Here's How To Determine Exactly What You Want In A Relationship
The essential qualities that are prized by some may not be prized by others. By acknowledging this truth, an objective and honest attitude can be maintained; different people will simply value different things. Destructive fear might want you to have a black-and-white mindset geared toward believing that there is one "right" list of essential qualities. It might also tempt you into believing that it's not important to know or understand one's essential qualities. Constructive fear would say, "A few key values such as integrity, honesty, respect, and kindness are essential for any true relationship. Beyond such basics, let your wise self be your guide. A vital element of self-awareness is the nonjudgmental knowing and cherishing of what is important to you. In this way, you can understand and honor what you find essential. Without self-awareness, you are constricted and bound by the beliefs you unconsciously adopted throughout life—going whatever way you might be led. Through self-reflection, you gain awareness of your own personal values and needs." Armed with the wisdom of self-awareness, you can then take actions that lead you closer to your values. In this way, you evolve consciously, moving ever forward with the power of transformational fear.
The first step, then, is to generate awareness of one's unique conception of essential qualities. As an individual becomes more self-aware, a personal "list" of essential qualities can be used both to form and to guide relationships. A firm understanding of one's essential qualities allows for the open and honest communication of these essential needs to others. The more important the relationship is, the more critical it is to have a meeting of the minds and spirits on the necessary qualities for that relationship; when a relationship is more peripheral or less significant, there is often greater leeway. When it comes to core, true relationships, these precious connections tend to thrive when both individuals value and offer the same essential qualities. When one person lacks a quality that the other person finds absolutely essential, the relationship often suffers. When many key qualities are missing, disaster often results.
What is a "relationship," anyway?
The word relationship carries many connotations—it means different things to different people. Therefore, it is often helpful to look at the roots of a word to regain a true and deeper sense of the original meaning. The "-ship" portion of the word relationship indicates a state or condition, whereas "relate" stems from the Latin re, which means "back or again," coupled with lātus, which means "borne, carried, or endured." As such, it may be that a relationship is a state where those involved return to each other to bear, carry, and endure. This interpretation resonates with me deeply, for society uses the word "relationship" so loosely that it can become almost meaningless. Like the word "friend," the word "relationship" has come to include those to whom we feel little or no trusting connection. Yet people are somehow surprised and left wondering what is "wrong" when a sense of trust or bonded intimacy is missing. They find themselves confused, hurt, and angry when disrespected and even betrayed.
What is missing—what has gone awry—is that many "relationships" do not involve bearing, carrying, and enduring the journey of life. Far too many relationships do well in good times and when immediate needs for companionship, sex, fun, or money are being met, but when it comes to weathering life's truths, challenges, and deepening intimacy, the relationship has little or no strength. These generally superficial associations, which are often mere infatuations or connections of convenience, lack the essential elements that allow for bonded, lasting love. Many such connections are consciously or unconsciously built on the theme of "I'll use you just as much as you use me." Sadly, such situations are the breeding grounds of destructive fear—they perpetuate negative behaviors and throw mud on the concept of loving connection and growth. Indeed, a "relationship" formed or continued on a lack of integrity—disrespect, dishonesty, manipulation, and the like—is not a true relationship. "Convenienceships" is the term I have coined for such connections.
Here's how to determine your "essential qualities" for true relationships.
These next exercises may be challenging, for they require substantial introspection, self-honesty, and nonjudgment. Allow yourself to proceed with a patient, gentle attitude. Remember that it is normal to feel uncomfortable at times in the course of self-reflection, yet as with any self-exploration, objective honesty is essential. When you are open to gentle reflection on your old patterns and ways of being, the strong arm of destructive fear has no choice but to slowly release its grip. Indeed, our most amazing improvements come as a result of noticing and attending to the areas where destructive fear has silently grown and festered. Now is your opportunity to shine conscious awareness and healing light into this area of your life. Listen for the friendly, nonjudgmental voice of constructive fear; let this voice be your guide and ally as you move into another realm of transformation.
As with every exercise, make certain that you are in a safe and relaxed environment and that you feel psychologically ready to proceed. With your notebook and pen by your side, take a deep breath. If you feel destructive fear stepping in at any time, simply notice that it is present. When you are ready to proceed without judgment, allow yourself to envision the idea of a true relationship. Close your eyes if it is helpful. Imagine every quality that is important to you in a true relationship. When you are finished, open your eyes. Make a list of the qualities you noticed; your list can be as exhaustive as you desire. When you have finished your list, pause to breathe.
In this next segment, place an E (to signify "essential") next to every item that is essential to you; these are the traits that you find absolutely nonnegotiable in your true relationships. For example, a short list might read: integrous, honest, loyal, generous, playful, loving, tolerant, fun-loving, creative, respectful, kind, and tender. You may find yourself marking every quality on the list with an E. You may, however, find that you are led to mark relatively few items with an E. Allow the process to unfold without judgment. When you have finished, pause to breathe. The items marked with an E constitute your list of essential qualities. Make notes of any thoughts that come to mind. Breathe.
In this next phase, take a fresh look at your complete list of qualities—your personal outline of the qualities you find important for a true relationship. Pause to breathe. Then place an O (signifying "personal ownership") next to every quality that is something you embrace and honor in your own life. Remember, you don't have to be perfect in embodying these qualities—what is vital is that you honor your essential qualities and strive to hone them in your life. Destructive fear might step in with criticism or judgment; simply notice if it does. Allow constructive fear to guide you into honestly evaluating the characteristics that you actively strive to treasure and embody. When you have finished, pause to breathe.
Next, take objective notice of the items that have both an E and an O. Take note of those items that only have an O and no E or vice versa. For example, for an individual who values and embodies honesty as an essential trait, an E and an O would both appear. Yet even an exceedingly honest person may not demand honesty in relationships; in such a case, only an O would appear next to the word honest. On the other hand, an individual may demand honesty from others yet may not be honest in relationships with others and with the self. In this instance, only an E would appear next to the word honest. Once you have reviewed your E and O markings, pause to breathe. Make notes of any thoughts that come to mind. Breathe again.
In this next step, simply make a separate list of your essential qualities. Every item marked with an E will become part of this list. In the course of completing the above exercises, you may notice that you want to add or delete items from this list. Feel free to make any changes you find important. Ultimately, you will have a list—short or long—of your essential qualities. This list has the potential to be a most vital guide and ally in your life.
Finally, prepare to ask yourself five important questions with clarity and honesty. If destructive fear steps in with judgment or criticism, simply notice its presence. If discomfort, irritation, or other feelings arise, allow yourself to notice the feelings. Allow yourself to feel the kind, gentle wisdom of constructive fear. Allow yourself to remember that constructive fear wants to help you obtain wellness, fulfillment, peace, and joy. Pause to breathe. Now, ask yourself these five questions:
- Am I searching for qualities in another person that I do not have within myself?
- If so, am I willing to do the work necessary to engender these qualities in myself?
- Am I accepting a relationship with someone who does not have the qualities I find essential?
- If so, am I willing to talk to this person about my needs with honesty and dignity?
- If the other person is unwilling or unable to honor my essential needs, am I willing to walk away?
Write out your responses to each question. You need to do nothing but allow yourself to process your responses at your own pace. Pause to breathe. You are doing excellent work. Well done.
Adapted from Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend by Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., Reprinted with permission.
Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist based in Sonoma County, California. With a holistic, body-mind-spirit approach, Manly specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, and relationship issues. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and a master's in counseling from Sonoma State University. Manly is also the author of several books, including Joy From Fear, Aging Joyfully, and her latest book Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships & Love Fearlessly.
Blending traditional psychotherapy with alternative mindfulness practices, Manly knows the importance of creating healthy balance, awareness, and positivity in life. Recognizing the need for greater somatic awareness in society, Dr. Manly has integrated components of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga into her private psychotherapy practice and public course offerings. Her psychotherapeutic model offers a highly personalized approach that focuses on discovering and understanding each individual’s unique needs and life-path goals.