It’s not me, it’s everyone else who’s crazy! Or are these the words of ignorance? It’s time to ask – are you the problem in your relationships?
I wrote towards the start of the year about one of the most frequently used break-up lines in history – it’s not you, it’s me. At the time it seems so easy to use, and yet in the postmortem of our relationships we may find there was more to the death of the relationship than we initially acknowledged or heard about.
I think blame shifting and blame laying are very common practices across all sorts of relationships. I’ve been in a number of meetings where an employee, a contractor or a project gets thrown under the bus for a greater perception that they have been holding things up. I’ve had scores and scores of male and female friends and acquaintances discuss how there’s just no one good enough for them out there, whether as a group of friends or as a love interest (bit painful being told they don’t know anyone who would make a good friend!). We all know those who seem to always have frustrations with the people in their lives.
And so many times, the focus of our commentary and frustration is aimed externally. All men suck, women just don’t get it, people are terrible friends, you can’t trust that church, you can’t have nice things because someone will always ruin it, on and on it goes. But I think it’s time for a bit of scary honesty and a bit of a health check. Now I’m not sure if anyone has asked you this before, but perhaps it’s time all of us face the music and give honest thought to the answer to this question:
Are you the problem in your relationships?
After all, every relationship you’ve ever been in has the common factor of having you in them.
Now, it’s not always you. There are definitely cases where it is another person’s fault, and some of us have the unfortunate reality of encountering the same type of person or problem multiple times in spite of our best efforts. For instance, a huge percentage of people are hooked on pornography, drugs, or habitual lying. It’s unfortunate that in such cases, you may encounter the same problem multiple times.
For other cases, let’s have a look at some good questions for working out exactly where our source of relational turmoil lies. Is it external, or is it actually that you are the problem in your relationships?
Are you a closed door?
It’s amazing to me how many people complain that they’re still single when I know for a fact (or others know for a fact) that they’ve had about 10-15 offers within this year alone, and have accepted, explored, or initiated none of them. Your last boyfriend was an almost boyfriend 10 years ago, your last girlfriend was someone you decided to shut out, you broke up with them but now you’re crying because they’ve moved on, it has been 896 days since your last semblance of a date or even a decent conversation with the opposite sex, and you spend all your time with only people in the same gender as you. That’s what we would call closed and not open, despite what you might say.
It’s crazy to think how many of us wish that people would trust us more, when as soon as someone starts opening up to us about their issues, we close off and lose interest. It’s depressing the number of times I hear complaints from husbands, wives, or children about how many times they’ve brought up the fact that their important person is unavailable or distant, and the distance and lack of availability remains years in. Why would people want to talk to you if you’re not listening?
How many times has someone had to knock on the door of your heart?
Now, this might seem like a really justifiable position to take. We don’t need to, nor should we be expected to, have an open door to anyone and everyone who wants to get in.
But if you’ve formed a relationship with someone – as your friend, a potential love interest, your mentor, or especially your spouse – and the walls are still up, you are dooming yourself to life alone. Yes, you may have a ring on your finger, and sure, you might have been on 5 or 6 dates already, you may go to all the same movies and group hangouts as the gang, but thanks to those overly protective walls and hedges, no one will be able to truly reach you. And as much as you say that might be okay with you, we all know that when you have a night to yourself, or it’s time to go to sleep, reality settles back in.
How many potential relationships have met their end at your hands because you didn’t want to give it a chance? Or “you just knew” without even knowing really anything about this guy or girl? After the breakup you find out they actually did have the quality you broke up with them for not having. How many of your friends have been adamant and repetitive in their pursuit of time with you, only to be constantly met by unanswered phone calls or an overall sense of neglect?
If you want to live a life of love, you can’t keep people on the outside. You can’t use emotional distance as a weapon. You can’t hide behind your personality type. Not unless you want your relationships to succeed.
You yourself would know and have experienced a number of times in your own life the true pain of having someone slam the door on you. I wonder if you are aware of how many times you have done the same, and of any of the difficulty that still exists today as a result?
Is it always your way?
All of us like to get things right. Me especially. We want to do well on our test scores, we want to achieve the milestones on time, and we want to make sure we have properly understood and carried out what was required. Any counsellor I’ve ever been to has repeated back to me the fact that I am slightly obsessed with doing my best.
Getting things right and being right aren’t always a bad thing on their own. But they are a bad thing when no one else is allowed to be right in your life.
I know for myself this is one I’ve had to reign in on a number of fronts, whether romantically or with friends. I could blame my personality type as this is a common trait of INFJ types to always seek to have an answer on something. But sometimes having the right answer isn’t actually right. Right? I might be a software consultant and constantly analysing problems for solutions at work, but that isn’t what always works with people.
People require love and understanding. Even your friends. You know what you call a friend who you no longer show love or understanding to, who you only give answers to? A client. Someone who is coming to you for a service. It’s not usually a place where love and companionship can thrive.
When your husband, wife, love interest or friend, comes to you with something, stay and listen. Stay and wait. Let it come out. Let them have an opinion. Let them be able to share their heart. Give them something they want, too. If it’s always on your terms and never on theirs, you’re abusing the relationship to an extent, because you’re only using this person for what you want.
I think the overarching theme and true difficulty with this attitude of being right is that we need to have it our way. Whether it’s what that person eats, how they respond, and what they’re going through, we would have it in our own mind that it has to be on our terms, our way or the highway.
In truth, all of us are like this to some degree. It’s something all of us need to manage.
I wonder if you can think of the last 3 or 4 people you’ve met up with, or this significant person or people that are coming to your mind as you’re reading this. Where was the meeting? Was it the place you picked? Did they get to talk? Was it only the meals you wanted? Did you end up finding out how they were feeling? How many times have they mentioned they’d like to do something different but you are unwilling to do it?
There is a word starting with S that describes our behaviour when we don’t act the right way – selfish. May we all endeavour to be less so in our relationships.
Have you noticed the pattern?
Is it happening again?
If you’ve read my writing, you’ve probably heard me refer to TD Jakes’ description of the Sisyphus Complex. Sisyphus was cursed by the gods to roll a big rock all the way up a big hill, and when he reached the top, it rolled all the way back down for him to do it again. He compares this curse and behaviour to how many times we are simply repeating what we have always done, and all that changes each time is which rock (or which person) we are rolling.
One question I find really helps negotiate those hard times in relationships is, would I have this same problem with another person? Or with other people? It can be very tempting to break a relationship off and go find a new boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/group of friends without considering our contribution and the pattern of our own behaviour.
So you don’t find the person as physically attractive anymore. So you don’t really feel like being honest with them. So the feelings have changed. So you’ve got this fear inside you that seems to be so large you can barely breathe. If you break off your relationship with them now, will you just be doing this again with the next one?
Have you done it before? Have others noticed you’ve done this before?
Patterns can be a very good thing when they bring life and healing. They can be a very bad thing when they repeat distancing, cold behaviour and result in yet another relationship breakdown.
If it’s happening again, deal with it now, or it’ll happen again.
What issues remain unresolved in your heart?
What keeps you up at night? How did your last relationship end? What year was that? When was the last time you opened yourself up to someone?
We recently had the major social campaign #MeToo, in which women shared instances in their lives of sexual abuse and assault. Tens of thousands of women participated, and it was heartbreaking to see how many people we all know have gone through things we didn’t know. I was particularly saddened when a few young ladies shared how this experience, they had recognised, had frustrated their ability to relate the opposite sex and was one of the reasons they had mentioned their inability to go on dates or take a chance with anybody.
These issues, and many others, can be large stumbling blocks in our hearts that can be absolutely devastating when you are trying to live a life for two, or trying to build new friendships.
If it’s not processed today, someone in your life will pay for it tomorrow.
We recently had someone at church share the observation that when a seed is planted, the tree may grow up where the seed went, but its roots can grow out and into many other areas of a garden. Likewise, while the seeds of distrust, pain, abandonment, or unforgiveness may be from one type of relationship in your life, their roots may grow to infect other relationships in your life.
Hurt people will hurt people. If you’re hurt, there’s even a pretty good chance that you are hurting people today.
Find the healing you need. Seek help. Trust someone. Don’t let this thing destroy the good things that have been trying to grow in your life.
When it’s not you
You may have made it through these sort of questions and realised about your relationship that it’s been you who has played the largest part in ruining or damaging relationships in your life. But you may have gotten through this and realised that in spite of some smaller things you may not have gotten perfect, it is in fact the other person or the other people who have contributed the most to the state of how things are. If that’s your case, you may want to consider what your response from here will be.
You may want to consider your boundaries and involvement with such people. You need to make sure you are healthy and safe in whatever relationships you find yourself in. You may need to create a lasting space, or as Doctor John Warlow puts it, you may want to “dilute toxic relationships” – add some more “water” into your relationships so that you don’t have such large concentrations of things.
A good support network will go a long way to helping you work out whether or not your role in the relationship is the one that’s causing the issues. If you’re brave enough, ask a few people who know both of you (or all of you) for some honesty.
In truth, all of us play a large part in the relationships we form and develop. It’s up to you and I to make sure as far as it is within our control, that we continue to improve and build on things we know we can do better. Self reflection and keeping an eye on how things really are will go a long way to helping us with that.
As one of my pastors always used to say, marriage, love and friendship aren’t about finding the right person so much as they’re about being the right person.
What are some things you think help people relate to others in a more healthy way?