Ellen feels as if her life is in pieces. Her relationship with her husband Rob is usually strained and distant. Her work is dull and doesn’t pay much. And her friends aren’t all that much fun to be around– when she actually makes the time to go out with them.
Even though Ellen knows it’s past time for her to make some improvements to her life, she can’t even think about how to begin. It seems that if she chooses to work on herself, her marriage will suffer. But if she focuses in on her marriage, what happens to her own personal growth?
Believe it or not, the improvements that you make on a personal and individual level can exponentially improve your love relationship or marriage.
The beauty of it is that your personal growth can soar along with positive changes that you make in your relationship too.
It’s all inter-connected…mostly because both of these relationships involve you.
You and you, as well as you and your partner.
Even if this isn’t news to you, it’s likely that some of the time you forget this important point.
Too often, people get overwhelmed. They see too many habits and dynamics that they’d like to work on in their lives, but they feel like they have to choose.
The quandary can seem to be: “It’s me or my relationship.”
How wonderful to be reminded that you truly don’t have to choose.
Here’s why some people feel torn…
Let’s say that Ellen has decided to take a self-empowerment class. She is hesitant to tell Rob because she guesses that he’ll react negatively– and he does. Rob tells her that he’s concerned about the money and the time that she’ll be away from home. This cramps his style because it means that he has to be home alone with their young children one evening a week for the duration of the class.
Inside, Rob is also worried about what being more “self-empowered” will mean for Ellen. Will she be angry all of the time? Will she make more demands of him? Will she eventually leave him?
Ellen and Rob have created a scenario in which neither of them can grow and neither of them can flourish.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Personal growth can and does have beneficial effects on love relationships and marriages.
Here are just a few examples…
*Self esteem translates into greater mutual respect.
What do most couples want from one another? Well, there are a lot of things. Among the complaints that many people make about their partners, one is that they don’t feel respected.
In the majority of relationships, not only is there weak communication of respect between the two people, but there is also lagging self-respect within each individual.
Notice that I said “weak communication of respect.” This is because no matter how much your mate might respect you, it’s impossible to hear his or her expressions of that respect when you don’t believe it about yourself.
You have to feel it about yourself in order to hear it from your partner. Conversely, you need to feel secure about your own self worth to not feel threatened or less than your mate.
In both cases, the stronger and healthier your own self esteem, the more aware you both will be of the respect that is felt for one another.
*When your partner isn’t your everything, you two are freer to be more to one another.
In her book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the virtual epidemic of dissatisfied married people in the U.S.
By comparing approaches to marriage in the U.S. with those of other cultures– particularly those in developing nations– Gilbert comes to the conclusion that women in the U.S. expect their husbands to be everything for them.
Lover, co-parent, best friend, emotional support, financial support, etc.: the expectations that American women have of their husbands (or long-term boyfriends) is huge when compared with the more limited expectations that women in other cultures have of their men.
I agree with Gilbert that not all heterosexual relationships in the U.S. involve such all-encompassing expectations. The constraints on women (and men) in some developing countries is not preferable to the relative freedoms that women in the U.S enjoy– particularly when it comes to marriage.
The point here is that when a woman or man expects his or her partner to be EVERYTHING, disappointment is sure to follow. Nobody can be your everything.
Make consistently connecting with your mate a priority. At the same time, be willing to reach out to friends, extended family, your spiritual community, your book club or your soccer team to fulfill particular needs.
This actually allows you to come to your partner already feeling filled up and more available to share in the joy and love that you have for one another.
*When you keep discovering yourself, there’s always something exciting to discover in your partner.
There’s a commonly held belief that after a period of time, a couple will settle in together and the passion and spark will die down– or die out completely.
Many people assume this to be true and they come to terms with this being a reality for them.
The real truth is this…
The spark between you and your partner may change and fluctuate over time, but it does not have to dwindle or die. You can keep the passion hot between you and your mate by staying open to your own personal growth.
Think about how exciting it can be when you happen upon a book, interest, technique or way of living that really resonates for you. It can feel as if the world is turned on its head, in a great way!
This new growth within you is a discovery– perhaps it feels like a new you has been born. Even if your partner has no interest whatsoever in this thing that has grabbed your attention, he or she can benefit.
If you can set aside any attachment you might have to your partner joining in with you and believing that this new thing is as great as you do, the spark will spread to your relationship.
Focus in on the feelings of renewed passion and excitement. Let those feelings carry over into your conversations, walks, chore-time, lovemaking and just hanging out moments with your partner.
Celebrate the spark that now glows in your eyes and see the spark in your partner’s eyes.