Thursday, July 20, 2006

Love and Relationships That Work

On July 21 it will be our 15 year wedding anniversary. Wow, 15 years plus 4 years dating. That's 19 years! That's love. That's growth. If you know our family, you know that I'm not exaggerating. Since I'm the resident philosopher, I decided to write a post on love and relationships that work based on that empericism. I will not only talk about romantic relationships, but I'll also talk about the other types of relationships that we all have in our daily lives. Enjoy.

Finding success in relationships is not, as pop culture would have it, like clothes shopping: checking out all the outfits (possible partners) until we find just the right one, returning those that don't fit or discarding them when they go out of style. Rather, the process is more like moving into a new house and finding a long-untended garden in the back. Carefully we nurture the many unfamiliar plants that we find there patiently wating to see what fruits and blossoms come forth in their own time. Not being sure how or when they will blossom, we nurture them all, enjoying the process of discovery as each blossom in its own beautiful way. The goal is to be a master gardener of relationships.

As with gardening, there can be much enjoyment and satisfaction in this process. Expecting relationships to bear fruit immediately is unrealistic and actually counterproductive to establishing a long-term bond. Relationships are like seedlings--nurture them all and take pleasure as they grow, blossom and bear fruit. Too often we discard seedling relationships before ever seeing their possiblities. That's not to say we can't continually add to the garden. There will always be many more wonderful relationships, an endless supply, for us to develop. But rather than continually looking for the "right" relationship, it's more important to cultivate the ones you already have. Somewhere in the garden of your life, incredible things wait to bloom.

While we enter romantic relationships because we are in love with the other person, it is important to view all of our relationships as fertile ground for the growth, development, maturation and strengthening of our own character. The self-actualization we undergo in a good relationship makes us happy, not the relationship itself. This kind of growth and emotional development fosters an inner transformation. The concept of this transformation occurs in the space between people. It is the result of interacting with others with the intention of fostering mutual growth. Our growth is an interdependent process.

Hell in relationships comes from trying to change the behavior of anyone other than yourself. When we exercise self-control, beginning with becoming happy within ourselves, we have the ability to move the hearts of others. It is only when we stop trying to control others that we gain the power to actually influence them. For example, have you ever found yourself saying "You're making me angry - stop doing that" to people whose behavior frustrates you? The implication of that statement, "you're making me angry," is that somehow you don't have control of your anger. They do. And since you have ceded them the control and power, it is their behavior that must change if your anger is to be eliminated. But, of course, you don't control their behavior, so the more you try to do so, the angrier you get.

Not that all anger is bad. There are, of course, real situations of injustice in which anger is appropriate. Even in such cases, however, self-control is the key to influencing change. Recognizing that we are choosing and taking responsibility for those choices empowers us to choose our life state. It gives us control back.

Ultimately, we create true happiness by developing our lives to the fullest. Trying to be somebody else or what you think somebody else wants you to be is a sure way to suffer. Be who you are and be it well. If you are continually growing and advancing, you have the greatest life in the world because you know tomorrow will always be better than today.

Let's talk about the big "E" word: Expectations. Expectations are important. Research indicates that children develop only as far as the expectations of the adults around them. But expectations can also destroy perfectly good relationships. We have expectations of other people. We expect them to be good husbands, good wives, good children, good friends, good bosss and so on. These expectations are often unrealistically high, sometimes higher than our expectations of ourselves.

Let's imagine a relationship where the initial passions have faded. The honeymoon is over. Now the bride and groom are awakening to the fact that their respective partner is not perfect. Le's say he or she is only about eighty percent OK. Patners have flaws and imperfections, as we all do, they reason. Because they care about each other and about their happiness together, they want and expect each other to do better, to improve themselves. Each expects the other to bridge the gap and become the ideal partner.

Motivated by their love, they begin to tell each other, in the most affectionate and caring way possible, about the twenty percent that is missing. Each believes that the love that exists between them will motivate the other to strive harder to fill the gap. Because they are motivated by love, with only the best intentions, they are surprised to find that after an initial period of positive response things get progressively worse. Why? Where did the love go?

Does this scenario sound familiar? Do you know a couple that began deeply in love but ended not so many years later in acrimonious divorce? How does this happen to people? While every situation is unique, there is at least one common but subtle delusion at work here, a delusion that is a challenge to all of us in our relationships with significant others, children, family, friends. The problem is that although we are motivated by the best intentions, the other person often hears from us a steady stream of criticsm and disappointment. This is not encouraging, and in spite of the the love in our hearts, the other person becomes unresponsive, even rebellous. The problem here is that although the heart is in the right place, we lack wisdom. Motivated by love but lacking wisdom, we get a response to our efforts that is the opposite of what we expected. Once this downward trend begins, unfortunately, it is often difficult to reverse.

People do not respond well to constant criicism and negativity. Does that mean we simply have to settle for something less? No, it means, once again, that we're trying to change the wrong person. If we want people to do more, we need to praise and appreciate what they are already doing for us. In other words, it's the eighty percent that is happening that should be the focus of our attention, not the twenty percent that's missing! People love praise and appreciation and will try very hard to get them. Making these two the basis of all your relationships can have a powerful and encouraging influence. For the gardener of relationships, they are like sunlight and water. People strive and thrive when they are praised and appreciated.

Criticism and disappointment create a dark environment, a garden where relationships cannot thrive. It is a major delusion to think that others will be motivated by crticism. Keep in mind that when someone is praised, that person does not consider their personal risk, and when criticized, they can recklessly cause their own ruin.

Let's move on. I'd like to talk about work and career. Work and the relationships we form there are an important arena in the struggle for happiness. In a sense, the affairs of life and work are the testing ground of one's inner strength. What career a person chooses has little to do with their happiness. It's not what we do for a living but how we do it and whether we feel useful and find meaning in our work that make the difference. Therefore, while we should choose to take a career path that is true to what's in our hearts, tormenting yourself about the selection of a career is, to some degree, irrelevant to establishing a happy live.

This is not to say that there aren't lot of unhappy people in the workplace. There are. But it's not the work that's to blame; it is the people who bring with them attitudes and beliefs about work that are not conducive to a happy, fulfilling experience.

In my opinion, and I think you'll agree, here are three kinds of value: beauty, gain and good. The perfect job would have all three. In the working world, the value of beauty means finding a job you like; the value of gain or benefit is a job that earns you a salary to support your daily life; the value of good means a job that helps others and contributes to society. The ideal job would be one that you like, that offers financial security, where you can contribute to society. Sounds great. But this is seldom the reality. Not many can find the perfect job from the start. Some may have a job they like, but it isn't putting food on the table; or their job may pay well, but they hate it. That's the way things go sometimes. Also, some discover that they're just not cut out for the career they dreamed of and aspired to.

The most important thing in finding satisfaction at work is becoming indispensable wherever you are. The best way to find a job is to become the best employee. Good circumstances don't make good people; good people make for a good workplace atmosphere. By learning to be a exemplary individual at work, opportunities will present themselves, opening a path leading to your next phase of life, during which you should also continue doing your very best. Such continuous efforts are guaranteed to land you jobs that you like, that support your life and that allow you to contribute to society. Then, when you look back later, you will see how all your past efforts have become precious assets in your ideal field. You will realize that your effort and hardships have not been wasted.

We used to work in real estate, and in real estate it's said that the most important things are location, location, location. In finding happiness at work the three most important things are attitude, attitude, attitude. To the first important principle about succeeding at work, becoming indispensable, I'd like to add a second: creating harmony on the job.

When working at a company, which is like a society or community all its own, it is important to create harmonious relations with all of your colleagues, including your superiors and those working under you, using wisdom and discretion along the way. If you incur your coworkers' dislike by being selfish or egoistic, you will be a loser in work and society. Wisdom, which includes tact, is vital to being successful at work.

All in all, relationships help us develop. All our relationships have a common foundation - ourselves! The internal condition of our own lives will affect all our relationships. So what we learn in the course in any one relationship will apply to the others. Greed, anger and foolishness are like poison. They will all manifest in all our relationships, so, too, will all our relationships be enhanced as we purify our lives. What comes into play in one realm will also be apparent in others.

Individuals who challenge themselves to develop happy, harmonious families will find the benefits of their efforts simultaneously apparent in improvements at work. Similarly, those who learn to transcend the lesser, egoistic self at work will garner rich rewards at home.

Practicing happiness is about developing character. And relationships are the forum, the classroom, in which we learn how.

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