Dr. Raj … on How Does Your Mood Impact Your Love Life?
Do you and your significant other tend to have the same sorts of arguments again and again? Maybe he works long hours or overspends or she overschedules your weekends or is always late. Most relationships do have pressure points like these and theories about why they occur. Perhaps you think he just doesn’t care about spending time with you or his job is way too stressful – or that her chronic lateness is just one more sign of how selfish she is.
The same thing happens over and over and, for some couples, these issues become battlegrounds that shape many of your interactions. Some days and weeks are better than others but the issues are always there; when one or the other of you is in a bad mood or under pressure, the same argument erupts.
Sound familiar? If so, then here is a whole different way to think about what happens and why: These are arguments have less to do with what is happening in the here and now then with what happened way back when. When you have a “reaction” to what your partner says and does (or doesn’t say or do) is shaped by your past. 100% of what we do, including how you think, feel and behave, is built of your biology, your psychology, your social environment and your spiritual life (or lack of one).
That’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. If a person in your life is treating you badly or fails to hold up his or her end of your agreement, that’s a matter to be dealt with directly (and it’s one I talk about often). However when an issue crops up over and over, there are other factors at play and learning to identify them – which is what I call building self-awareness – is an important first step in building a better relationship (with ourselves and with others).
Self-awareness goes well beyond recognizing yourself in the mirror. It means having a clear perception of your personality, including your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation and emotions. As I see it, self-awareness also means recognizing the Being at the heart of your human nature. The more self-aware you are, the greater the likelihood that you will succeed in all of your goals – including having a happy, healthy relationship.
For example, Lisa grew up in a verbally abusive environment and now tells me that whenever her boyfriend says he’s mildly discontented about something she hears it as criticism. She realizes that she is very sensitive to even constructive feedback. These automatic conditioned responses are wired into her brain as a result of her childhood experiences and they have to be recognized and addressed if she is to have a chance at a happier adulthood. Understanding that she tends to react this way – and discussing with her boyfriend how and why this is so and being clear about her desire to overcome this – is the primary solution.
Psychological excitement and injury during our youth leads to conditioning of the mind. As we grow up these early experiences tend to regulate our anxieties and choices. If we want to heal past wounds we must first identify and understand how they show up in our current lives. Once two people know how early experiences influence their CURRENT behavior and strain their relationships then they can work together creating more joy and fulfillment.
We can learn to put our feelings to work for us. Each of us (in every relationship, not just romantic ones) owns a full range of feelings from anger to serenity, from envy to generosity, from hope to fear. The trick is to grasp the emotion – to develop an inner radar in order to identify incoming and outgoing feelings. Only then can we decide how to use this information and respond in an authentic and proactive way.
Asking yourself the following questions will help you cultivate greater self-awareness and gain an understanding of what you bring to the relationship and what you want to get from it. The answers may require some reflection and they may not come easily; I suggest writing each question and answer in a journal and, perhaps, repeating the exercise again in a few weeks to see whether your answers change as your self-awareness grows.
- How available am I?
- What am I looking for?
- What does love mean to me?
- How available is X, based on behavior and not words?
- How does this relationship affect my life?
- Can I accept this person unconditionally?
By the way, I’m a big believer in journaling. I encourage you to buy yourself a notebook or set aside a folder on your smartphone or computer where you can easily and privately record your process toward self-awareness. Choose the format that’s easiest for you to work with. You may want to take brief notes every day or you might prefer to look back at the week and see what potholes you have identified and how you are working to avoid them in the future. The important thing is to make a commitment to journal regularly on your progress – you will be surprised at how helpful doing this can be!