There’s a little rule I use to slow me down and help me make good decisions…
Ok, let me give you some relationship advice.
Well, actually this is more of your general, utility-tool life advice, but it makes most sense to think about it in the context of relationships.
“Believe your pain. Analyse your solutions.”
I remember reading ‘The Road Less Travelled” by M. Scott Peck. I think this was actually one of the first personal development books I ever read.
(And now look where I wound up.)
Anyway, towards the end and sort of as a side-note he started talking about the people who came to him for couples counselling. He said that the idea of a soul-mate – a life partner who meets and matches you in every perfect way – is one of the most destructive ideas he’s ever come across.
In his time, he’d seen it destroy some perfectly good marriages.
He came across hundreds of people who just couldn’t settle down with the partner they had because they always believed that there was someone more perfect out there.
He recommends doing what you can to banish this idea from your brain.
To an extent this is both great advice and terrible advice.
It’s great advice because we do have a tendency to romanticise and idealise what we don’t have. Aesop wrote the fable about how the grass is always greener on the other side because we are all psychically geared that way. We all have that tendency.
So yeah, you need to get a handle on that.
But it is terrible advice because sometimes a relationship just isn’t working. And sometime a desire to be with someone more caring, or more generous or who just doesn’t beat you up is a desire that is shining a torch on something that really needs addressing.
But how do we know which one is which? How do we know when we’re just being ungrateful and when we’re working with something really important?
This is where this little maxim comes in: believe your pain, analyse your solutions.
So I think the ‘soul-mate’ fallacy that Peck is talking about is actually in two parts.
1. is pain, 2. is the solution.
So if you’re feeling like your relationship isn’t working, go with that. Honour that. Listen to that.
What you are feeling is real. It speaks to needs that are not being met or parts of you that are not being expressed.
There are jewels in your frustration and anger if you know how to look for them.
However, be very sceptical of the strategies you turn to instinctively. Especially hail-Mary strategies like ditching your marriage and starting again.
I call them ‘ejector seat strategies’. Running off with the builder, telling the boss to stick it, throwing your life savings into a forex trading scheme with ‘guaranteed’ results.
They are seductive because they are simple, and promise the world. But they are not strategies that hold up to much thought and analysis.
So analyse, analyse, analyse.
If you are feeling frustrated or depressed or angry – analyse it. Go into it. What’s really going on?
Don’t dismiss it. Don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m just being ungrateful’ unless you have spent time with your feelings and figured out that is really what is going on.
And once you have a clearer idea of what is going on, analyse the strategies that are available to you. It may turn out that an ejector seat strategy might be right for you (it was for me at the end of my first marriage), but it might not be. There are many ways to achieve what you really want, whatever it is – whether it’s to live with more passion, or be more creatively expressed, or to feel loved and cared for.
They are all legitimate needs.
So believe your pain. Listen to what it is trying to tell you.
But before you do anything, analyse your strategies. Really consider whether they are going to make things better or not.
And essentially this is just telling you to slow down. Give everything the time it needs.
So few of us do.
But this is your life.
And if there’s anything worth doing right, this is it.