When we experience disappointment in any relationship, especially a romantic one, it is extremely tempting to slip into the blame game, focusing on everything the other person said or did wrong. When I recently went through a breakup, I was given a lot of support from friends who were subscribed to the Kate's ex is a jerk mentality.
But I found that judging, criticizing, and blaming my ex-boyfriend felt just as debilitating as the breakup itself. Getting over my heartache wasn't about convincing myself I was better off without that "jerk" but rather focusing on where I got it wrong and could improve. Even if the demises of our relationships are 90 percent the other person's fault, we still have to look at our 10 percent.
Looking forward into the future, this truth speaks to a key shift we need to make in the way we view our relationships.
Instead of making a laundry list of traits we want in an ideal mate, what if we spent our time and energy figuring out who we want to be in a relationship?
Doesn't that feel so much more empowering? After all, our thoughts, feelings, and actions are the only things we can control. When we practice being the people we want to be, the ideal partner will show up, and this time, we will be more ready to share and receive a deeply nourishing, lasting love. We will be more aware of our triggers and how to better manage our emotions, and instead of focusing on what we can get, we will be generous with what we can give. We won't settle or expect someone to "complete" us as our core belief system is, "I am complete.”
When we begin to look at our relationships as adventuresome assignments for ultimate personal development and soul growth, our desperate need to try to control them will shift. Instead of obsessing over why someone wasn't able to love us exactly as we wanted, we will understand we were brought together to learn from one another.
Sure, sometimes you really were mistreated in your last relationship. Many other times, the lesson is actually: "I haven't done the inner work required to allow the relationship to flourish."
From a spiritual perspective, if we can learn not to attack or defend and instead practice forgiveness and take responsibility for our wounds (which appear as character defects we are tempted to judge in ourselves and others), then we can heal these wounds, release the painful feelings associated with them, and show up for ourselves and others as happy, healthy partners.
Here are some of the practices I use on a daily basis to make sure my focus in my relationships, past and present, is less about assessing how good the other person is or was and more about how I'm showing up:
1. Give your partner unconditional acceptance.
What I am about to say is one of the biggest challenges we face as human beings: Forgive and accept people—in this case, your mate—exactly as he or she is. If you don't like a certain behavior, try changing your response to that behavior rather than trying to change your partner. Accepting a person for who they are sets us free—we don't feel the need to try to control them. Instead we can focus on controlling our emotions and decide whether to stay in or leave the relationship.
2. Surrender your grievances and attachments to anyone who has done you wrong.
Getting angry at someone for not wanting to be with us is disempowering and takes us out of our dignity. In fact, it's self-sabotaging to lash out, show our disapproval of, and condemn the other person for leaving—because when we attack another, we are also attacking ourselves. On a spiritual level, we are all connected. When we judge, blame, or condemn another, we may feel good for a few minutes, but either they will attack us back or, even if they don't, we will feel as though they did due to our own guilt. This is a universal law of cause and effect: What we give, we must get back. That's why it feels so good to give a gift or compliment and make someone smile or laugh.
It's easy to accept people who want us, but the challenge is to accept people who do not want us. The goal is to get to a place where we love people whether they want us or not.
Moreover, approving people for who they are and their decision not to be with us creates the space for us to attract the right person.
3. Practice more forgiveness, which is the answer to everything.
When someone hurts our feelings, and we don't feel the need to cause any emotional harm back, we pass the test. When we are willing to take 100 percent responsibility for our lives (even though it can be challenging), we grow up faster and become emotionally stronger.
Instead of lashing out against people who've hurt us, try to take a deep breath and see it as an opportunity to heal an old wound and grow. With practice, you will begin to become less and less reactive and feel a greater sense of peace and freedom. Sit in meditation with the awareness that nothing changes until first it is accepted exactly as it is.
The point here isn't to accept people's mistreatment of us—rather, the point is to not allow their mistreatment to get the best of our emotions. We can respond to a negative situation appropriately by leaving when needed, but the ability to accept and forgive is what will ultimately set us free from those hurtful emotions that came from it.
4. Show up fully.
Instead of asking, "Is this person really good enough for me?" Ask yourself, "Am I really showing up for this person and creating a safe space for their transformation and enlightenment?"
That's a big difference!
In creating the space for another's transformation, we allow them to be who they were not yesterday—we give them the freedom to get it right. As long as your partner is willing to work on themselves, the relationship can move forward.
Of course, if your partner demonstrates they aren't willing to grow or aren't taking the necessary steps to actualize that growth, it may be time to move on. We can't force anyone to change; they must choose to evolve of their own free will.
In the meantime while they're sorting out themselves, pray for their happiness every day. Remind them how wonderful they are. Give support and be generous with your time, compliments, undivided attention, and so forth. Resist the temptation to project onto another that he or she is your completion and to demand that they behave a certain way. It is easy to love someone when they are doing and saying everything we want them to. The challenge is loving someone when they aren't acting the way we want them to.
5. Take inventory of our own shortcomings and the work we still need to do.
It's important to ask ourselves, "If the 'ideal partner' showed up right now, would he or she want me?"
None of us is perfect. We all have childhood wounds and heartbreaks from previous relationships. But I've found that our willingness and commitment to changing our thought patterns and behaviors can make us available and ready for lasting love.
6. Release expectations.
What would it feel like to stop expecting your partner to be more, better, or different?
Knowing what we want in a relationship is important, but it must be coupled with the desire to ourselves learn how to be a great or even better partner. Rather than looking for that one special person to complete you, look for ways you could love, honor, and accept yourself and others more completely.
To start envisioning what this might look like, write down all the ways you can prepare your heart, body, personality, beliefs, and home for real love—the kind of love you seek and the kind of love your future partner deserves.
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