The Best Relationship Advice In The World Is Not About Being In A Relationship At All

I don’t know squat about relationships, really, except what I’ve learned from being in the good ones and the bad ones.

Sometimes, it seems to me there’s an inverse correlation between relationships ending and being considered bad and surviving and being thought of as good. I mean, really, are all relationships that survive the “test of time” automatically good ones? Not hardly.

Before I jump into the deep end of this subject, let me say, there’s nothing more annoying than someone who’s NOT in a relationship dispensing relationship advice to the rest of us schmucks drowning in the muck and druck of our current commitments, so let me qualify myself now. I’m married.

When the waters of matrimonial bliss or shacking up get troubled, talking and bargaining about the mythical hope of “change” in relationships is usually an exercise in staving off further conflict with enough promises and hope to buy some time. Stalling, procrastinating, whatever you call it, begs the question, what will you do with the precious time you’ve bargained for? Well, you probably won’t change that’s for sure, but you will hope your mate changes or has gotten sufficiently worn down to the point they’re willing to surrender and accept whatever they find objectionable or lacking in you. Talk of change is cheap, definitely cheaper than divorce or genuine effort. This may sound cynical but I’ve seen it work in many relationships.

Talk will buy you some time if you spin it right and it’s definitely cheaper than investing the effort necessary to change yourself or a behaviorial attitude you’ve had for so long it seems to happen with no more intention or direction from you than the flick of an eyelash.

Most people don’t put forth a premeditated script of ourselves (unless deeply narcissistic or Ted Bundy), we cope with conflict and navigate interpersonal relationships mostly by reacting. The reaction comes after our brains have compared and contrasted the particular moment in question by dipping it into a stew of our past circumstances along with our parents’ past and their marriages and all our childhood hurts and betrayals rolled into to our romantic delusions fed to us through T.V. sitcoms steeped in real life romantic failures and disappointments then finally seasoned with our own expectations and projections of the perfect mate wrapped up in exactly how high or low the opinion we hold 0f ourselves might be in that particular moment. Yeah, that was meant to sound convoluted because it IS a convoluted lens we’re processing reality and our relationships through, never doubt it.

To make changing even more challenging, this is all done in the space between a fraction of a heartbeat and at lightening speed. Thus, it happens so fast we don’t have the slightest idea what we’ve done or haven’t done to upset our mates and vice versa.

Many times I’ve wished for an onboard camera implanted in my forehead so I could have a recording of the contentious interactions with my spouse and then we could sit down with a bowl of popcorn, pop it in the DVR (not the popcorn, the chip) hit the replay in slow-mo option and figure out what the hell just happened. Maybe all we do is prove which one of us was right. Oh, admit it, you perked up at the mention of shirking or assigning blame, you’re not fooling anyone. Who doesn’t loath being wrong? I’m thinking of calling it iMarriage. Maybe some desperate fool has already beaten me to it.

Face it. Change is hard and feels almost impossible. And if you have to change yourself or wish for the other to change to such a degree they’d be a different person what are doing with them to begin with? If you disagree, I’d say you might be a professional shapeshifter and people-pleaser and I’d wager there’s a vat of anger and emptiness hidden somewhere deep behind that smile. Or you’re currently single and looking for that special someone and can’t afford to admit you’re so lonely or desperate you’d negotiate and barter the very cornerstone of your character for a little company.

Good relationships, healthy relationships are supposed to foster a supportive context where two people can grow and become the best versions of themselves. But they are not conflict free zones with nothing but bliss for miles and miles. Nope. Sorry to say this is a myth. We need conflict to grow and relationships do too.

So, which conflicts are worth struggling through and which overburdened relationships should we consider deal-broken and pull off life support?

The easy answer many of us are looking for doesn’t exist outside of the relationship we’re in. Barring, of course, no one in it is being abused or harmed in anyway which would necessitate an immediate plug yanking, we’re truly the only ones who can assess our relationship’s value and how we feel inside it. Sure, there are some good books on the subject which might help guide us here and there, but in the end no one lives inside the relationship but the two people who are in it. Sometimes the truth becomes a shell game but it’s always present, under one of the shells.

Turns out the best relationship advice is not about being in a relationship at all. It’s not about how to have a better relationship or how to easily resolve conflict, it’s actually about becoming a strong, well-defined individual in your own person, first. This entails learning who you are, alone, then you’ll know exactly what you’ve got to bargain with and where you’re willing to compromise for a mate and where you’re not.
When you’re the most authentic and contented version of yourself you won’t be a blank screen for another person’s projections of what they desire you to be. One cannot project a defining image on a screen which is already busy playing it’s own character.

However, the luxury to explore and develop oneself so completely as an individual vanishes when you’re unable to freely distinguish and define your personhood outside of your relationship to another person.

Most of us are left to find the middle ground in this scenario of coupling and compromise because, as we all know, the heart wants what it wants and it’s usually not in accordance with our timing. Thus, we find ourselves in marriages and relationships with children and grandchildren sometimes long before we find ourselves. Short of separating, backing up to define our boundaries solely as individuals after the cart has become accustomed to being pushed by the horse is not a practical or easy option. However, I think if we can dedicate some time for self exploration and defining who we are just for ourselves, I believe we will be much stronger individuals and this can do nothing but help us to make better connections in our relationships.

S Lynn Knight 2016
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