Relationship Problems – Is It Really This Simple?

If we could offer one solution to help just about anyone who’s having relationship problems, a high degree of confidence leads us to say one thing.

For centuries, wise men such as Socrates, Jesus, and Buddha have reiterated a concept which at its core is very simple, but in practice is so difficult to master, that some have to take regular time-outs to remember, some lucky ones innately do it very well, yet others even spend their lives in solitude trying to accomplish.

Know Yourself.     ——-      I know, sounds too simple, right? 

Here are 3 compelling reasons why knowing yourself can derail many relationship problems:

1. Self-Abandonment Is Asking For Relationship Trouble

Self-Abandonment can come in many forms; emotional, financial, physical, even organizational. Abandoning your own needs makes it pretty hard to serve others well. Think about it, if you deny yourself of care and love, you are depleted and cannot offer much love to another. The idea is analogous to an airplane ride.

When you get on the plane, one of the first things you hear is the flight attendant telling you that in the event your oxygen mask drops down, you should SECURE YOUR OWN MASK FIRST before you help another. Wow! That means that even if you have a 4 year old daughter sitting beside you, it is best for everyone if you take a few seconds to care for yourself before helping the child. Why would anyone recommend that? If you hadn’t taken care of yourself first, there is a likelihood that you would not have lasted to help your child. Your relationships work the same way. One who is always giving, giving, giving, may feel a sense of nobility from this apparent generosity. But when it is at the expense of his own health and well-being, he undercuts his ability to give fully.

You can’t give much when your tank is empty.

Fill your own tank and your capacity to love increases!











Self-abandonment is a negative side-effect of being aloof to ones own needs. When knowing yourself moves to the top of your priority list, it’s amazing how the little relationship problems begin to disappear. Let’s look at a couple quick examples:

a. “My partner doesn’t seem to love me anymore, and it makes me feel so (insert negative emotion here)!” – Ever think that maybe it’s not all your partner’s problem? Perhaps your concept of your partner loving you differs from your partner’s concept. Furthermore, perhaps your partner doesn’t even know how to love you because YOU don’t know how to be loved. And so starts the impending cycle of miscommunication, when the act of knowing yourself could short-circuit this issue before it starts.

b. “I do everything for him / her, but he doesn’t appreciate any of it; I sometimes feel like he’s taking advantage of me!” – This example is a step down the path of a very familiar topic here on the blog. If you’re caught in a rat race of constantly catering to someone else who just abuses your care, first of all you’re not alone, and secondly you may have some work to do to straighten out this issue. Denying self for others is a symptom of codependency. Is it out of a compulsive nature that you offer your acts of service? Do you have an overwhelming desire to feel needed? Are you scared there will be bad consequences if you don’t do what’s expected of you? Or more subtly, could it be that you’re actually trying to control your partner through your “kindness”? 16 minutes and 18 seconds into our podcast episode 2 is some insightful commentary on using people pleasing to control others. Who would have thought that’s possible?!

2. Knowing Yourself Gets To the Root Level of Personal and Relational Discontentment

In fact, knowing yourself intimately gets to the root of many other issues we face. Imagine walking through a dessert with nothing more than a desertpair of clothes and shoes. All around you are sand dunes and the sun is beating down relentlessly. Now imagine you have a map and a compass. What a blessing! Now you can navigate your way through with a much better chance of survival? In the same way, think of yourself as a vast, wonderful space that needs to be navigated just like any other space. If you aren’t familiar with the terrain, if you haven’t mapped yourself out yet, how do you know what’s good for you?

Do you know what makes you upset, frustrated, disappointed. Of course you do, THAT’S EASY. On the other hand, do you really know what makes you tick, what makes you truly happy? Interesting question: What would you do for an entire day, week,  month if you had all the time and resources you needed at your disposal? I bet your first answer to this question is not the real answer. I bet if you did that activity for a full month you’d be well ready to move on to other things. So develop the habit of testing and doing the things you think will make you happier so that you can begin to refine what truly does bring you personal peace and contentment. And when you can figure this out, you’re well on the way to knowing yourself better. And when you know yourself this intimately, no other person, including your husband, wife, significant other, or family members, can continue to bring about the relationship disappointment you seem to be experiencing more frequently than you want to. You begin to gather the power to set boundaries and find mental peace that will allow you to wisely sort out the discontentment you are experiencing internally and in your relationships with others. The act of knowing yourself provides liberation from the bondages of unhappiness you confront so regularly.

3. Just A Few Good Habits Separate A Happy Couple from a Miserable One problems are inevitable. Put two or more people in a room, and it’ll get interesting. Conflict abounds among us at home, at work, even when we’re having fun it creeps in. It’s important for you to know that conflict is a part of life, not just yours but everyone’s. I spent a great deal of my early life truly believing that everyone else in the world got along great and I was the only one who had “issues”. Even when simple awkwardness occurred between me and someone else, I was mortified. It wasn’t until I really got out into the world and saw that everyone out there, spouses, co-workers, even priests actually have lives that are FULL OF CONFLICT. It’s a daily part of the human condition, unless you are a hermit (in which case you would probably still have internal conflict.)

This liberating realization, combined with a diligent focus on getting to know myself, began to allow me to have power I once lacked. I began to take a leadership role in relationships with co-workers, family members, friends. I began to gain real wisdom, and it started with the act of knowing myself better.

How about a couple good habits as this sub-title suggests:

a. When you’re at odds with someone, create a rule whereby you’re only allowed to speak once you’ve re-stated your partners words to his or her satisfaction. Likewise, they can only speak again after they’ve reiterated your words. This nips miscommunication in the bud.

b. When emotions flare, the potential for miscommunication multiplies. In these situations, use this pattern adapted from Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson. Make the following 3 statements in this order:

– “What I don’t want to do is…” (give you the impression I’m angry with you personally or don’t value our relationship)

– “What I do want to do is…” (express the frustration I feel when you fail to follow through on the things you’ve committed to)

– Provide an explanation of what you mean – (When you leave the trash pile up like that, it makes it harder on me to cook nice meals for us, and honestly it’s embarrassing when we have company over. I’d love it if you could pay a little closer attention to that.)

This habit again can help minimize miscommunication, and help you channel your frustration to its real source. You may feel so angry towards someone, to the point where you don’t even remember where the anger stems from anymore. Practice making the conflicts impersonal. It’s not the other person you’re made at; it’s probably an action that person did. When you can take the personal attacks out of conflict, you’ll stand a much better chance at getting through them smoothly.

c. In keeping with the theme of this post, it should be no surprise that happy couples know themselves better than unhappy couples. Both in the sense of knowing themselves internally as described above, but of course knowing each other as well, as a couple. As far as the individual goes, clearing your mind to get in touch with self is one way to get to know yourself better. I recently wrote another post about mindfulness and meditation which sheds a little more light on this. But almost equally as important is to really know your partner better. If your in a relationship, you are probably friends with other couples. If so you may have noticed that some of those couples seem to connect with others so easily. They get along with each other so well, and others find them interesting. The parties are usually at their house; they are the anchor of the group. I’ll also bet that these couples know and accept each other very intimately, and probably deal with conflict well, even conflict in front of other people. They are not drained by constant bickering or giving of themselves to someone who does not support them. Remember, when your tank is full, you are free to give to others.

If You Still Want More…

Many people who find our blog are seeking help for problems with relationships. Some discover that codependency is in fact the real culprit, or at least a deep cause of their relationship woes. We’ve largely come to believe that codependency is a direct result of failure to know yourself. If you’d like more information on this epidemic problem, try starting with our mini-course which will lead you to other resources over the next couple weeks. If you have a few hours for reading and want to understand codependency better RIGHT NOW, check out our e-book Codependency 101: The Basics of Addiction, Grief and Recovery.