My close friends will tell you that I can wax poetic about the dynamics of love and relationships indefinitely. I never tire of discussing the complex world of pursuing and then maintaining a loving, healthy, relationship. After all, the need to be loved is at the core of human nature and human sexuality. Our feelings about love, sex and relationships inform our entire life whether we realize it or not, so making space to try to understand how these dynamics affect us is well worth it in the quest for overall happiness.
When I was 14, my Sex Ed teacher gave me a book called Love, by Leo Buscaglia. It was by far the most transformational book of my life. I read it cover to cover and have since read it multiple times. The book was filled with giant concepts of love far beyond the romantic sense. In fact, it focused mostly on love of oneself as a key to having successful relationships. At 14, this book accelerated my commitment to loving myself and constructed the lens through which I would approach relationships for the rest of my life. It was powerful stuff and I credit that teacher and that book with what resulted in years of (mostly) healthy relationships and a strong sense of self.
What has transpired from my hobby of analyzing and pontificating about relationships is a fair amount of solicited and unsolicited advice-giving. In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, I got into quite a few conversations with friends about variations of love – new love, maintaining love, and misdirected love. All of my advice ended up back at one main theme. Much like the book I read at 14, my theory is rooted in the fact that successful relationships stem from a solid sense of self identity.
As I talked about these different types of relationships, I kept seeing pictures in my mind. I’m a visual learner, so in order to get the thoughts out of my head, I drew my theories out on paper. What resulted were the three main models of relationships that I feel are the most frequent among couples. Clearly, it is impossible to sum up all relationships into three categories, but if you ask me (and I know you didn’t), here’s what I think a successful relationship looks like.
Exhibit A: The Ideal Relationship
I stand firmly behind my feelings that the most successful relationships start with two individuals who have a fully developed sense of self. They have unique interests and their self identity is derived from within, not from external sources. When these two people get together, they form a third entity where their shared interests and values overlap.
In this model, there are three entities working together; two whole people and a third sphere which is the life and relationship that forms from combining the two. The middle reflects the shared interests, the values and the chemistry that make this more than a friendship. But outside of the relationship, each person still has unique interests to call their own and you can separate the two circles and they remain whole. The sense of self remains intact.
Exhibit B: You Complete Me
In this scenario, you have two people who are still working on developing a full sense of self. They mistakenly look to potential partners to complete whatever is missing and can be vulnerable to unhealthy relationships. Each person enters into the relationship with their own interests and values, but they are unable to maintain a full sense of self. The third entity shown in Exhibit A does not form, as this couple moves en mass sharing the same interests and building their identity through the other.
Instead of a fancy venn diagram, you end up with one circle where the original self gets lost and you can’t see where one ends and the other begins. Are these relationships doomed to fail? Not necessarily. But they are vulnerable to turmoil as the two people change over time.
Exhibit C: If It’s Broken, Don’t Try to Fix It
Giant. Red. Flag. This relationship seems to be the most doomed to fail. In this scenario, a person with a fully developed sense of self (Person 1) gets with a person who has a underdeveloped sense of self (Person 2). Person 1 likes a challenge and thinks they can fix Person 2. We all know how this ends….badly. Person 1 ends up feeling smothered and often times has a momentary lapse of their own sense of self as Person 2 latches onto them and their life (we’ve all lamented friends who are just not themselves anymore since getting into a relationship).
The third entity from Exhibit A is unable to form in this scenario because Person 2 is deriving their identity from Person 1. Meanwhile Person 1 begins to put up boundaries to preserve their sense of self, eventually pushing Person 2 away leaving remnants of a very tumultuous relationship in their wake.
I’ve worked hard over the years to model my marriage after Exhibit A. In fact, as I look back over our 15 years together, the roughest times for me have been when my sense of self was diminished. The years following having children were a major culprit and it took time and hard work to bring balance back and renew my new identity which now included being a mother. Relationships are dynamic and can shift in and out of the various models over the span of a lifetime. If you grow your roots in a healthy approach that values two whole people uniting to build a relationship, you can surely weather the rough patches and restore balance while strengthening your partnership. In my opinion, that is!
Recipes I LOVE and cannot live without
In honor of Valentines Day, I’m throwing some love to the recipes that have changed my life. These are the recipes that I go back to time and again, no longer looking for anything better. They are in heavy rotation and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Fluffy Pancakes from Allrecipes.com
Stop using the box. This recipe is all you need and is forgiving enough to improvise with anything you have in your cupboard. Add some fruit, some oatmeal, sub whole wheat flour – it never fails.
Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies from Annie’s Eats
Confession: I love those cakey, frosted sugar cookies that you get from the grocery store. This recipe is exactly that but better! Better like amazing. I rarely make any other kind of sugar cookie anymore because these are so good.
Glazed Lemon Cookies from Martha Stewart
Hands down, these are sunshine in a cookie. I start making these when I see the first spring flower and then make my last batch at the end of August before the kids go back to school. They are bright, flavorful and refreshing cookies that everyone loves. Take them out of the oven before they look done if you want a softer cookie.
Eating Well meal plans
This magazine (and website) was a game changer for our family. I think I can safely say that every recipe we have made has been fantastic. Not only are they delicious, but they are not complicated and they are healthy. My husband is the cook of the family and he has found this meal plan function on their website to be invaluable. They give you a month of meals and a shopping list, or you can pare down the meal plan to as many days as you want. Dinner is served.
There you have it – I just don’t like these, I LOVE them. XOXO