The essence of a happy life is found in the quality of our relationships! I imagine that you are familiar with the sentiment that at the end of your life you won’t be concerned with the amount of money you’ve made, the number of things you’ve acquired, or how well you’ve performed in the business world but that the only thing that will matter to you at that time will be the people you’ve loved and who’ve loved you.
One of the most difficult things to understand about what makes a relationship satisfying and great is the significance of personal responsibility. The only way we can ever achieve lasting intimacy and satisfaction in any relationship and love is to recognize, not just on a cognitive but also on a deep emotional level, that each human being carries responsibility for their own feelings. This, however, is not a well-known or particularly popular concept as most of us tend to firmly believe that our happiness is dependent on how others behave towards us. How often have we uttered complaints to our friends, or they to us, along the lines of:
- “He makes me sooooo angry” or
- “She is driving me crazy” or
- “My teens are responsible for every grey hair on my head”, or
- “Mother makes me feel so guilty”, or
- “My boss frustrates the living daylights out of me”...etc
Most of us carry a deeply ingrained belief that it is someone else’s job to make us happy. This is never more apparent than in our love and family relationships. Take the following example:
Sandy desperately wants to spend quality time with her partner, Bob. He, however, is not in the right frame of mind to comply with Sandy’s wishes. Consequently, Sandy feels unloved, uncared for, rejected, and very angry with Bob.
Bob’s desire to physically connecting with his wife has been thwarted once again because she just ‘isn’t in the mood. Bob feels frustrated, rejected, uncared for, unloved, and equally angry with Sandy. Each is expecting the other to supply what they consider they need in order to be happy and since their needs and wants aren’t being met, they feel perfectly justified in blaming the other for their feelings of resentment and anger.
Please understand that I am not challenging or denying your rights of expecting legitimate couples’ needs to be met in your love relationships. What I am saying, however, is that YOU are in charge of your responses. If your legitimate relationship needs are being neglected there are far more appropriate and more effective ways of dealing with this than through temper tantrums, emotional withdrawal, and/or finger-pointing.
COMMON RELATIONSHIP TRAPS AND ‘THE REMEDY’
A lack of awareness of this important concept can (and easily does) cause us to fall into the following relationship traps:
- Playing the blame game – “I am desperately unhappy and it’s your entire fault!”
- Engaging in power struggles – “I won’t do this for you unless you do that for me, but you must do it first.”
- Taking the victim role – “I give and give and you don’t give anything back to me!”
- Manipulating – “If you don’t meet my needs I don’t believe that you love me”.
- Sending the partner on a guilt trip – “If you really loved me, you would…”
Can you see how destructive it is when we do not take personal responsibility for our feelings in relationships?
Taking responsibility for our feelings (whatever they may be!) empowers us to appropriately respond and take whatever action may be necessary.
When we take personal responsibility we can be honest (with our partners, others, and ourselves). We can also maintain healthy boundaries, create win/win situations, maintain all-important self-respect, and conduct ourselves with integrity. Let me demonstrate this by using Sally’s circumstance as illustrated in the above example:
Speaking honestly Sandy might say to Bob: “When we don’t spend time together week in/week out, I start to feel disconnected. When I feel disconnected I wonder about the quality of our relationship and I get scared that it might not be as important to you as it is to me.”
When Sandy lets Bob know her real feelings (being scared), he is far more likely to respond favorably to her needs than he would be if he felt attacked for being uncaring and unloving.
In the interest of maintaining her personal boundaries Sandy could add: “When I feel disconnected, because of the lack of time we spend together, the last thing I feel like doing is making love.”
Sandy takes responsibility for her diminished interest in their physical connection rather than blaming him and also gives him a vital clue as to why this is so.
In an attempt to create a win/win situation Sandy might say to Bob: “Perhaps we could plan to spend time together one evening each week (go out for dinner, watch a movie, go for a walk at the beach…) and end those days on a physically romantic note?!”
This way, rather than fuming within and feeling justified in ignoring Bob’s needs for physical connection, Sandy makes suggestions that demonstrate her willingness to take responsibility for finding a solution that meets her own needs and at the same time shows consideration and respect for his.
If Bob doesn’t respond to Sandy’s efforts, she could say to him: “I feel like I am starving emotionally when we can’t manage to make time together. If my suggestions don’t work for you, perhaps you could make suggestions that do.” This helps Sandy maintain all-important self-respect.
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If Bob is equally as interested in getting their relationship back on track he will either agree to her suggestions or come up with his own. A lack of either could well be an indication that their relationship is in serious trouble. If this were the case, Sandy, conducting herself with integrity, might say: “I have legitimate needs in this relationship. Right now these aren’t being met and this is causing me a great deal of pain. Let’s get some help!”
This is just a simple illustration of how communication can work when we take responsibility for our feelings.
Sounds scary? Well yes, it can be if emotional honesty hasn’t thus far been part of your relationship repertoire. Stretching towards this kind of goal, however, will not only improve your intimate relationships but also pave the way for improvement with all your other relationships. Yes, this does take time and is a process that involves some trial and error. But when you begin to feel the freedom of communicating with emotional honesty, self-respect, and integrity you’ll be glad to have made whatever effort was required. After all, the essence of a happy life is found in the quality of our relationships!
Sonja Ridden is a counselor and coach who have conducted a private Counseling/Psychotherapy and Coaching practice located on Sydney’s North Shore for the past 15 years. During this time she has not only assisted large numbers of clients but also written and presented numerous professional and personal development training courses and has authored a book as well as countless other publications.
Passionate about personal and professional development, Sonja considers herself a change agent and is committed to enhancing an individual’s potential in all areas of life.
Sonja also specializes in relationship counseling/coaching. Over the years she has had the privilege of assisting hundreds of couples in dealing with their specific relationship challenges as well as rediscovering intimacy, connection, and love.