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The Foundation of a Good Relationship

The Foundation of a Good Relationship

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One of my favorite poems is “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It’s a beautiful description of what matters most to her in a love relationship. It begins:


         It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living,

I want to know what you ache for,

and if you dare to dream

of meeting your heart’s longing.


It doesn’t interest me how old you are.

I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool

for love, for your dreams,

for the adventure of being alive.


The poem continues to distill what is most meaningful and sustaining between two people. It ends,


I want to know if you can be alone

with yourself,

and if you truly like the company you keep

in the empty moments.


There it is, the bottom line, the question that lays the foundation for a good relationship: “Do you like yourself?”


There is no doubt that we humans are hardwired for relationships. But many 50+ women presumed that relationships would complete us, that we could get what we lack by marrying or connecting with someone who has qualities that will make us feel whole. Yet, studies show that if you are not happy with who you are, you are less likely to have a happy, healthy relationship. A good relationship definitely starts with how we feel about ourselves. “If you don’t love You, why should I?” is a fair question for our partners to ask.


Louise, a middle-aged nurse, came to see me because she was feeling desperate about her relationship with her husband Joe. It seemed to her that the more she tried to please him, the less attention and love she received. Panicked that he might leave her, Louse decided she had to do something. As we talked it became clear that Louse hadn’t taken seriously that she had a relationship with herself to consider. She was so focused on Joe she often disregarded herself. When he was unresponsive, she would make self-deprecating comments, ignoring the impact on her sense of worth.  She avoided being alone because she felt empty and uninterested in her own thoughts and feelings. As we talked it became apparent to Louise that she was treating herself in ways she would never treat a stranger much less someone she loved and that there were serious consequences to continuing to do this. Coming to understand this helped Louise turn a corner. She made a commitment to focus more on herself as a source of comfort and fulfillment.


Two tools were particularly helpful for Louise:

1. She paid more attention to what was happening in her internal world, imagining different parts of herself as if she had several sub-personalities. When a child-like part was in need of attention, she would call upon a parent, or adult-like part to give herself approval and reassurance and to listen more carefully to what the young, vulnerable part was feeling. When she felt lonely, she would imagine how she would respond to a friend in need. Sometimes this deeper listening to herself helped her to see what activities and relationships were most healthy for her.


2. She made a conscious choice about how she was going to deal with her pain when something about Joe or a friend made her feel “less than” or jealous. She imagined herself having a Geiger counter and these feelings of inadequacy were the static noise indicating she was getting close to finding gold. The “gold” she was uncovering was the personal qualities she longed for in herself but was only aware of when she saw them in others. Hence, a wave of inadequacy became a welcome sign. It gave her clarity about the direction of her goal setting and personal development. She joined a meditation class when she felt how peaceful her friend Margaret was despite the illness she was battling. She started Weight Watchers the day after a party she didn’t enjoy because her pants were too tight. And eventually she asked Joe to join her for couple’s therapy.


Relationships can be wonderful, affirming, growth-enhancing blessings. We just need to remember that they must be built on the solid foundation of a good relationship with ourselves. Embrace Oriah Mountain’s verse:


I want to know what sustains you

from the inside

when all else falls away.