Article featured at the Huffington Post.
When I ask individuals if they like their job, their answers are rarely “Yes, I LOVE it,” or “This job is what I was born for.” Usually their answers are more along the lines of,
“It’s okay, but the grass is not greener elsewhere,” or “It pays the bills, so I’m dealing with it,” or, “I have another 10 years before retire, so I’ll just keep doing this for now.”
These answers about work are unsurprising, but what does surprise me is how these answers parallel peoples’ feelings about love and relationships.
It has always been difficult for me to find relationships that I’d want to model my own relationships after. When I think of the perfect relationship, the one I want for myself, it’s a healthy partnership that surpasses decades and gets stronger with time. It’s filled with love, respect, commitment and a continuous desire for closeness. However, I don’t hear many people describe their relationships this way. Instead, I’ve heard individuals say things like:
“I take my marriage vows seriously. Even though I am not happy, I will stay,” “Everything changed after having kids. Now, I don’t want to rock the boat for the sake of our kids,” or “ staying is better than the other options.”
I find individuals stay in unfulfilling jobs and unhealthy relationships for the same reasons: convenience; being afraid of the consequences that result from change; and being worried of their community’s judgment. The results of staying in these unhealthy situations are the same as well: with each year that passes, they lose more of themselves by staying in situations that make them unhappy.
There are less than a handful of couples that make me say to myself “Wow! This is type of relationship that I want in my life” However, one that stands out is my dear friend Dana and her husband Brian. They have been married for ten years and I have been amazed by their commitment, their desire for each other, and their partnership in all aspects of their lives that they share. Every time I am around them, I feel like I’m looking at the model relationship I want for myself and don’t see in other couples. However, there was something that surprised me about how they saw their partnership and changed my entire perspective on relationships.
The other day, I was speaking with Dana and shared with her how much I look up to her and the relationship that she has built with Brian. With a smile, she shared that people have mentioned similar things, but don’t realize just how much of a committed husband and loving dad he is—He’s even greater than what meets the eye.
“Dana, you are so lucky to have him. He is amazing,” I said immediately.
“Yes, I am lucky, and I am in this marriage because he is amazing, loving, and committed,” She responded calmly in a voice filled with wisdom, “But, if he was any different…if he changes or stops respecting me or starts taking me for granted, then I would not choose to stay in this relationship,” she said in a firm, strong tone, “Brian, shouldn’t choose to be with me either if I change, stop respecting him, or start taking him for granted.”
I skipped a breath and couldn’t even blink for a few moments as I tried to quell my shock. I was taken aback by Dana’s response. I thought it was rude and entirely too harsh. I thought to myself, How could she say something like that about someone so good to her? For days afterword, I couldn’t stop thinking about this moment.
Then less than a week later, a thought suddenly woke me up from my sleep. I opened my eyes, seeing the early morning light, and thinking, She is right. Dana is right.
I realized that Dana and Brian have created an incentive to continue to work on their relationship, to stay close, to communicate clearly about their needs, and to continue to show love and gratitude for each other because they refuse to suck it up if any of that changes. Neither of them will tolerate any different type of relationship, and because of that they are so much more dedicated to making sure their relationship is happy and healthy.
In the beginning, relationships are new and exciting; however, after that honeymoon phase is over, people are programed to tolerate the relationship changing—even when it changes for the worse. They end up losing themselves in that relationship and start accepting things they shouldn’t. In many cases they become accustomed to being taken for granted, neglected, and pushed away. In worse cases they are emotionally, verbally, or physically abused.
This mindset applies to everything in life: love, work, friendships, and culture. Think about it…If an employer takes benefits away, expects an unrealistic workload, or creates an unhealthy negative work environment led by the fear of the next layoff…why do we stay? Why do we accept that? If a friend is spreading gossip and rumors about us, taking advantage of our kindness, and draining us of our energy…why do we continue to maintain that friendship? If our cultural traditions promote fear and give privileges to one group of individuals over another, which results in horrible things such as discrimination, honor killings, and disownment from the community…why do we accept that? Why do we pass those traditions on to the next generation? It is because we become accustomed to being abused and taken for granted—we accept all these things as the norm instead of realizing that we deserve to be treated better. .
Dana and Brian’s relationship has taught me three mindset-shifting lesson on how we must view relationships.
- In order for our relationships to be healthy, we must have some sense of our self-worth. Without knowing our innate value, we will be more likely to accept being taken for granted since we may wrongly think that’s what we deserve.
- We must be very selective in choosing a life partner. We must be sure that this person meets out needs and we can communicate with them if they ever do not.
- We must intentionally continue to invest the time and effort into our relationship in order to build a strong, committed and loving partnership. Without effort, communication, and a drive to continuously make our relationships better, our relationships will never be sustainable.
Additionally, these lessons of self worth, selectiveness and investment apply to how we must choose our jobs, inner circle of friends, and other relationships besides romantic ones.
However, while we must always invest in bettering our relationships, we must also know when it is time to let go and be at peace with that decision. It is understandable to want to hold on to a relationship that once made us happy or is comfortable. However, for the sake of our own health, safety and happiness, it is crucial to let go if for any reason a relationship, despite our best efforts to change it, turns out to be unhealthy, draining, or abusive. It is okay to let go instead of holding on to something that is sucking us into a dark hole that will devour every last bit of our energy and leave us questioning, “why is this happening to me?” When the question should be, “what am I going to do about it?”
If we change our viewpoint on our self-worth and how we should be treated in relationships of all kinds and start actively working to better them, it will lead to happier partnerships and lives. I wonder after individuals experience this shift in mindset for themselves, how they will start answering my questions about their satisfaction with their jobs, relationships, friendships, traditions, and self.