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Chapter 3 Law #1: If you’re not OK alone, you won't be OK together

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see each other whole against the sky.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

 

So I put this Law first because I believe it’s the most important Law of Relationships, – even above the next one that deals with…  SEX! Really! Let me say that again:

 

This is the most important Law of Relationships

 

If you’re not OK with yourself and by yourself, then you’re not going to be OK with anyone else. It’s that simple. THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO WORK ON ABOVE ALL ELSE!

 

“If you want to be loved, be lovable.” – Ovid

 

The issue with relationships, especially monogamous, romantic, maybe forever relationships, is that you’ve got individuals having to behave as something less than total individuals.

 

“In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.” Erich Fromm

 

So here’s some info to make that paradox something you can not only live with, but thrive with:

·   If both you and your partner are not healthy, physically and emotionally, your relationship cannot be healthy.

 

Caveat to the above statement: Some people may have physical impairments or illnesses that cause them to be considered physically unhealthy. Certainly those people still can have healthy relationships. Point being, everyone should strive to optimize their physical health in order to increase the chance of having a healthy relationship.

But what does that mean to be healthy physically and emotionally and why is it so important?
 

Physical Health:

To be healthy physically is not just the absence of disease but also the optimization of your physical potential through a healthy lifestyle, especially including regular exercise and good eating habits. Being healthy physically is important to a relationship because you’ll:

·   be more confident

·   be less stressed

·   and have reserves of patience and understanding

 

My take: working out regularly and eating right can fix many things that are wrong with you physically and emotionally and prevent others from occurring. (Of course I’m not talking here about injuries requiring rest that exercise might exacerbate.) Unfortunately it can’t fix all things. Some people have serious physical diseases that even a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise can’t overcome. But rather than assuming that you fall into that category, try the healthy lifestyle first:

·   Eat well, get plenty of rest, and work out aerobically (a minimum of 20-30 minutes):

o   at least three-four times/week for general good health

o   six-seven times/week to achieve and maintain good weight

 

When you’re healthy and feel good, you look good and feel confident – which tends to make you pretty darn irresistible.

More details on the specific benefits of regular aerobic exercise:  Working out makes you feel good (endorphins from runner’s high), increases your confidence, and reduces stress. If you work out hard aerobically regularly, you’re going to address a lot of your emotional issues. It can even help give you the sense of physical well being as well as the emotional strength and confidence to have a better chance at shaking some nasty substance dependencies including nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and food by helping fill the need those substances currently fill for you, without the downside. Worst things I can say about working out are:

·   It takes time.

·   It can be expensive if you’re a “like to work out with a crowd” kind of person (fitness centers are pricey) as opposed to working out alone.

So work out regularly aerobically, and reassess after a minimum of three weeks.
 

Emotional Health:

Being healthy emotionally involves being comfortable with yourself – who you are and where you’re at in a wide variety of situations. You think well of yourself and feel that others should also, although the approval of others is not what drives you. You know what makes you happy and you go for it. You’re never unnecessarily cruel or unkind as these are generally traits of someone who needs to put others down in order to feel better about himself.

Those are all pretty lofty goals, and unlike physical health, emotional health can be a whole lot harder to achieve. Sometimes there’s quite a bit to overcome, e.g.:

·   You may have emotional baggage from prior bad stuff that happened when you were a kid and didn’t know your true self worth. You may have formed a low opinion of yourself based on what others were telling you, or worse, from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. This stuff is so hard to overcome. If you were subjected to any of this growing up, you have my deepest empathy. You’re going to have to work really hard to overcome your issues. Professional help from a terrific therapist may be needed. Besides that, I’d tell you the same thing the psychiatrist, played by Robin Williams, tells the genius kid, played by Matt Damon in the movie, Good Will Hunting, “It’s not your fault.” Realizing that it’s not your fault can be the beginning of understanding which is necessary before positive change can occur. The next step is to get past whose fault it is to what you’re going to do to fix this. Easier said than done, but absolutely necessary. (See Chapter 7 for more info on this.)

·   You may have emotional baggage from later in life, e.g., from relationships or family or work situations. This is easier to deal with than the stuff that formed you when you were a kid. I don’t want to minimize this but you really do need to get over this and move on. It’s hard, but nothing like the negative image that was created by the abuse described above during formative years, when you really didn’t know how good you were or could be.

·   You may have real, physical chemical imbalances that can only be addressed by professional counseling and drugs – and maybe even those things can’t fix it. Any more on that here is way beyond the scope of this book.

·   Now for the hard-to-say-without-sounding-mean-spirited-or-excessively-self-centered-part: before taking the next step with a potential relationship partner, you should have a good read on how OK alone he is, even though this may be extremely difficult to know early on. It’s not fair to you to get into a relationship with a person who’s not OK alone. I have to say, it’s hard for me to recommend being wary of entering into a serious relationship with someone because bad stuff, way beyond their control, happened to them when they were young through absolutely no fault of their own – seems like additional punishment. But, you need to know this stuff, as it will affect your relationship. So before you say you’re willing to take it on, you really need to know, I mean really know, just what that involves. I really do feel badly bringing this up, but I’d feel less than honest if I didn’t.

 

So why is it so necessary to be OK by yourself in order to be OK in a relationship? Simply put it’s because you have to look to yourself to fulfill your basic needs and to a relationship to fulfill your wants. Get yourself together, become whole and happy by yourself and love will find you – being whole and happy by yourself is very attractive.

 

“Confidence is the sexiest thing a woman can have. It's much sexier than any body part.” Aimee Mullins, Oprah Magazine, May 2004


In addition to striving to achieve physical and emotional health as outlined above, how do you become whole and happy if you’re not? Well this is a tough one, and my simplistic answer is this: be confident and fulfilled. So what’s that mean and how do you get there if you’re not there now?

If you’re not confident in yourself or your abilities, get out there and try. Try things that you’re good at and those you’re not good at. Fear failure MUCH less than not trying. Mark Cuban, self-made billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks pro basketball team, says he was fired from more jobs than most people have held and he was very rich at a very young age, and he seems like a pretty happy guy these days – and it’s not just the money.

 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

 

Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart. Which leads us to the other part of my simplistic, but good, advice: be fulfilled. Think about what you want, what you like to do, what makes you happy, how you want to spend your time. I mean really think about it. The answer is often not simple or obvious so spend some time on this and be brutally honest with yourself. Write down your results – that helps make it more real. Wants that have to do with acquiring a partner are not acceptable for this exercise. Answers e.g., “I want to get married.” “I want to have kids.” “I want to share my life with someone.” are not what we’re looking for here. Those are good answers once we’re capable of being OK alone, but not for a way to get to being OK alone. Answers like: “I want to spend more time scuba diving.” “I want to learn to fly.” “I want a career change to xyz” “I’d like to paint, or play music, or run a business, or whatever…” are what we’re looking for here, i.e., things that involve you – not you and someone else. As much as possible fill your life with things that you’re passionate about. I know a lot of life is spent fulfilling our basic needs, and I’m not saying that’s not important. That’s basic and necessary. But if that’s all or mostly all you’ve got in your life – not good.

Read Richard Swenson’s book, Margin – Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. He defines the common issue of overloaded lives very well.

Make it a huge priority to arrange your life so it will allow you to indulge most of your passions. You’ll be happier and more confident, and hopefully whole unto yourself. If you’re not nurturing your life’s passions, you CANNOT be OK and your relationship cannot be healthy. This one is so not trivial!

You’ve also got to understand at a deep visceral level that your physical possessions are not you. Your goal should be that if someone stripped away your physical possessions, there’d still be a whole, healthy person left shining from beneath all the stuff. It’s a major extension of “money can’t buy happiness.” (Note though, that not having enough money to pay the bills will almost certainly buy misery.) Work on yourself until you feel you can be happy without a lot of stuff and without people. I’m not advocating living like this, I’m advocating being ABLE to live like this. Once you can, go find that special other if they’re not already knocking on your door.

So in Law #1, I’m saying: make that need for a special other person a want – i.e., be whole and happy unto yourself, but know what your passions are, what you enjoy, what you want to do, to be, to have in your life and go for it. So if you’re OK by yourself, you’re life should still be pretty good without all of your wants being fulfilled, including the want for a partner and a good relationship with him. If you’re incomplete and not happy without that partner, it’s a need, and getting that person will not work out well. This is really pretty simple to understand, hard to implement, and absolutely the most important thing to get right in order to have a good relationship.

 

***

 

Some other stuff about being OK alone before entering into a relationship:

·   Being OK alone means being OK alone financially, as we mentioned above, and being OK alone with your kid(s), if you’re a single parent. More on this in Chapters 12 & 13.

·   The issue of needing lots of sexual conquests to feel OK about yourself becomes a non-issue if you’re already feeling OK about yourself for other reasons.

 

People who grow up with low self-esteem due to the issues noted above, i.e., physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, need to find some real things to make them feel good about themselves. Often they find the wrong things, e.g., promiscuous sex at a young age for women or tough and violent behavior for men. I’m generalizing here as there are certainly plenty of violent women and promiscuous men out there. These are clearly things they must deal with and overcome before being OK by themselves.

A low self-esteem woman or girl is more likely than others to use sex as a way to make herself feel wanted and valued. But she must learn to get her self-esteem from areas other than sex for two reasons:

1.   The increased self-value she gets from a sexual conquest is short lived and not real, i.e., she’s thinking: “If he desires me sexually, then I’m OK.” Never mind that he might sleep with ANYONE.

2.   The self-esteem boost achieved through sexual conquest can’t make her the well-rounded, interesting person she needs to be in order to sustain a good long-term relationship.

 

For more help with getting past a sexual self-esteem addiction and finding some solid personal stuff to feel good about, see the suggestions in Chapter 4.

For low self-esteem men or boys who are tough, controlling, or violent, similar thoughts to the two things we had for the ladies:

1.   The increased self-value he gets from a physical or power-tripping conquest is short lived and not real.

2.   The self-esteem boost achieved through toughness will not foster a good long-term relationship for him as there’s a whole lot of other things that he needs to have beyond toughness to make him a good life partner for someone.

 

For more help getting past tough guy issues and on to some things to really feel good about, see the suggestions in Chapters 6 and 11.

 

***

 

This is a very important chapter. Please reread it as necessary and understand it. There are a lot of takeaways here, but the main one, of course, is how to have two individuals participate successfully in a long-term relationship. This is always harder than just doing your own thing the assumption about doing your own thing is that you won’t disagree with yourself or get angry with yourself. (If you do, then you need more help than this book will provide.) While in a relationship, your partner will often have other views about your wishes or behavior. These may range from gentle disagreement to violent anger. Best way to get on the same page is through trust and unconditional love. But even then, it’s still that relationship paradox of two becoming one but remaining two. Pink had some good advice about this in her aptly and paradoxically named song, “Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely)”:

 

“If you give me some room, there’ll be room enough for two.”

 



Tear out Page for Law #1:
If you’re not OK alone, you won’t be OK together
 

Physical Health:

·   Eat well, get plenty of rest, and work out aerobically (20-30 minutes minimum) regularly:

o   Work out at least three-four times/week for general good health and six-seven times/week to also achieve and maintain good weight.

Emotional Health:

·   Being healthy emotionally involves:

o   being comfortable with yourself

o   thinking well of yourself and feeling that others should also

o   knowing what makes you happy and going for it 

o   never being unnecessarily cruel or unkind

·   Things that may need to be overcome to become emotionally healthy:

o   emotional baggage from prior bad stuff that happened when you were a kid 

o   emotional baggage from later in life, e.g., from relationships or work situations

o   real, physical chemical imbalances that can only be addressed by professional counseling and drugs

 

Other Stuff:

·   Know how OK alone your partner is before taking the next step with them.

·   Look to yourself to fulfill your basic needs and to a relationship to fulfill your wants.

·   Try things that you’re not good at and fear failure much less than not trying.

·   Don’t worry about what other people think. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart.

·   Fill your life with the things that you’re passionate about.

·   Work on yourself until you can be happy without a lot of stuff and without a special other.

·   Base your self value on a whole lot more than your sex life or your need to control.

 

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