Why do you feel stuck? Here’s the answer served up by our modern world: your partner.
Just think about the way conversations with friends go down. When was the last time you were out with a group of women talking about their husbands over drinks and heard the line, “I think my real issue with Steve is that I need to do a little bit more introspective work on myself. I need to figure out how I am creating this dynamic?”
Is that what you heard? Or did you hear something more like, “F--- Steve. And screw the patriarchy!”?
When was the last time you were out with a group of guys watching the game and heard one of them say, “I’m going to miss Monday Night Football next week because I’m doing intensive therapy on myself to understand how my childhood trauma patterns are showing up in my relationship dynamic.”
Is that what you heard? Or did you hear something more like, “Women -- uh! -- drama”?
We now live in these echo chambers of blame. It starts the moment we blame our partner. Then we tell our friends who gladly add gasoline to this raging dumpster fire. And soon it becomes impossible to even entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, we had some part to play in all this drama.
This blame spiral puts all the responsibility on them and none of it on us. We want them to try harder. We want them to be a better listener. We want them to be more loving. We want them to make more money. We want them to initiate sex more often. We want them to be more honest and forthcoming.
And so we wait. And we wait. And then we feel disappointed when they don’t change.
But here’s the hard truth. Your partner isn’t the problem. You (both) are.
Your relationship is a mirror. Your partner is there offer you a constant reflection of the way you show up.
Resent your partner and they’ll do their job by resenting you back. Blame your partner and they’ll blame you back. See them as the problem and they’ll see you as the problem. That’s just the physics of it.
But this mirror-like quality doesn’t have to be a bug in your relationship. You can turn it into a feature. The moment you let go of the idea that your partner is the problem, you gain the power to begin building a new relationship culture.
You don’t have to wait for your partner. You can inject everything you most want – all the love, kindness, intimacy, effort, and presence you want from them – into your relationship by doing it yourself.
But first, you have to give up on this sacred delusion. You have to stop seeing your partner as the problem.
How can you do that?
The next time you get stuck, ask yourself: how am I participating in creating this?
For most of us, this question feels uncomfortable. It's counter to our most deeply wired relationship habits.
But if you can get still and get curious, you may start to notice all the ways in which you're participating in the dynamic.
Here's how our mind thinks things should go down.
Our partner should know (through some sort of supernatural ESP) exactly what we want -- i.e. more love, connection, vulnerability, sex, etc.
Having received this extrasensory message, they should then regale us with this relational gift, thereby dissolving the problem.
But this is only how things work in the imaginary world of Instagram or rom com fantasy.
In the real world, the way to get what you most want from your partner involves doing the opposite: give them what you most want.
Want them to be more vulnerable with you? Be more vulnerable with them.
Want them to show you more love? Show them more love.
A well-known marriage therapist once told us, "In all my years of working with couples, I've noticed a pattern. Everyone is happy to go second."
Everyone, in other words, is happy to take radically generous action in their relationship on one condition: that their partner goes first.
This mindset is the perfect recipe for staying stuck.
So see what happens when you explore an alternative. See what happens when you go first. You may notice resistance or thoughts like, "Why should I have to go first?" arising in your mind.
But do it anyway and see what happens.
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