Imagine you bought a dress that didn’t quite fit you right. You thought it looked amazing on the hanger and when you tried it on, it looked great but had a few little problems which you figured weren’t that big a deal. So, you wear it out to a party, and all of your friends tell you that it looks fantastic on you. They gush so much that you can almost ignore how it pinches you under the arm and it’s scratchy, and you can never get comfortable until you take it off. You wear it a few more times, and whenever you put it on, you remember that you don’t like how it feels on you but feel torn because so many other people tell you that you should wear it.
To me, a lot of problems in relationships (especially recurrent ones) are the result of people squeezing into a relationship that doesn’t quite fit them. Even if the dynamic looks amazing or is the kind of relationship that everyone else wants or is happy with, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right kind of relationship for you.
I’ve asked many clients with these issues why they’re staying in an ill-fitting dress of a relationship, and the most common answers are the ones you can probably guess — it’s not that bad; my friends/family/etc. love them; there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it; or, I don’t think I could find a better fit, so I might as well put up with this one. I also ask them how they ended up in the poor fit, and many people tell me that they just kind of started dating and this is how it ended up.
Here’s my theory: if you want something to fit you well, you have to actually know what fits you first. For instance, I’m a curvy lady. I know that if I wear something big and billowy, it’s not going to make me look as good as something that’s more structured and tailored. I also know that if something doesn’t fit over a specific part of my body, it’s better to go up a size because I’ve spent one too many nights crammed into too tight clothes or too small shoes to keep worrying about the number on the tag.
Over the course of their lives, most people eventually figure out what clothes tend to be a good fit for their body. However, I don’t know that very many people put the same effort into discovering what’s a good fit for them when it comes to relationships.
I know a lot about this firsthand. I spent many years trying to mold myself into relationships that didn’t quite fit me. I would date the people who looked good on paper, or who didn’t quite want what I wanted but were “close enough.” For me, it took spending almost a year being purposefully single (and deploying to Afghanistan) to start to figure out what I actually wanted from my partners. That was a long, hard process of self-exploration but ended up being totally worth it because now, I’m able to be more selective and make sure that my relationships are genuinely good for me.
In order to be able to have a really amazing relationship, we have to work at knowing ourselves. If we aren’t being true to ourselves, then we’re not fully participating in the relationship. And if we don’t know what we want and what makes us happy, then the odds of accidentally stumbling into it are pretty low.
So, take some time. Think about what, for you, makes a great relationship. And if you want help with this exploration, think about checking out my new class, Relationships on Purpose. This process of self-discovery is key to what we’ll be covering during the six-week program.