No Better Life Than This One: Reevaluating My Primary Relationship

July 22, 2010

A few days ago I posted a status update to Facebook that ended “I can imagine no other life that I would prefer to this one.” Sometime during the following evening I began to appreciate how very very true that statement was. I decided that the concept was important enough to me that I should dedicate some time to sharing it. Today I will attempt to describe my ongoing process of evaluating, improving, and appreciating my primary relationship.

Step 1. Evaluating:

I believe that I have a fundamental responsibility (to my wife and myself) to ask the questions “Is there another actual person who I would be happier, healthier, more complete, etc. with” and “Is there an imaginary person who would fulfill those needs.” I phrase it this way because it makes it more personal, immediate, and to be honest scary. That moment when I allow myself to think about my choice in concrete terms is like diving into winter run-off, it makes me fully present.

The first question is usually a no-brainer. I take stock of the surprisingly small group of people that would even come close and can eliminate each one in a matter of seconds by (if nothing else) the “Could they tolerate me*” test.  As it turns out, I can’t imagine a person better suited to put up with my shenanigans and idiosyncrasies than Victoria. Other considerations include:

  • Physical Attraction
  • Complementary attributes (fit)
  • Complementary goals (growth)
  • Mutual Support
  • Shared Experience

The second question is more difficult but in many ways much more valuable. Its difficult because I  have to be a) prepared for imagination, and b) able to remain in the realm of reality. The value though, is that it gives me the most amazing tools for improving my relationship. Like anything I have to approach it with the right spirit. This isn’t a what’s wrong with my spouse/lover/partner exercise.  Instead I ask the question with earnest curiosity and and open heart and am quite often surprised to find that:

  • I’m happier, more satisfied, and better off than I thought
  • My relationship problems have more to do with me than her
  • There is a specific and addressable concern that I have with her that would dramatically change my happiness/satisfaction/personal well being
  • We are growing apart, rather than together
  • We are growing together

Step 2: Improving/Appreciating

Once I’ve established the relative state of my relationship I move on to step two; improving and/or appreciating. Improving can be challenging because after all, it was me, not Victoria, that initiated this exercise.  It would be unfair to assume that she’s ready to “improve” our relationship on my schedule and terms. Also I have to be prepared to entertain her evaluation.  Most importantly, if I discover that I’m creating a problem I’ve got to be ready to address it or I’m doomed to another cycle of the same situation.

I’m not sure how I know when the time is right, and I’m quite sure that I’ve been wrong (perhaps often), so I try to approach this conversation with care. Regardless of when I open the conversation, it is critical that I always approach it from the perspective of “I am in this relationship for life and want to make sure we both are getting the most out of the time we’re sharing.” Its amazing how powerful this perspective can be, and I strongly recommend it for everyday problem solving.

If I’m lucky enough to come out of the evaluation process with a completely satisfied result I start right in on the appreciation. There are a million ways to appreciate the person you love, and there is never a better time to let yourself go crazy with it than when you’ve just realized that this person consistently and demonstrably makes your life better.

One of the very first things I do when I come out of my head in these cases is to say “You know, I love you so much!” and then just start listing the reasons why. Its awesome how good this makes me feel, and I’m sure it makes her feel good too. Verbalizing why I feel I’ve made the best decision possible for my long term emotional health also acts as a balm against the dreaded creeping doubt. As a side note, its also important to verbalize these positive aspects if I’ve had a less than perfect accounting of my relationship’s status. In fact it can be a great segue into the things I would like to work on, just as long as I remember to use “and” and not “but” when I conjunct my pros and cons.

If you try this at home please remember the law of unintended consequences. Both the exercise and the changes that it will likely precipitate will have unintended consequences. If you don’t like change, and taking responsibility, don’t engage in this risky behavior. If you have done something like this, I would love to hear what worked and didn’t work for you.

* Glib self-deprecation aside, the “Could they tolerate me” test is just a fun way of saying, do my strengths and weaknesses complement hers (and vice versa) or not?

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