestly didn’t end up liking all that much. Perhaps it’s the personality that eventually shows through, or the secrets they are keeping. But if it’s a man, and he digs me, and flirts with me, and tells me I’m wonderful… how easy is it to walk away from that? But to move on to healthier relationships, I had to.
I have seen and heard so many examples of people seeking out a partner to fill an emotional void. In person and online. How likely is it, when driven by that need, they will end up in a relationship where the primary focus is loving that other person for who they are? When all you want is to feel better, that’s all you’ll get. But it doesn’t last. It can’t.
Inevitably, your needs will change. You will eventually feel better about yourself, your void will be filled, and then that person’s benefit to you is diminished. If you don’t really love them for who they are…then you won’t be happy being with them anymore.
Or, let’s say something changes in the relationship, as things do, and they stop doing those things that you liked so much. Maybe the passion diminishes, or maybe they have a new job and can no longer be so helpful around the house. In that instance, you will resent them.
I will take this back to the conversation I had with my Mom. We talked about the need to make sure you have a healthy balance of liking someone for who they are, AND how they make you feel and what they do for you. Ironically, in the case of my ex-husband, I generally liked who he was (there were vast swaths of his personality I disliked, but overall, there was more I liked than I didn’t). However, how he treated me and made me feel was terrible.
I had never really thought about it that way, but it was true. I justified all the bad behaviour because of the few personality traits he had that I liked.
My gut knows when the balance is off. I’m sure yours does as well…the key is listening to it and being aware of why you are engaging with this other person.
When I think about Johnny, I have to make sure it’s not just the great stuff he does for me (all the time) and how he makes me feel (amazing), but that at the core, I like who he is.
In case you are wondering, I do. Completely.
I really hope you can say the same.