Most of us look back on our past relationships and see them as failures and allow that belief to weigh us down, becoming the “baggage” we carry forward. We somehow think that the only definition of success in the realm of relationships is “lasting.” What if we could switch from seeing our previous relationships as failures to seeing them as great adventures in learning and growing? What if we redefined success, from “lasting” to “learning”?
A while back as I was updating my job resume, I listed the skills that each position either utilized or enhanced. I thought about one of my favorite jobs—snorkel princess on a sightseeing boat on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai—and the skills I had to develop in order to get the job including free diving to 20 feet, pulling in an anchor, and being in service to tourists. As I reviewed each position—waitress, boat crew, teacher, counselor, writer, speaker, I couldn’t help but remember who I was dating at the time or the quality of my relationship. Each era of my life was defined not only by the job I held (or the course work I was completing) but also by the relationships I had at the same time. I could clearly see that each man I dated introduced me to different activities, experiences and opportunities for personal growth (mostly unbeknownst to him) often not realized by me until well after the relationship had ended.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that rather than a job resume I could create a relationship resume. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of the relationship and why it ended, I sat down and listed each person I had dated and identified the experiences and skills I gained during the course of our time together.
1974-1976: This relationship taught me how to explore within established boundaries. I also learned about kissing, cuddling, and car clubs.
1978-1981: This relationship taught me that two people could love each other, and still prioritize their own individual interests and goals above the relationship. I also learned that the painful truth could be told and love could endure. I learned how much my body liked exercise and how physical activity could change the way I looked and felt. I learned to love backpacking and to play backgammon.
1981 Six months: This relationship taught me to trust my intuition and to be aware of social issues.
1982: One day: I learned about “controlled folly.”
1986-1990: This relationship taught me the importance of telling the truth and being emotionally available. It also expanded my perspective on money. I learned about when to let go and how staying in a relationship because of what I hoped it would someday become was the same thing as living in an illusion.
1991-present: In this relationship I learned how to transcend my ego to live in true love. I learned to become authentic, rather than seeking approval or control. I learned that when a relationship hits “the wall” of resistance, the other side of the wall is worth the effort. I learned that the things that I judge or resist in my partner are often exactly what I need in my life.
You get the idea.
How refreshing it is to look back on each relationship from the powerful position of seeing what I learned, and how I grew and improved, rather than looking back on the pain or the sadness that led to the end of the relationship. I discovered that I could find gratitude for each and every person who passed through my life.
If you are struggling to find the blessings in a relationship, turn to the very things you judge about the other person and simply ask yourself, “how is this a blessing to me?” Whenever I encounter a behavior in my husband or employee, or family member that I struggle with, I ask myself that question and am surprised that I can always find an answer. It may not be the actual thing they did or said that was the blessing, but rather what it led to, or developed in me. When your goal is to grow and learn, relationships are a great classroom.
I invite you to create your own relationship resume and actively “reframe” the way you are looking upon your relationships. As you move forward in your journey looking for or living with a life partner, you will realize that you can’t make the “same mistakes,” when you never made any mistakes in the first place. Rather than carrying all your past baggage with you, carry an awareness of the strengths, skills and abilities you gained from your past relationships. The move from regretful to grateful is a much more fertile ground for love to flourish and a far more satisfying memory.