BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2015 (edited 2018)
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Successful relationships take skill. We are not instinctively blessed with the ability to build strong intimate relationships. We must search for causes beyond the failure of a partner, taking responsibility to improve our skill or relating.
If past relationships have not lasted, were unfulfilling or quickly turned abusive, we may over-simplify the cause by blaming the repeated failure on the choice of stupid partners. Perhaps, we muse, a better partner would solve the relationship puzzle. Maybe you are right but exclusively blaming the partner interferes with deeper examinations. Side-stepping responsibility protects the ego and avoids the discomfort of discovering personal flaws; we all have blemishes. Personal examination may irritate but honest explorations and subsequent improvements are the building bricks of healthier connections—avoiding the gamble of simply taking a blind stab at another lover, desperately hoping the new relationship will turn out better than the last.
Most relationships develop slowly; the structural fractures of the relationship’s foundation aren’t immediately evident. We may travel down the road of a new relationship for several years before realizing we are no better off than we were with the last partner. Disappointed again, we begin the fascination of the illusive prince (princess) looming somewhere in the darkness, willing to swoop down, saving us from our relationship ills.
We must carefully examine the root of our relationship problems; first examining ourselves. Carefully begin by asking: “Why do my relationships repeatedly follow the same unhealthy patterns, ending in heartbreak?” The answer typically isn’t immediately available. With superficial glances and subjective speculations, we avoid the more wrenching answers of flaws in our relationship and attachment styles. Our attitudes, fears, and emotions usually play contributing roles to the failures.
Ego protecting mechanisms conceal uncomfortable truths. We deceive ourselves, burying evidence, passing over facts, and denying patterns. Perhaps, we think, “If I’m convinced it’s not my fault, I can trick my partner into taking full responsibility—and they will change.” Interestingly, most people believe themselves above average in relationship skills—statistically impossible. Many of us are lacking and don’t know it. If we experience relationship struggles, multiple painful endings, or are habitually unfulfilled, perhaps the relationship shortcomings were more than a faulty partner. Maybe it is us that falls below average in skills of relating, gasp! Where we fall on the skill scale, we have relationship building skills to nurture.
"If we experience relationship struggles, multiple painful endings, or are habitually unfulfilled, perhaps the relationship shortcomings were more than a faulty partner."
To courageously take responsibility for flaws by exposing hidden elements, we must graciously accept imperfection as normal, lessening the driving fear of rejection. Only with willingness to know can we discover the good, bad and ugly—a little darkness lurks within all. We may discover that we quickly pass judgment, viciously defend wrongs, or quietly disconnect. We may discover failures to communicate, keeping protective secrets, or tendencies to emotionally erupt at the slightest surprises. Small blemishes can be smoothed and artfully woven into intimate relationships when they are known and considered during interactions.
Becoming a skilled artisan at building intimate relationships may take decades to develop—perhaps a lifetime. But when hurts, emotional arousal, or loss of connections is carelessly pushed off on the partner, without any personal examination, we set ourselves up on a merry-go-round of failure. Each interaction, going through the same motions, same disappointments, and then dismissed, only to run its course and return, again!
Through personal acceptance, we may encounter hidden weaknesses without debilitating shame. By recognizing our contribution to the painful relationship dances, we empower ourselves to embark on helpful adjustments. Many get lost in habitually massaging their delicate egos, redirecting emotional pain by focusing attention on the faults of a partner. Friends and family eagerly engage in this drama of victimization, agreeing with our careless stories of terribleness, depicting with creativity the ugliness of the monster sharing our bed.
If you seek drama, sprinkled with the unhelpful-well-meaning support of others, continue with the gross portrayal of self-imposed victimhood. But change requires more. This merry-go-round must stop; kick off the hoodlum thoughts that keep vandalizing your life and move towards healthier connections. Only from enlightened acceptance of our role in the unfolding drama can we make change, inviting intimacy, and building security. We can be a more loving partner—skilled in relationships. New insights provide direction, allowing the searching gazes of introspection to discover the flaws impeding flourishing relationships. Instead of running to the unknown, with our heavy baggage in tote, we can find the answer to our sorrows within the confines of our own disappointing life.