Here it is:
“There are two questions that we have to ask ourselves. The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’ If you ever get these questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.”
This is a quote from Howard Thurman, someone I consider very wise. It strikes at the very heart of many relationship issues I run across in my practice where couples are trying to figure out why they chose who they chose and what to do now.
Of course, this advice is most useful before you’ve gotten yourself involved in a committed relationship. Figuring out who you are and what kind of life you want to live, while not easy, seems quite important in living a meaningful, if not happy life. Having a companion who understands and supports your personal journey, even if they don’t directly participate in it, also seems quite important. What could be better than being with someone who respects you for who you are, wants to help you develop in your own direction, and who you respect enough to want to do the same for them. (Note: Respect is very important to men; women readers can substitute the word “love” for “respect” in the above.)
Now, on to the more frequent problem of having gotten this advice out of order. So, you’re attracted to someone, have “fallen in love” with them, and have made a commitment to them. Then, later on, you figure out who you are: someone whose values, goals, religious beliefs, views on having children, desire for sex, etc., etc., don’t exactly line up with theirs. As Homer Simpson would say, “D’Oh!”
If you find yourself in this pickle and are expecting me to provide you with the magic answer to what can be a very large problem, well … what can I tell you? The bravest thing to do, in my humble opinion (IMHO, for you younger folks), is to replay a version of Mr. Thurman’s advice:
- Determine who you are, as an individual, and where you want to go.
- Figure out how to be that person within the context of your current relationship, if possible.
This might be best done with the help of (shameless plug alert!) a good therapist and/or a good couples counselor; people who can provide a place for you and your partner to learn about, accept, and share your personal and interpersonal realities.
Easy, huh? Of course not. But, you might find that just (just?) doing the first step goes a long way toward providing you with a more satisfying life. If you’re really lucky, the second step will just fall into place. If not, you’ve got your work cut out for you, but I claim it’s very much worth doing. You may find out that your partner is willing to support you anyway; and wouldn’t that be great!
But, what if you do step 1, begin step 2, and determine that you’ve made a mistake in choosing your partner? Then you will need to decide what’s most important in your life, including your self, your relationship, your family, your religious beliefs, your values, and so on. Again, a good therapist or trusted clergyperson can help guide you along the path that’s right for you (keeping the results from step 1 in mind at all times).
I would be very interested in hearing your reaction to this topic and any further advice you’ve found helpful. Thanks!
*I use the word partner to represent the words husband, wife, spouse, life partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.
Copyright 2014 Daniel J. Metevier