Seeing the best in life's challenges

The Ultimate Relationship Part 1

on June 13, 2013

The Ultimate Relationship?  There are so many opinions on this topic, and I am going to attempt to outline my personal perspective.  You may or may not agree, and I am not trying to convince anyone of anything.  I only provide these words as food for thought!

I don’t think there are many people who think about things as much as I do.  I think about stuff because I am curious and I like to understand.  I don’t always have to come to a conclusion, sometimes it’s just interesting to watch whatever it is.  Sometimes I am led to get involved and investigate.

Well, “relationships” are at the top of my list of interesting things.  I am talking about the broad topic of how one person “relates to” another.  This might be a parent-child relationship, a sibling-sibling relationship, a friend-friend relationship, spouse-spouse, or lover-lover.  Any two people that interact, relate to one another.

If you are going to look at any relationship, you have to start by looking at the individuals.  Since every single individual is unique, that means every single relationship will be unique.  When I say it that way, it seems obvious, but think about how we tend to view relationships.  We have a whole lot of “rules” about how people “should” play their roles – as father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter, student or teacher, girlfriend or boyfriend, etc.  The easy way to look at relationships is by placing labels on the role, placing expectations of the standard behaviors of the role, and then judging whether each person is doing what they should be doing to make it work. If we only go this far, then is it any wonder that relationships don’t go so smoothly?  A one-size-fits-all definition just isn’t very useful.  Many people have realized this, and many have rejected that way of thinking and are expanding what we think of as a relationship.  Today’s relationships don’t have to fit yesterday’s labels or expectations any more.

But it’s easy to just readjust our definitions and not really make much progress forward in our thinking.  What’s the next step?  Or, how can we think of relationships differently, in a way that might be more useful?

I’m going to skip to the end, and ask:  What if the purpose of EVERY relationship, is for us to practice relating to others with unconditional acceptance and love?  What if that is the ULTIMATE goal, the ultimate skill to learn to relate to every other human being  that way?

Impossible, you say, no one can be that perfect.  Well, I didn’t say perfect.  And I said that was the goal we are working toward, I didn’t say it was the way it is.   But isn’t this the essence of what Jesus was saying?  Love your enemies, treat others the way you would like to be treated, turn the other cheek, don’t judge, etc.

And He actually said we could do it.

So lets get back to the unique individual that you and I are, since that’s where relationships start. For purposes of this discussion, let’s just say that each individual is at their own level of Ability to Love.  If there is a continuum of growth toward the ultimate goal, each of us is somewhere along that track.

I am going to say that this is a fundamental truth:

Before you can love another, you must love yourself.  Or, another way to say it is, you can only love another to the level of your ability to love yourself.

Which means that any relationship can only be as healthy, and can only rise to the level of, the individual with the lesser Ability to Love.

We are talking about the journey toward unconditional love here.  There is no need for judgment.  This is not a discussion about who is better than another.  The ability to love is a multi-faceted, complicated skill that can hardly be defined.  One person may have a huge capacity for helping others, while not being able to open up and share their feelings to loved ones.  I couldn’t start to give enough examples of how one person’s strengths can be compared to another’s.  That entire approach of comparing, judging, deciding who is right and who is wrong, who is to blame for this or that tendency, you have to throw that entire approach out.  Each of us has baggage and experience and successes and failures, the things that are hard and the things that come easy.  You won’t get what I’m trying to talk about if you let yourself fall back into that way of thinking.

But be realistic.  Some people are further along on the path than others.  We all know that.  You can watch and recognize where other people are, but you can only move forward and make progress in getting better at relationships by working on yourself.

Ironically, with circular logic, one of the skills you can work on is how to support others in their own journey.  It is not by sharing your superior knowledge and giving advice.  It is by working to get better at things like listening, focusing on understanding others without judging, letting go of the need to blame, and encouraging them to be their authentic self.

At the same time, apply these skills to yourself.  Get to know the real you, not the person everyone else thinks you should be.  What gives you joy?  What motivates you?  If no one else knew or cared what you decided to do, what would you do?  Let go of blaming yourself or regrets-what’s done is done.  Figure out why it is you lived through whatever challenges you have faced.  No one else in the world has had the combination of experiences you have had – if we are all puzzle pieces in the whole of humanity, we need each unique piece!!  You, the authentic you, are perfect just as you are.  Stop trying to be what you are not, or what you think you are “supposed” to be, and follow your heart.  (How to do that?  See this blog post).

Remember, it’s a PROCESS.  Where you are in that process is exactly where you are.  And that’s OK.  As in any learning process, you learn the most when you try, and trying sometimes leads to mistakes.  Mistakes = Learning = Progress = A GOOD THING.  There is nothing you can do WRONG.  There is nothing to fear.

Now, if you choose to just stay in the place where you are, that’s just fine, too.  But if you understand relationships in this way, you will understand a different way to see why some are working and some are not.

Let’s talk about two friends.  They met when they were kids, so they have been friends a long time.  They get together and talk about what’s going on in their lives and about people they know.  Now, maybe these two friends are both on a path of personal growth.  So they share their personal struggles, and support each other.  Even situations that may seem shocking or “wrong” are things they can talk about without being judged because the relationship is “safe.”  These friends help each other along, and they remain friends.  They may change a lot over the years, but they can still “relate” to each other.   They might not really socialize all the time, their families might not even know each other.  But that doesn’t matter.  These are the friends you might not see for many years, but when you do see them, you start right back up like you didn’t miss a beat.

Then there might be two friends who are really two people that just want to impress each other.  They only talk about themselves and their accomplishments, and each is working hard to keep up their image and be who they think they “should” be.  They have similar interests and do a lot together.  As long as these two remain at the same level, they can continue to have a really great friendship.  Why not?  There is absolutely nothing “wrong” with this.  If it works, great!!

So those two sets of friends might represent the two ends of the spectrum in several ways.  Put any two people together.  They might have similar or very different experiences, likes/dislikes, senses of humor, preferences of all kinds, tastes in food or clothes.  None of these attributes is “right” or “wrong.”

If there is enough compatibility, the friend relationship will work, and continue naturally.  If there is not, or if two people “grow apart,” then it is likely that the friendship won’t remain as close or at all.

Now, thinking through all that, is one friend “good” and the other “bad” if a friendship fizzles?  That conclusion  would seem silly, right?

But if you are looking at relationships the old way, that is exactly what people conclude – they get mad that someone didn’t call them or listen to them or “be a good friend.”  The old way wants you to judge, to assign blame, to tell them what they “should” do, because there are all these expectations, assumptions and rules that HAVE to be followed.  It’s all about who is RIGHT and who is WRONG, rather than UNDERSTANDING and ALLOWING.  And what contributes to this is when a person does not feel good about themselves.  Instead of knowing that they are worthy and lovable just because they exist, they rely on external feedback for a sense of worthiness.  The rejection of a friend, an act of disloyalty, is a rejection of their self-worth, and they take it personally.

It’s easy to see this with friendships, because we have less emotional attachment to friendships.  Practicing new relationship skills gets harder when we move to Parent-Child relationships.  There are many more expectations, assumptions and rules about these relationships.

To be loving and supportive to a Parent or a Child, the skills to learn and the goals are the same.  While working on being your authentic self, you must allow your Parent or Child to be their authentic self.  You must try to understand them without judging or placing blame.  You must not expect them to be a certain way, you must not assume they will be like you, and you must not blindly expect them to follow the rules.

This sounds MUCH different when you are talking about parenting children, doesn’t it?  Don’t we need to teach our children how to be?  Well, that is an interesting thing to think about.  HOW should they be?  It is one thing to teach kindness, being helpful, manners…..wait, what if we taught them to try to understand others, to listen, to be supportive, all while following their heart and learning to be the unique person they are?

That’s a lot different than teaching kids to do what they are told, follow the rules, in other words, to have control over your kids.  That’s the old paradigm again.  Are you getting kind of squirmy??

Ok before I go further, I want to address the other side of the coin.  That is:

OK, you are saying each of us should be this wonderful, open, caring, listener who accepts everybody and everything……and that means people are going to walk all over me!!!  I’m not signing up for that!!

Go back to the idea of the balance in relationships, whether people are at the same level or not.  If you are at a higher level than another, it is absolutely true that they might wear you out and take advantage.  And that’s why it’s important to be aware of where you are and where others are.  Without blaming or judging, you have to know your limits, you might have to be firm, and you might have to limit certain relationships for your own well-being.   You have to be able to say “no” without guilt.  You might have to limit your openness and sharing if the other person can’t operate at that level.

If another is not able to listen to you when you explain where you are coming from, if they are not able to give you support, if you find them having expectations and making assumptions about you, just recognize what’s going on.  They are in a different place, doing the best they can with what they have, just like you are.  There is no need to blame, and there is no need to feel guilty that you and they are not seeing eye-to-eye.

At the root of difficulty with these situations is fear.  Fear of disappointing others, and fear of being disappointed.  Fear of being judged and blamed.  Fear of being misunderstood.  Fear of not having expectations met.  Fear of not meeting the expectations of others, of not doing what you “should” do.

Being firm and not letting yourself get taken advantage of is really just another skill that is used in maintaining relationships.  And it’s a skill that’s required to rise to the higher levels.  Many people can feel guilty or uncomfortable about this, because they equate being loving with being nice.  Knowing your own limits is part of loving yourself.

Because this is getting long, I’m going to close with a description of the Ultimate Relationship.

The Ultimate Relationship is possible when two individuals both attain high skill levels of relating with Unconditional Love and Acceptance.

There is no need to have expectations of the other.  There is listening with an interest in understanding and knowing the other as a unique individual.  There is mutual support.  There is no fear of sharing, no holding back.  In this caring, safe environment, each person can say anything, even something that would “seem crazy” and there is no judgment at all.  In fact, what develops is a joy of discovery, a feeling of wonder to be able to gain understanding from the experience of another.

In this environment, one can ask for the opinion or advice of another, and know that this other perspective can be considered without expectation or without the need to accept or reject it.  Pure Sharing is a part of Unconditional Love that can be experienced.

So, what do you think?  Can that really be all there is to it?  Well, there’s another side to this discussion, and I think I will have to write “The Ultimate Relationship Part 2.”  You see, I am feeling that I need to post this, and it’s late, and my kids are very confused why I am up late typing something. Plus I’m not at my regular computer and the wifi here is tricky.  (So, no picture embedded.)   Because we all live in the real world, and as much as I like to “go deep” and think about these things, I also have to live my life.  So thanks for thinking along with me, and know this is….

To Be Continued……

Here’s the link to Part II.

2 responses to “The Ultimate Relationship Part 1

  1. […] Ultimate Relationship:  Part I  and  Part […]

  2. […] Part I said:  “The Ultimate Relationship is possible when two individuals both attain high skill levels of relating with Unconditional Love and Acceptance. “ […]

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