“The better you know yourself, the better your relationship with the rest of the world.”
– Toni Collette, Toni Award Winning Actress
How come I am never satisfied…
Bart was a friendly, hardworking 40 year old who co-owned a successful transportation company. He had been in several relationships and married once for several years. He had a lovely home which he took pride in and several of the “toys” guys collect including a Ski-Doo, a Sea-Doo, two antique cars and a Kubota Lawn tractors which he said could do more than he would ever need on his quarter acre house lot.
But now he was alone again having ended a year long relationship and noticing just how lonely he was in his life. He said his recent partner accused him being a work alcoholic and making no time for her. Tim also loved children and remarked how much he missed his step kids, as much as, he did their moms.
Once he finished his brief outline of his current lifestyle I asked him what was his most pressing problem today which would motivate him to call me? He thought for a moment and then voiced this, “I seem to have everything going for me…a job I love, a good income, a nice home, lots of toys,…even good health. But… I can’t keep a relationship going and I’m lonely whenever I’m not working…so I work a lot! How come I’m never satisfied…why can’t I be OK with the way things are right now…instead of second guessing myself all the time?”
“Sounds like you have lots of confusion running around in your head Bart. It must really annoy you at times?” I offered.
“Ken, it is so frustrating…at times I am so edgy it interferes with my work and I get mad at myself that I am never satisfied…just not happy!” he said.
“Let’s get even more focused. What is bothering you the most …right now?” I asked.
Again, he thought for a moment and then replied, “I would say it is the loneliness I experience when I am at home…in my lovely house with no one to share it…like last Saturday night…I’m watching the hockey game on my leather couch and realizing I’m alone again!”
“It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is.”
– Herman Hesse, Nobel Prize Winner in Literature
“Bart, describe for me the ideal relationship you’re looking for with a partner.”
“Ken, that’s easy! She is beautiful of course, but also and equally important, she shares all my values of working hard, playing hard, being money smart, having close family and friends and taking care of each other!”
“So you have been believing you can find someone with the same values as you…is that correct?”
“My married family members and friends have done it already…why can’t I do it…why can’t I find someone I am satisfied with?” he replied.
“Bart, value systems come from our life experiences which are never the same. So values are unique to each person. Do you think anyone has the same experiences as you do…even a brother or sister…do you think it is actually possible?” I asked him.
“Well, my lazy, unemployed brother certainly doesn’t have my work ethic…that’s for sure! And we grew up in the same house.” he said with a self-righteous tone to his voice.
“That’s an interesting observation! So does it make sense to you, each person has a unique set of values, based on their unique life experiences? And even growing up together doesn’t create the same value system in different people. So there will always be some differences between one person’s value system and another’s. While there may be similarities, there will also be differences…does this sound logical Bart?”
“Yes, it does actually! So there is no one out there with a value system just like mine…is that it, Ken?” he said.
“That’s it! But equally important is that if there is no one with an identical value system, to have a successful relationship, we will need to notice, not just the similarities, but also the differences, between our values and those of other people…especially our significant other!” I said.
“Are you suggesting I have been looking for a partner with exactly the values I have…which is impossible…and so I have been kind of chasing a fantasy?”
“Bart, what do you think?”
“The common complaint of my former partners is… and each one said in different ways… I worked too much and so ignored them too much.” he said with a thoughtful tone.
“So, did you expect them to have the same high value on your working as you did?”
He pondered this for a moment and said, “I guess I did! Looking back now, I expected them to have a very high value on my work, like I do…which is not very likely from what we just discussed…is it?”
“It is not really even possible at all Bart!” I added to complete his thought for him and anchor its’ idea.
“No partner in a love relationship… should feel that he has to give up an essential part of himself to make it viable.” – May Sarton, Poet, Novelist
“Ken, what should I have expected instead?”
“You could have expected her to respect your high value on your work but only to the degree it didn’t jeopardize her own highest values.”
“I’m not sure I understand…what do you mean?”
“Bart, suppose your partner, because of her past experience, has high value on time with her partner… and less value on working long hours. Then whenever you were working she could perceive it as a sign of you disrespecting her, disrespecting her values or not valuing your relationship enough.”
“That’s was probably why they were so angry and distant when I would get home after working a double shift so we would have the money to pay down our debts. They valued time with me more than paying down our debt load…which is high on my value list…I am starting to get this…I think.” he said.
“I think you are too Bart!”
“So Ken, are you saying a successful relationship is not a couple with the same values…that’s really impossible. Rather, it is a couple who demonstrate respect for their partner’s highest values, which can be, and usually are, different.”
“That’s it exactly Bart! People are initially attracted to each other due to similar values. But it is the respect one partner’s show for the other’s different values which strengthens the relationship over time. This is because it enable each to grow in the ways not possible if they had the same values…the relationship becomes evolutionary for each of them instead of just revolutionary.”
“Are you saying differences in values promotes the relationship by helping each partner learn respect for the other?”
“Exactly, when we demonstrate respect for our partner, we are not just respecting their values, but also, their right to have them, and their right to be who they are, do what they need to do, and, have what they need to have…it acknowledges their right to be… We can only stay in a relationship when we can be ourself!”
“Wow, this is deep stuff, eh?” he said.
“Bart, flip the idea over and see what happens. Imagine two people having identical values, never disagreeing about anything, always getting along…that creates boredom…no evolution…no learning…the demise of the relationship.”
“Ken, are you saying healthy, successful relationships must have conflict for each partner to learn?”
“Yes I am! If there is no conflict, it can only mean one person is hiding their true values. This spells disaster for the relationship’s future since one person is denying who they are…it cannot last for long…it is unnatural and so breaks down. The people in such relationships are recycled into new relationships which enable them to grow…it is nature’s way to ensure we learn and evolve.”
“So, for me to have a successful, healthy relationship I will need to be ready to demonstrate respect for my partner’s different values…like making more time from my work for her…like going to a ‘chick flick’ on occasion…like remembering her birthday…like attending her family’s events…I am starting to see why my earlier relationships didn’t last…Ken, I have a lot to learn, eh?”
“Bart, you sound like you got the gist of it all figured out already. Remember it is not rocket science…it is just some principles of quantum mechanics which are simpler. Just remember similarities create the relationship but differences sustain and strengthen it!
“I got it now, Ken!” he said with a smile.
Bart went on to create a new relationship and build it carefully with his new awareness. I met him about a year later. They were planning a summer marriage and their current conflict was a new one for him, one child or two?
“It is only when we no longer compulsively need someone that we can have a real relationship with them.”
– Anthony Storr, Psychiatrist
Until Next time…
Feel free to send us your feedback and monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have any specific questions feel free to contact me. And remember the Free Youth Webinar coming up. The contact information is below.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Everyone has a unique value system from their unique life experiences.
- Having similar values attract you to your partner.
- Having different values keeps you learning from your partner.
- Having different values helps you grow in self awareness and self respect.
- Having regular, respectful conflict will grow you a healthy relationship.
- Having no conflict creates boredom and destroys your relationship.
- Demonstrating respect for your partner’s values is the key to a relationship.
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com