Relationships are what ultimately bring most value and worth to our lives. There’s really nothing else and nothing more to it. No matter what we’ve managed to achieve, learn or accumulate, it’s essentially our relationships and interactions that define our human experience, and which we will come to realize (whether sooner or later), have most impact on our feelings of contentment along, and particularly at the end of our journey. If you imagine yourself in your very last moments, will you really be thinking about how well you did at your job, that you made it on to that property ladder or what an expert you are, having gained all those qualifications? How bothered would you be about any of those if there was no one next to you holding your hand or no memories of loving moments to fill you up?
What we want in our relationships
So we all want to experience satisfying and joyful, or if talking about work, productive relationships. What makes them satisfying is a personal question which depends on your own learning, beliefs and past experiences. But you want to feel valued; special, important, loved or appreciated. Whether consciously or not, you also want to feel the value of life itself in sharing your world through meaningful communication; bridging that ultimate isolation which can never quite be broken through. And because it’s your nature to learn and evolve, you might also enjoy or at least appreciate those interactions which inspire or teach you something, provide you with lessons, empower you or strengthen your self-worth and belief (whether through what you perceive as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ experiences). But for relationships to be truly rewarding, you also want to be able to express yourself fully and genuinely as you can; authentically and freely, comfortably being yourself. This may be conscious or not; sometimes of course you’re just trying to ‘fit in’ and because of this even if you ‘succeed’ at being accepted or included, this brings a level of discomfort in some way. Being free in your relationships to express and be ‘yourself’ is what really makes you feel fulfilled and rich, as only your true-self is naturally and endlessly ‘overflowing’. Trying to constantly maintain a made-up persona you’d be working very hard and you’d quickly either run out of resources or build huge frustration within you. So if we all want these same things, why are your relationships often so complicated rather than straight forward? Why do they often not offer you this richness, or are even completely messed up when you’ve got the best intentions?
Fear and wanting to control the other
“As long as everything is exactly the way I want it, I am totally flexible” ~ Unknown
One of the biggest blocks to having it good or simple, is our old time favourite intruder; fear, which is most often more subconscious than conscious. As you want to be accepted or loved, you fear what the other might think of you, their judgement and reaction. You fear being vulnerable; expressing your truth, exposing your real self, as you’re afraid of being misunderstood, rejected or ridiculed. You might fear the unknown; what would happen if you did or said this or that, or what the future might hold as a result. You might fear loneliness. You fear uncertainty – whether related to your partner or the world in general. You might fear your own failures or successes. The list goes on…
It’s because of this fear, that you want to control the other to make sure that you, or your future is safe. Yep, it’s not just their annoying habits you want to change, you also want them to provide you with security. You want to change their beliefs you disagree with so that you’d feel safer, more comfortable that indeed your own are the ‘right’ or true ones to have. You want them to say certain things or behave in ways you expect so that the future is less threatening. You want to control the way they think, feel and react; you approve of things when they make you feel approved of yourself. You want them to satisfy your needs and to fit in with what you wish for or with what you imagine for yourself.
The truth though, as unfortunate as it might be, is that you will never be in control of anyone else’s experience – no matter how much you want or try to. And this only causes your own frustration and suffering. You’re unhappy not because of them, but because of your own expectations, because you want them to be somehow different.
The vicious cycle
It’s because of this wanting to control and because of your expectations, that you then create conditions which create even more of this same fear in the other. This is because you’re in fact limiting or judging their behaviour, opinions or choices, not allowing them to be fully themselves – essentially rejecting them as they are. So of course in turn they fear you and your reactions even more – therefore wanting more control over you; limiting, judging you more, not allowing you to be fully yourself, resulting in even more fear and frustration within you. So what do you then do in turn…? I think you can see where this is going…before you know it, you’re stuck in a dangerous loop.
So what can you do?
First of course, you need to recognise the fear and the ways you’ve been acting on it. There’s really no way forward without being dead-honest with yourself and if you’re going to be blaming the other for the mess. You could ask yourself: ‘when do or did I not allow them to think / feel / do / say what they did or be exactly as they are’? It’s only then that you’re able to begin to let go of wanting to control them. Asking yourself these questions will help you to start allowing them to have their own experience whatever it may be.
I’m not saying that you should never disagree with anyone, their opinions or their actions. But you will soon develop the ability to disagree yet still accept. I’m also not suggesting you should accept anything or any inflicted real harm, or that you should suffer in any way from another’s behaviour, for example if you’re in some sort of abusive relationship. In more complicated situations like this, instead of trying to control you could simply decide whether that relationship is in fact healthy or productive to you as it is or whether it might be best to let it go altogether. Additionally, I’m not saying that you should stop suggesting or encouraging self-improvement in another, as if in a healthy relationship, we also inspire each other to learn and develop. But you need to be careful with this and be aware of whether you’re doing this for them or because of your own needs or wants, and again you must fully accept the fact and possibility that this perceived improvement may not happen or materialise. So instead of putting any blame or pressure on them, simply decide whether you’d like to stay in that place with them or walk away if it doesn’t suit you.
The fearless cycle
So now that you no longer try to control the other and allow them to be as they are, you will soon find they reciprocate and allow you the same. They feel less need to control you as they’re no longer afraid of you. This will create a positive loop, and which in turn often creates a natural motivation to be more considerate or responsive to each other’s needs. But more importantly, what you’ll also discover is that you yourself begin to drop your fears regardless of how they react. This is because allowing others to be as they are means that you no longer need to be approved by anyone else or their behaviour…you will begin to find that your acceptance of others actually means you’re more fully accepting of yourself too. That you’re more free and loving of yourself and that your sense of security comes from that and not from them.
Taking this even further, we can apply this to our relationships with the rest of society, and life around us in general…what’s stopping us from experiencing the joy, bliss and contentment we speak or dream of? It’s not the way ‘things are’ that’s the issue, nor the world being the mess that it is. It’s again our own fears, beliefs and resistance; wanting to control or change what is here now rather than accepting it. We resist what we judge as threatening or uncomfortable to us in any way…again, not to say we should kick back, relax and watch as we head towards doom, but instead we can learn to take action while accepting at the same time – which will allow us to actually make more progress but with much less suffering. It’s a win-win situation…but this is a whole other article. If we manage though to become free of these limitations on a smaller scale in our daily interactions with each other, we could begin to experience a leap forward in our perception and participation in the whole of reality around us…so perhaps we can start here.