People often ask, "What's wrong with my relationship?" or "Why are relationships so hard?" There are several good answers, but let's first look at the questions and why they are even posed.
When people wonder why their relationship is so difficult, the underlying assumption is that it shouldn't be. There is an implied belief and expectation that a good relationship should come naturally, easily. This is a remnant of the myth of romantic love and its subsequent cultural conditions that "love is the answer" to all our life's struggles.
There seems to be a collective fantasy that "when the right person comes along", we will join together in perfect harmony and move through life together like paired ice skaters -- flowing flawlessly, effortlessly. Then when we stumble (have conflict) we worry, "What's wrong" Why is this so hard?"
Maybe the answer is, "There's nothing wrong. By their very nature relationships will be difficult, and sometimes very difficult." Here's why.
First, most of us desire relationships that are satisfying and meaningful before we have even developed a good relationship with ourselves. We somehow expect to be able to connect deeply with another person before we have connected even superficially with ourselves.
Culturally, self-reflection and exploration are seen as indulgent or wasteful, yet we are pressed to enter into emotionally committed relationships before we've given ourselves a chance to explore who we are, what we believe and feel at our cores, what our strengths and frailties may be. Often relationship struggles are the outer reflection of our inner struggle to find and define self.
Secondly, relationships are hard because they require balancing two basic and conflicting human drives: the need to be a separate, autonomous self (and the individual freedom this implies) with the need to be connected with other (and the compromise/negotiation this requires).
Many relationship issues revolve around this basic dilemma, we may err on the side of being too separate (distanced emotionally or physically) or of being too close (emotionally fused, Siamese-twin style). Finding and maintaining our own natural rhythm and movement in this "dance of relationship" is no easy task, and may require a lifetime to master.
Doesn't this all point to the reality of the inherent difficulty of relationships? Imagine if we began to anticipate and even embrace these struggles as the process by which we come to deeply know ourselves and others, to develop and mature toward our fullest capacities. What a shift in perspective!
Think of it this way: We are born into the river of life each in our own boat. You can't get into my boat and have your own life, and I can't get in your boat and have my life. Trouble arises when you try to climb in my boat or expect me to climb in yours. We each have to struggle to learn to paddle our own boats, and to negotiate the different currents of the river.
Sometimes, you may prefer to paddle by the bank while I prefer the middle, or you may be ready to go farther and faster before I am. But sometimes -- perhaps even often as the years go by -- we may find ourselves choosing to paddle close together, in a synchronized pace, toward a mutual destination.
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