Five steps to letting yourself love like never before
Relationships can be tough. Small annoyances that fester and grow. Differences of opinion that become unbridgeable gulfs. Arguments that you keep coming back to. Add in young kids – and the broken nights, tantrums, relentless challenges – and the sheer exhaustion can magnify problems tenfold. It can start feeling that instead of a life partner you have a life battle, someone you’re always squaring up to, who is more constant critic than ally.
It’s a vicious circle that can make life pretty miserable.
Which is why it’s worth understanding the root causes of so much unhappiness in our relationships. Because when we understand what’s at the heart of our problems a happy relationship can become a real possibility.
Where we go wrong
The starting point for many of the problems that cause relationships to fail is the long list of expectations we have about what our partner should do for us.
You should complete me. You should make me feel loved. You should be lovable so I can love you. You should respect me. You should make me feel attractive. You should share my opinion on how to raise our kids. You should like and want to spend time with my friends. We should have shared interests. You should have the same attitude to money as me. You should do a certain kind of job. You should look/dress/speak a certain way.
The list goes on and on.
It’s a rulebook that we write for our significant other. We’re probably not even aware of a lot of these rules, and we almost certainly haven’t shared them with our partner.
And yet we expect them to know this rulebook instinctively and live by it unfailingly.
And when they don’t, when they dare not to comply, then we get angry and hurt, we fester and fume, and we decide they aren’t meeting our needs. And ultimately we decide that they don’t make us happy.
And if they don’t make us happy then why be with them?
You’re looking for happiness in the wrong place
But here’s the cold, hard truth.
No one else can make you happy.
Same as no one else can make you sad or angry.
No other human being can make you feel any emotion.
Because the only person that can do that is you.
Totally alien and challengeable as that statement may seem, it is nonetheless a fact of human existence.
What goes on around us – what other people do and say – does not cause our feelings.
Instead it’s the thought that we have in response to those other people that makes us feel a certain way.
A thing happens. We have a thought about it. As a result we have a feeling.
Every single time.
He’s home later than he said he would be. You think he’s chosen work or friends over you and family, that he doesn’t respect you and that he’ll never be able to stick to his agreements with you. You feel let down and angry.
She takes a promotion at work without discussing it with you. You think that it’s another example of her not valuing your opinion and not fully committing to your relationship. You feel hurt and rejected.
We’re conditioned to think that events and people create emotions – ‘you make me happy’, ‘he made me feel miserable’, ‘she made me so angry'.
But in each and every situation there is a thought that happens before the feeling. We’re just often not aware of it, as it happens quickly and at a sub-conscious level. And it’s often a thought that we’ve had so often that we’re entirely habituated to it, so it doesn’t even register.
Yet it’s always there.
And that means that it is never another person making you disappointed, sad or angry. It is instead always the thought that you’re having as a result of what that person does or says.
It is always you that is making yourself disappointed, sad or angry.
Which also means that no one can make you happy except you – because no one is in control of your thoughts but you. No one can make you complete except you. And no one can meet your needs except you.
It’s no one else’s job. And no one else is failing at it.
They have only one job
And if your partner can’t ever make you happy, complete you, meet your needs – because all of those are your job – then what is their job?
To be loved by you.
To. Be. Loved.
And that’s not even a choice. She can’t stop you loving her. If you’re going to love him there’s nothing he can do about it. Every unrequited love in the world has taught us that.
So your partner just has to be loved by you.
In all their human imperfections. When they leave the toilet seat up. When they tell their friends about your love life. When they shout and rage.
You just love them. For their mistakes as well as their successes. For the messy, smelly, horrible parts as well as the bright, shiny bits. You just love them.
You can do whatever you choose. And I will love you.
Because you are not in control of my feelings.
Decide on your boundaries
But this is not about being a doormat. It is not about accepting whatever your partner does without complaint at the cost of your identity and dreams.
Because if you can choose to love someone in all their human frailty, you can also choose not to love them. Or to love them and not be with them.
Because by being the author of your own feelings – knowing that what you think is what makes you feel a certain way – you also get to own your hopes, dreams and expectations. You get to set your boundaries and decide what you will tolerate.
I expect him to make time to spend with me.
I need her to listen to my opinions about what’s right for our children.
Monogamy is a prerequisite for our relationship.
You decide on what you need for this relationship to work. You just don’t allow whether or not the other person complies with your rulebook to govern your emotions.
This isn’t about being a doormat. Quite the opposite. Because to let someone else dictate your emotions because of what they do is the ultimate powerlessness.
To say instead ‘you behave how you choose and I will choose how I feel about it and therefore what I do as a consequence’ is the ultimate power.
Choose your responses
This way you choose your rules. You choose what you do if they decide not to respect any of your boundaries. And you choose whether you continue to love them and continue to stay with them as a result.
But importantly your decision in response to whether they choose to follow your rules is about what you do, not what they do.
You don’t insist that they follow your rules. And get angry, let down and hurt when they don’t.
You decide whether something is important enough to you that you’re going to take responsibility for it if your partner doesn’t value it – the house being spotless, the savings account filling up each month, the kids being in bed by 8pm. If it is, you take responsibility for it yourself – and feel no resentment about it. If you don’t, you give up the rule and move on.
And you decide if that rule is fundamental to you, then you make clear what you (not they) will do if they choose not to follow it.
If you don’t feel able to back me up when your mother is criticising my parenting style, then I’m going to stop coming when you visit her. I love you and I love her but I’m not going to put myself in the position where we all keep repeating that pattern.
When you drive so fast it scares me. If you don’t want to drive slower when I’m in the car, then I’ll choose to take public transport so we don’t argue about this any more and can enjoy our time together.
It’s important that it’s you who will do something if you’re not on the same page. No responsibility on them to do anything because their only job is to be loved by you. But a clear, shared understanding that this is a boundary for you and you’ll take ownership of making sure it’s observed.
Not a threat. Not a bribe. Just a simple understanding about where your boundaries really lie.
Then you both have a choice.
You each make your choice in full knowledge of where you stand and what happens as a result.
Because their only job is to be loved by you.
They make their own choices and you make yours.
You can do anything
And your choices are limitless.
Because in your life you really can do anything.
There is nothing in the world you have to do. Pay your taxes. Look after your kids. Wear clothes in the street.
We think of those things, and so many others, as obligations. I have to take the kids to school. I have to earn enough to pay the mortgage. I have to look after my ageing parents.
But none of it do we have to do.
Of course there are huge consequences if we choose not to. Consequences that may be so large and serious and far-reaching that we would never consider choosing them.
But that is a choice.
We choose to look after our kids. We choose to pay our taxes. We choose not to be naked in the street.
And we choose whether we are happy or not in our relationship. We choose whether what we get from our partner is enough for us or not. And we choose whether we stay or go.
But each of those is a choice. And you choose.
You choose who you love. You choose whether that love is enough. And you choose whether you stay or go.
And when you really understand that, it will set you free to love and live like never before.
To sum up…
- The unspoken rulebook that we write for our partners is going to set you up for disappointment, tension and unhappiness. Get clear on what rules you have in your head for your partner.
- Your thoughts create your emotions, not what other people do. Which means that only you can make yourself happy.
- Your partner’s only job is to be loved by you.
- You decide on the boundaries of your relationship and what you will do if your partner chooses different boundaries.
- And your choice about what you do is limitless. You can choose to be happy or you can choose that you don’t want to be there. But that is your choice, no one else’s.
If you would like to speak to a Your Best Life coach about how you can set yourself free to love like never before, click here to book a free first session.