The. Best. Relationship. Ever. Sample Chapter

Chapter One: Why You Fail at Relating

A beginner’s guide to screwing up

Before we can begin to talk about how to devel­op and nour­ish a deep and mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ship, we’d best get a han­dle on some of the ways peo­ple screw up. 
There is a short list of beliefs that get in the way of hav­ing The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever. In no par­tic­u­lar order:

  • Mag­i­cal Thinking
  • Try­ing to Avoid Conflict
  • Pow­er Plays – mak­ing demands
  • Sto­ry-telling and Drama
  • Manip­u­la­tion
  • Con­fu­sion about feel­ings – sex, charge, intimacy
  • Betray­al
  • Play­ing Games – Unspo­ken Intent

1. Magical Thinking

When I’m talk­ing with clients, I usu­al­ly blame Hol­ly­wood, tongue in cheek, for rela­tion­ship issues.

TV and movies have paint­ed a pic­ture about relat­ing that is both unre­al and impos­si­ble to achieve. We see a glimpse of a sto­ry, and think, “I want a rela­tion­ship like that!” And then, we con­coct a pic­ture in our heads (the movie in our heads) star­ring our per­fect part­ner. The movie rivals Hol­ly­wood in its mag­ic and spe­cial effects.

Then, we go out and try to fill the star­ring role with a real per­son, and fail. We fail because of Mag­i­cal Thinking.

The main themes of Mag­i­cal Think­ing are:

  • res­cue by a Fairy God­moth­er (or some oth­er mag­i­cal being, like god)
  • a noble knight and his horse, rid­ing to the res­cue, or the sud­den appear­ance of a com­pli­ant Princess.
  • mag­ic (spells, affir­ma­tions, “The Secret,” etc.)
  • liv­ing hap­pi­ly ever after, with no work , no dra­ma, and no crisis.
  • If you search long and hard, you will find your “Sleep­ing Beau­ty or Prince Charming.”

These themes and oth­ers reoc­cur in most pop­u­lar media, and typ­i­cal­ly fol­low the plot line of: boy meets girl, boy los­es girl, boy defeats the bad guys / evil mon­ster / the “oth­er man,” boy re-cap­tures girl, AND they live hap­pi­ly ever after.

We live and breathe this stuff.

Even though most of us can tell truth from fic­tion, the pull of mag­i­cal rela­tion­ship think­ing can short-cir­cuit our brains. You sense it when some­thing goes wrong. That tight­ness in your chest and gut is the, “This can’t be hap­pen­ing to me!” sen­sa­tion, and it’s based on the mag­i­cal idea, “If I’m with the ‘right’ per­son, every­thing will just work.”

Here’s my favourite exam­ple. I once had a female client who was mar­ried to “Peter Pan.” The guy had a Ph.D., and was a pro­fes­sor. He didn’t come for ther­a­py very often, as I chal­lenged his mag­i­cal think­ing – he described me as “buzz kill.” 

Here’s what he said about his wife, his mar­riage, and his fan­ta­sy rela­tion­ship: “I know for a fact that my wife is not my soul mate. She’s a nice per­son to live with while I wait to meet my soul mate. I have been in many, many rela­tion­ships, but none have worked out, because I nev­er found my soul mate. Even though I am now mar­ried, I am still look­ing for her.” (Hint to Peter Pan: You can’t find her; she lives in Nev­er-Nev­er Land!)

Scratch­ing my head, I asked, “How will you know your soul mate when you meet her; how will the rela­tion­ship dif­fer from your many pre­vi­ous relationships?”

He replied, “She will be beau­ti­ful and com­plete­ly focussed on mak­ing me hap­py. There will nev­er be any con­flict, dis­agree­ment, or prob­lems. We will live a life of com­plete per­son­al, rela­tion­al, and sex­u­al bliss.”

I was glad I was not drink­ing cof­fee, or it would have shot out of my nose. One more snip­pet: this guy was near­ing 60 at the time.

The kick­er? He went off for a hol­i­day (alone) and thought he met his soul mate. He came home and asked my client for ‘per­mis­sion’ to go back to the island in the sun (no, real­ly!) there to spend 30 idyl­lic days dis­cov­er­ing if she tru­ly was his soul mate. My client agreed to take him back if things didn’t work out, (no one said clients make sense…) and off he went.

His “soul mate” end­ed up being a dom­i­na­trix, and he came home whipped (lit­er­al­ly) and hair­less (anoth­er sto­ry alto­geth­er.) He sighed, and said, “I was so sure, but hav­ing to wear a dog col­lar was the deal breaker.”

Yet, at last report, 5 years lat­er, he’s still looking.

Peter Pan, in spades.

Mag­ic is in the mind

Many adults believe in soul mates, and that: 

  • true love just hap­pens,
  • every­one is enti­tled to their very own prince(ss,)
  • true’ rela­tion­ships “work on auto-pilot,” have no con­flicts, and are “easy sailing.”

So tell me, do you see a lot of rela­tion­ships like that, oth­er than on the Sil­ver Screen?

None-the-less, we watch the movies, and cre­ate a movie in our heads. It fea­tures our ide­al part­ner (I call this per­son the “imag­i­nary friend,”) – a per­son so per­fect as to defy log­ic. We endow the fan­ta­sy per­son, and the fan­ta­sy rela­tion­ship, with all of the mag­i­cal qual­i­ties just listed.

We then go search­ing for some­one to match our “imag­i­nary friend.” Well, yikes – this per­son doesn’t exist, and the movies in our heads aren’t real. 

I also call Mag­i­cal Think­ing the Fal­la­cy of Romance

Romance is dri­ven by hor­mones. You meet some­one, and chem­istry hap­pens! Brain chem­istry, hor­mones, endor­phins kick in – and if the per­son even super­fi­cial­ly match­es your imag­i­nary friend, you fall into lust. You want more, more, more! As the song goes,

Love is the drug, got a hook on me.
Oh, oh, catch that buzz.
Love is the drug I’m think­ing of.
Oh, oh, can’t you see,
Love is the drug for me. – Roxy Music

You could say that you ‘love’ the feel­ing, and that you use the per­son to cre­ate the buzz.

  • Because of the addic­tive nature of lust, the per­son you are enam­oured with is turned into the “object of my affection.” 
  • Love, we read, is rosy – as in see­ing through rose-coloured glasses. 
  • Love is blind – or per­haps bet­ter, love is blind to the actu­al per­son – your mind is fix­at­ed on its fan­ta­sy, “imag­i­nary friend,” which you attempt to project out­ward onto the real person.

You’ve lost that lovin’ feel­ing (The Right­eous Brothers)

This hap­pens, every time. This is the point where the drugs wear off enough for you to see the actu­al per­son you are in rela­tion­ship with. Right there! Next to you in bed, and (s)he has morn­ing breath.
For most, there is a bit of pan­ic. Up into our heads we pop, as we try to make sense of what just hap­pened. There are a cou­ple of choices:

  • The adult, the mature per­son, thinks: “Whoa! Where the hell was I? Man, was I ever caught up in lust. Those are some pow­er­ful drugs! Am I ever glad I woke up. Now I can decide if I want to work on a real rela­tion­ship with this real per­son, lying right here, next to me.” 
  • The vast major­i­ty (qua­si-adults) think, “This per­son is no longer liv­ing up to my expec­ta­tions!” Which is short­hand for, “(S)he isn’t behav­ing accord­ing to my fan­ta­sy.” And the manip­u­la­tion, games, and strate­gies start, as you try to force the per­son in bed to con­form to your wacky story.

Mag­i­cal Think­ing actu­al­ly explains a lot of our sil­ly beliefs

Because we have a fan­ta­sy that life should be fair, and that I should ‘win,’ we have trou­ble with any­thing that goes ‘wrong.’ Mag­i­cal think­ing declares that things are sup­posed to go the way we want them to. Like Peter Pan, above, we expect that every­thing will work out, with­out effort, or with min­i­mal effort. We think we’ve been cheat­ed when it doesn’t.

Rather than chal­leng­ing the mag­i­cal think­ing, we get caught up in the dra­ma of blam­ing oth­ers, our par­ents, or God – we blame them that our fan­ta­sy isn’t mag­i­cal­ly made real!

And yet, the world is oper­at­ing anoth­er way alto­geth­er. That way is this: 

What hap­pens, hap­pens. What is, is. If you do not like life now, wait a minute, have a breath, do some­thing dif­fer­ent, and you’ll like­ly see some­thing else. And most impor­tant­ly, the cos­mos does not have you (Ego-you) in mind, does not care one way or anoth­er what hap­pens to you, and will tick quite mer­ri­ly long after you are dead and gone.

The cos­mos is not a vend­ing machine, into which you insert your wish­es and desires, and out of which pops what you want. Sorry.

Take away point: 

Your fan­tasies are only ‘real’ to you – the sto­ries you tell your­self are craft­ed by you to prove what­ev­er point you are mak­ing. Until you learn to let go of your fan­ta­sy world and live in the ‘real’ one, you are doomed to unhappiness. 

Peo­ple are who they enact – I am, always and only, what I do.

To repeat, what goes on in your head is nei­ther ‘real,’ not ‘true.’ It’s a clev­er­ly con­struct­ed illu­sion, cre­at­ed by you, star­ring you, fol­low­ing your plot devices. You can’t stop sto­ry mak­ing, but you can stop tak­ing it seriously.

2. Trying to Avoid Conflict

When con­front­ed with our partner’s demands that we act like their “imag­i­nary friend,” we might, ini­tial­ly, give it a try. We do this to keep the peace.

At first, it all seems so rea­son­able. Our part­ner is ask­ing for “lit­tle changes,” and love is all about giv­ing, right? So, it’s eas­i­er, in the short term, to give in. The prob­lem aris­es when we think that pre­tend­ing to be some­one oth­er than who we are will remain com­fort­able. And anoth­er prob­lem: giv­ing in leads to… wait for it… more giv­ing in!

My newest client said, “For sev­en years, I’ve done every­thing he want­ed me to. I changed how I dress, spoke, act­ed. I made his lunch­es, and called him sev­er­al times a day to tell him I love him. This time, when he left, he said I was smoth­er­ing him.”

I sus­pect she gave up more than 50% of her per­son­al­i­ty, and repressed her own desires regard­ing how she want­ed to live her life. And even after all of that “giv­ing in,” she still couldn’t make him happy.

Well, of course not! 

When he com­pares her to his “imag­i­nary friend,” my client always comes up short. She can’t “make” him hap­py. Hap­pi­ness, like every­thing else, is an inside job.

Take away point:

The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever. requires that 2 adults show up, and be who they are. It’s not about per­form­ing end­less­ly “pleas­ing” behav­iours – all that gets you is demands for more of the same. (My client said, “I thought if I was nice to him, he’d want to give me what I need­ed. In 7 years he nev­er did.”) 

This book is all about bring­ing your­self – all of you – to the par­ty. By using such things as total hon­esty and ele­gant com­mu­ni­ca­tion, you end up engag­ing in Ele­gant, Inti­mate Relat­ing. You know your­self, and are end­less­ly curi­ous about your partner.

3. Power Plays – making demands

Anoth­er big prob­lem is the “par­ent — child” rela­tion­ship. One part­ner is end­less­ly try­ing to ‘fix’ the oth­er. Lots of sigh­ing, fin­ger-point­ing, name calling.

Here’s an exam­ple: Sam and Sal­ly waltz into the office. Sal­ly is lead­ing. Sal­ly talks… a lot. Sam lis­tens… and nods. Sal­ly is a ris­ing star, a pro­fes­sion­al. Sam is self-employed, and struggling.

Sal­ly: “Now Sam, you know that you promised to be home on time, and dear knows I don’t ask much of you, but how you can expect me to be hap­py to see you when you’re late, and you don’t even call to tell me, and a con­sid­er­ate per­son would call, and it nev­er used to be this way!” (Big breath, sniffle.)
Sam: “Oh… well… it’s not that bad… and besides, I’m out on calls in the wilder­ness and there’s no phone.”
Sal­ly: “We’ve been over and over this, and you just don’t real­ize that I wor­ry about you, and I’ve cooked din­ner, except for the two times last week I stayed late at the office, (with­out telling him, of course…) and if you loved me you’d do this one lit­tle thing for me.” (Breath, choked-off-sob.)
Sam: “Well… I know you’re upset, but I do love you… and well… I really…”
Sal­ly: “That’s what you always say!”
I said: “What about a car phone?” (This hap­pened “back in the day” when hav­ing a cell phone was rare, and they were huge…)
Sal­ly:  “What? Well, I sup­pose… I’m not sure… Well…”
Sam:  (all excit­ed…) “Sure, we could do that.”
Two weeks lat­er, they return, same entrance routine.
Sal­ly: (to me) “Fine idea that was. It didn’t work at all.”
Sam: “Now Sal­ly. I did too call. In fact, I called 8 times out of 10 workdays.”
Sal­ly: “That’s what I mean. I just can’t depend on you. It’s real­ly upset­ting when you don’t call. Now you’ve gone and missed two times! I made din­ner and I wor­ry about you…”

I point­ed out to Sal­ly that 8 out of 10 was a pret­ty big step for­ward. Sal­ly looked at me as if I had horns. By the next ses­sion, though, she’d com­plete­ly dropped the “You nev­er call” rou­tine and replaced it with “Sam nev­er picks up the trash.”

Sal­ly has a lot invest­ed in three things: 

  • That Sam is not behav­ing correctly, 
  • That Sam should do it her way, because she’s right, and 
  • That she is des­tined to play the trag­ic hero­ine, moth­er­ing error-prone Sam until the day he dies. Sal­ly placed all the blame for the fail­ure of the rela­tion­ship on Sam – and she could not see that she cre­at­ed issues out of thin air.

Take away point:

A rela­tion­ship is not a pow­er play. It’s not about lec­tures, demands, and def­i­nite­ly is not about ‘fix­ing’ the oth­er per­son. It is about becom­ing ele­gant an effi­cient about resolv­ing issues as they occur, with­out blaming.

(Read more in the book!) 

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