What Your Relationship Drama is Trying to Tell You

How to accept others while being true to what you really want


Photo by Camila Cordeiro on Unsplash

Imagine you bought a robot to teach you Spanish, but after a few weeks, you decided you wanted to learn French. You wouldn't be disappointed when it couldn't translate "vouloir c'est pouvoir." You would know that the robot is running a Spanish program and everything it says or does will be in the context of that program. You can ask it day and night to answer you in French, but it won't because it doesn't know how. It's not that it doesn't want to. It simply can't.

So much of the friction we experience in our relationships is because we are asking or expecting someone to be what we want instead of accepting them as they are. We have an idea of how they should or could show up for us based on what we need or how we (or an imaginary ideal) would act in their place. We carry ideas about what it means to be loving, responsive, or responsible that are not necessarily shared with those we interact with. This doesn't make them bad, wrong, or uncaring. It just reflects that they are operating on a different set of programs and filters, which will naturally affect how they think and act.

Filling in the blanks

It's easy to fall into thinking that goes something like, "If he cared about me, he would..." or "She must not like me if she isn't willing to..."

Yet something can be true and not mean what we think it does.

For example, it can be true that your date cancelled on you last minute for a second time. Regardless of the explanation given (or not), you choose the meaning you give it. Depending on the filters you bring, usually based on your wounds and insecurities, you may interpret this as evidence that you are not important to him, that if he really cared he would have found a way to still see you, or that he found someone more appealing to hang out with.

Or you could simply tell yourself that the energy didn't align to be together that night. You might still be disappointed, but one set of interpretations comes with a stronger negative emotional charge that reinforces your old stories of not being enough, while the other accepts that things happen that we can't control. One will make us feel bad about ourselves or start judging another person or both. The other maintains our inner peace because we process what happened as a neutral event.

That said, even if we don't make up stories about it, the self-aware person might ask, "Is it important to me that my partner be reliable? Do I really want to be in a relationship with someone who has trouble making and keeping plans?" Those are valid questions that don't make the other person bad or wrong or concern us with why something happened, but ask us to be clearer about what we value and want in a relationship.

Does what you want in a relationship line up with what you have?

Answering "no" doesn't automatically mean the relationship should end. Sometimes there can be a meeting of the minds through discussion. Often, people are unaware of how their words and actions are received by others. While we aren't responsible for another person's reactions, there may be simple adjustments that are loving and in integrity that improve the relationship. In the case of cancelling last minute, perhaps the person on the receiving end could say...

I understand that things can come up that make it the right decision for you to cancel our plans. I always want you to feel like you can do the right thing for you without me getting angry or upset about it. What would make that easier for me is if you let me know as soon as possible and include suggestions on when we can reschedule. If there is a day that typically works best for both of us, perhaps we can set a standing date so we always have that time set aside to be together.

This approach acknowledges the situation without blame, clearly states what is needed for the person being canceled on to feel valued, and offers potential solutions to mitigate the issue going forward. If the other person is able and willing to oblige, then perhaps the issue is resolved and they can move on together. If the other person can't rise to the occasion, for whatever reason, then there is a choice to make. The person can choose to stay and hope for the best or decide they want something else that feels better.

Emotions don't lie

Where a lot of people go wrong (and I'm speaking from personal experience here), is trying to convince themselves that they are the problem, that if they didn't want what they want and could be content with less, all would be well.

But when we go against what we really want, we are telling ourselves we aren't worthy of it or some other story about why we can't have it, which disempowers us and keeps us trapped in old stories. It will never feel good because we are in conflict with our truth.

Using myself as an example, I was once in a relationship with a delightful person who was a lot of fun to be around. We had a strong connection and cared about each other. But it became clear that we were not on the same page when it came to making plans and carving out time with one another. His approach was to schedule his must-do stuff (like work, child care, and exercise) and then see what was left and how he was feeling before planning anything else, which resulted in lots of last minute decisions. To him, this was being in the flow.

To me, as someone whose top love language is quality time, it was hell. I felt like I was squeezed in after everything else that was more important to him. In failing to set aside time with me in advance or include me in his plans, I felt like I didn't matter. In an attempt to stay together, I tried to rationalize it by telling myself that he is overwhelmed, he is free to spend his time as he likes, and he is just being himself. I told myself that if I could release my expectations of him, I would stop feeling like I was always coming in last and be grateful for what he is able to give.

But my emotions told me otherwise. There was nothing I could tell myself that took the pain and anger away when he didn't show up for me the way I wanted. I could release my expectations of him but not what my heart really longed for. My growth opportunity wasn't to find a way to be ok with accepting less but to see the pattern I was in of attracting relationships that recreated old wounds of feeling like an afterthought.

When he inevitably blew me off another time, I stopped trying to suck it up and got honest with myself. I knew that our relationship would look very different if I was actually getting what I wanted out of it. Because it didn't look that way, it meant I was settling for something that wasn't in integrity for me. I talked to him about what I needed and gave him the opportunity to reach a joint solution, but he was not at a point in his own growth to let go of the fears and wounds that created his life the way it was. We hit a dead end.

Instead of being angry, I had compassion for him. He would have loved to love me, but he just wasn't in a place where he could. Instead of blaming him for what he couldn't do or trying to change him, I accepted that we simply aren't a match and I walked away. Going back to the robot analogy, I was asking a Spanish robot to speak French (and vice versa). We just had to accept what was. It may be sad when people split, but it also clears the way for someone or something that is a better fit and leads to greater happiness.

Love yourself to a new perspective

When we shift our perspective away from blame and our own insecurities, we create space for people to be themselves, which is all they can be. From our vantage point, they may not look happy or successful, but they get to decide who they are, what beliefs they hold, and how they act those out. We get to decide whether we want to be there with them.

Our best relationship decisions come when we are honest about what we truly want and love ourselves enough to stay true to what matters most. Those who are a genuine loving match to us will be drawn to the truth of us, not the stories we cling to or the ways we try to deceive ourselves. We can thank those who show us what we don't want, for they provide the contrast for us to know what we do. And that is how we learn, grow, and move on to the more that is available to us.

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