The only true relationship we have is the relationship with ourselves.
It may sound a bit extreme, but it’s true. Every other relationship is either a proxy, a consequence, or a filler for it. Whether it’s with another person (partner, family members, friends), with work, or with God – they all depend on the relationship we have with ourselves.
When we are feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied with ourselves – we feel a gap in our being. Instead of trying to work on ourselves, the most common approach is to try and fill that gap through an external relationship. It has many manifestations. Workaholics try to fill the gap with work. The work gives them meaning, purpose, sense of accomplishment. It makes them feel better about themselves, even when they complain about the workload or not having time for a personal life. It can manifest in addiction – alcohol, prescription pills, drugs, food… The substance, whatever it is, is filling the gap we feel. Sometimes it’s a religion that fills the gap and people are committing themselves to their faith and institutions of faith, finding the “right” path, stuffing the emptiness with devotion.
It’s no different when it comes to a relationship between two people. The other person is making them feel whole, gives them the needed comfort, the missing piece. Finding the soul-mate is the ultimate goal and often the idea of a soul-mate simply means those who can best fill the empty space. The problem is – they can’t.
When the relationship is based on filling that gap, it makes us dependent. The dependency can result only in two things – fear or anger. Often both. Fear of the other person leaving and therefore leaving the gap empty again. Anger because we don’t like the feeling of dependency and fear, so we blame the partner for making us feel that way. With or without you, as the song goes. The result is all around us – we live in a world full of unfulfilling, bland, clingy relationships. Once the honeymoon phase is over, the reality sets in, and people see that what’s left is the hole they still have in themselves and the external filler that they are afraid to lose.
We become angry at the world, angry at ourselves. Angry that we can’t leave the job that we have for something better. Angry that we can’t leave the marriage, because there are too many dependencies and it’s complicated. Angry that we missed out on so many possibilities, only if we acted differently. People then leave their jobs, only to find equally tormenting ones. They drop one addiction, only to replace it with another. They leave their marriage, only to fall into the same relationship pattern shortly after. Because the fix is not outside, it’s in us. We can never have good quality external relationships until we fix the relationship we have with ourselves.
What does the alternative look like? A fulfilling relationship with oneself means that all other relationships are no longer fillers. They are additions. The external relationships do not define us because we are defined by our relationship with ourselves. We are not dependent on the work we do, because we see it as something that’s part of our life, but not who we are. We are similarly not dependent on the relationship we have with our partners. They enrich us, make us feel better, contribute greatly to our well-being. We come from a place of abundance. We already feel good – they make us feel great. We don’t start from a position of negative space that needs to be filled at any cost. The less dependent we are in our external relationships, the more appreciative and appreciated we become. There’s no fear and anger – there’s joy and reward. There’s more communication in these relationships and a more equitable approach. We are not together because we can’t be alone, we are together because we chose our partner every single day, over and over again. There’s gratitude in that. There’s an appreciation for them, the way they truly are, not the way we need them to be. We don’t want to change them, because we don’t need them to fit into our pattern. They are adding something meaningful, without taking away anything from us.
That’s another problem when a relationship is based on filling the emptiness. We often don’t realize that in order to fill something in us, we need to take that from the other person. Similarly, they need to take a part of us, to fill their void. That only makes us lose part of ourselves, of who we are, and the result is that we start defining ourselves through them and the relationship we have with them. It’s an unhealthy dependency.
When we start from a place of abundance, then the relationship feels like a gift. Something that is freely and continuously given and accepted. Something that does not change our core, but only adds layers of stability, comfort, joy.
How to get there? It’s not easy. Ironically, our relationship with ourselves is heavily influenced by the relationships we already have with others. Starting with our parents, the institutions, the community. We exist in predetermined and predefined frames that do not necessarily match who we are or what we want for ourselves. The first step in creating a fulfilling relationship with ourselves is to understand the existence of those frames and to question every single one of them. It doesn’t mean that all of them are bad and unnecessary. Some may give us great joy and pleasure. Doing an audit on all of them is absolutely needed, so we can know for sure whether who we currently are is who we truly want to be. Only then can we begin to establish a relationship with ourselves.
What does it mean in practical terms? It doesn’t mean that we don’t want other relationships. It means that we don’t need them to feel complete. It means being content with oneself. Being our own best company. Feeling appreciative of who we are. Knowing what we truly want in life. Enjoying our own existence, day after day. Loving our own selves. More importantly, it means not allowing anything or anyone to take away a piece of ourselves. Our connections with others are based on both sides being equal – whether it’s work or a partner. We know what we offer and we know what we receive in return. We chose carefully because we are not guided by fear of being alone, but by striving for more and better. Our interactions are meaningful. We are not with our partners because there’s no other choice, we are with them because we cherish their presence.
It can take years to unlearn the frames that we’ve been placed into. It starts with a single decision though. A decision to choose our own life. A decision to choose what our relationships mean to us and how and what we will contribute to them. It’s a lifelong journey that requires awareness, but even more so – appreciation for ourselves and confidence in who we are.