PROJECT R in session #5 Winifred M. Reilly

Winifred M. Reilly:

          1. On Failure. What does love mean to you? What constitutes a failed relationship? What about a successful one? Did you ever think of yourself as a failure because a relationship came to an end?

People often say things like “failed” marriage, “failed” relationship. The trouble with this is that not every relationships lasts, but we learn something from every relationship. Thinking of it as a pit and out failure negates the learning and the positive things.

Still, learning a whole lot of useful stuff doesn’t help the fact that we hurt when the relationship ends.

Does it make the entire person a failure…? Hardly.

          2. On Being Flawed. Are you more comfortable on your own or in a relationship? Do you think there is something wrong with people who cannot or would not sustain long-term relationships?

I’m in a very long marriage so I can barely remember being on my own in the literal sense. But spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, existentially, it’s really important to have a separate self that doesn’t get absorbed into the WE of a relationship.

Relationships are hard. They make great demands on people and many do badly. Lot of people had terrible role models and traumatic experiences as children and replayed them in their relationships as adults. Not to sound like I have my head in the clouds, I do believe people can learn to be better relaters.

So, no, I don’t think people come in two flavors: relationship-capable and relationship-doomed.

We all have stuff to learn and sometimes we need help before we pick partners that will grow and learn along with us.

          3. On Eros. Do you require a romantic relationship to feel fulfilled?

Any time we NEED something in order to be fulfilled, we ‘re setting ourselves up for trouble. I’m big on people having an internal well of fulfillment to tide them over when their relationships get rocky, when partner is acting like an ass, when they are alone.

           4. On Soul-mates. Do you believe that there is a soul-mate for everyone out there? Do you ever feel that you are only half of the equation, and will be lacking something until you find someone to share your everyday life with?

Oy, soul mates. Here’s my statement about soul mates lifted from a post I did on my relationship advice blog about dangerous relationship myths:

Myth # 4  People should marry their soul mate

Okay, look. Maybe you know some people who are convinced that their husband or wife is the one person on earth for them and that they miraculously found each other. In case that’s not you, don’t sweat it. Most of us marry someone who is a combination of positive and negative traits of our parents; a person who, for better or worse, resonates with our learned experience of love growing up in our family. We pick them, we marry them, and they become our “person.”

Rather than think there must be some perfect person out there and chances are I didn’t marry him, a more realistic notion is this: there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of potential partners to choose from and we just need one. Whomever we choose, he or she will sometimes push our buttons and sometimes touch our heart.

          5. On Self-Love. Do you think that to be loved by others you have to love yourself?

Yes. I think of it this way: we get love that matches our expectation and belief about our worth. We recognize love in ways that are similar to the love we got as children, whatever form or fashion it took. The better we feel about ourselves, the higher our standards.

                                     What does self-love mean to you?

Self love means taking good care of ourselves, treating ourselves as if we matter.

                                     To love, can it sometimes mean letting go?

Taking good care sometimes means doing things that are painful but will be better for us in the long run. Obviously can mean leaving a relationship that doesn’t serve us.

          6. On Fulfilment. Can we only find fulfilment in others, or is it possible to be happy and find contentment in our other accomplishments, whatever our relationship status?

Again, we have to be in charge of our own care and feeding. What we get from others is like a supplement to what we must give ourselves.

          7. On Interpersonal Skills. Are people in relationships simply better at people skills than those who are not?

NO!! They may have more opportunities to practice, but look around you– people have horrible, unhappy, conflict-laden relationships. The people who are faring better have learned to navigate their difficulties, but even they have trouble and need to work to resolve them.

          8. On Project R. Do you think this a worthwhile project? In what way, if at all, did this project help you think through the question of relationships? Feel free to add here any other thoughts you may have on the subject that was not covered by the above questions.

Interesting questions to think about. I think about relationships all the time since I’m a couples therapist!

My parting thoughts: people underestimate how hard relationships are. Many people just don’t want to put in the work, thinking that tough times mean they’re a bad match.

There’s a lot of terrible advice out there that makes people feel defective. Ignore any advice that implies that you should move on if there’s trouble. Sometimes moving on is the right thing to do, but quite often people have just hit the inevitable relationship rough spots and have to work through them.

We learn as we go. And, like it or not, most often we learn from our mistakes.

Winifred M. Reilly