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. ~ Howard Thurman
For all you romantics out there, the equation 1 + 1 = 1 probably sounds familiar to you. You’ve come together (or want to) with a special person who “completes” you. You and they become “as one.” And certainly “love is blind” at that point. This can feel incredible for the first part of your relationship, and you find yourself not wanting to spend any time apart. Often, this leads to “taking it to another level,” possibly even marriage, or some other intended lifetime commitment. Then, after a while, something happens. You wake up one morning and begin to ask yourself, “Where did I go?” If this is happening to you, let’s find out where you went and, more importantly, how to get you back.
Let’s start with the two questions mentioned above by Mr. Thurman. He suggests that first, you get a pretty good idea of who you are and what you want to do with your life. Of course, almost everyone figured this out completely before they even thought about getting involved in a romantic relationship, right?
Hmm, we may have our first clue as to where “you” went.
If your life was anything like mine, you probably hooked up with some love interest early on, or at least wanted to, before you had life all figured out (for “reals,” not the way we “just knew” it went because our best friend told us so, or someone pushed us in some direction that they wanted us to go, or some such thing). So, there you were, going off to who knows where with this person you just couldn’t get enough of. A number of years later, maybe after you’d figured out where you want to go, or at least that you’re not going where you want to, you start to wonder, “What in the world was I thinking?”
Then you decide to see someone like me.
Most of the people who come to me for help with their relationships have gotten Thurman’s two questions out of order. Whether it’s an individual or a couple of individuals (I said it that way on purpose), I invite them to consider the analogy of building a bridge between them.
The first thing one does in building a bridge involves making their own individual side of the eventual bridge appropriately solid and strong in and of itself. Their side can then either stand on its own or connect to some other side, if it wants to, without being crushed and without crushing the other side.
Making your side strong means going back and asking Thurman’s first question (“Where am I going?”), becoming an independent and self-appreciating person if you tended toward dependency or co-dependency, and developing healthy (not too strong, not too weak, but just right) boundaries around who you are. This way, you never have to ask or answer the question, “Where did I go?” You know because you didn’t go anywhere. You simply stayed within your boundaries.
Then, and only then, can you build a connection to another side of a bridge. Or, in the case of an existing bridge, re-build the connection, as appropriate.
If you build the connection first (analogous to asking the “Who will go with me?” question first), one or both sides of the bridge may not hold up very long. In our case “long” could be measured in decades, but still, it will come down eventually if it hasn’t already. If your side of the bridge has an appropriate amount of strength, you can try building a connection to anyone, or to no one since you can stand strong all by yourself.
This way, you have the freedom to do what you really want to do, retain your “self,” and not take things personally if they don’t work out with a particular side of an intended bridge. Further, any connection you do make with another side will support who you are and where you’re going. It will also support the other side as well, resulting in the “more than two” part of our equation above.
If the two sides don’t support the connection well, where the connection won’t help maintain your side’s strength, but rather start weakening your side, you’ll know quickly enough. You can then take appropriate action, such as disconnecting or changing your side to better adapt to the connection without giving up any part of yourself.
Yes, you can try to make changes to the other side, but you really have no control over what happens there or how long it lasts. You can control your side of the bridge. Making changes to your side typically works the best. If that’s not possible, then you may decide to disconnect altogether.
Have you lost yourself in the context of a relationship? Start looking at your side of the relationship bridge first to see if it’s strong enough or can be made strong enough. Then act appropriately for your own sake.
P.S. If children are part of the picture, this will make things more complicated, but not impossible. Taking care of yourself, not in a greedy or selfish manner but in a self-caring and self-respectful manner, is one of the most responsible things you can do for your children.
Copyright 2016 Daniel J. Metevier