How do you know if you are (or your partner is) really ready for a REAL relationship.
You have strong feelings or a strong sense of attraction for another. You are infatuated with him or her. You are thinking about the other person constantly (read: very frequently, you are thinking about the other person obsessively, wondering what life and marriage would be like with the other person; you can’t wait to see the other person, be with the other person, et cetera; and you are also fantasizing obsessively about the other person sexually as well).
And / or
It makes sense socially and economically. 30 to 40 years ago, this meant the woman was a great catch physically–she was attractive, beautiful, she made for a great trophy wife. And the man would have been seen as a great bread winner–powerful, financially sound, wealthy, he had a great career; that would make him a great catch. Of course, all of this was relative to oneself and one’s own position socially and financially. If one came from a lower socio-economic position, then the dating pool was comparatively more full of great catches, than if one was affluent.
(Nowadays, of course, things have changed. Women are no longer exclusively valued as trophies but also as breadwinners, men ditto. Hence phrases such as “yuppies” and “power couples.” et cetera.)
In the past, being able to check off one or both of these preconditions was justification for seeking a long-term relationship or marriage with someone else.
But the reality is that these conditions (attraction/lust/infatuation and best option socio-economically) are very very superficial reasons for marrying or getting into a long-term relationship with someone else.
Attraction, lust, puppy love, and romance, all fade and turn tepid with time.
And committing to a person because it makes sense socio-economically and grooves with one’s five- or ten-year socio-economic plan is, aside from sounding very practical and pragmatic and sane on the surface, is really a very superficial reason.
What Matters Most
What matters most in deciding whether or not to commit to another person is: CHARACTER–who a person is deep down and what he or she stands for–their conscience, the set of values and principles they subscribe to and live by, their code, what they will and won’t sell out or sell themselves for.
And what matters just as much as the other person’s character, is one’s own character, one’s own level of personal development–what one stands for, who one is deep down inside, how one is choosing to define oneself in this world day by day by the choices one is making, where one does and does not draw the line.
So How Does One Know If One Is Really Ready For A Real Relationship?
In other words, how does one know whether one’s own and the other person’s character are up to the task of making it the long haul through the vicissitudes of life and over up and down unknown and sometimes very bumpy terrain.
1. You Have Accountability.
When it comes to finances, this means you are responsible; you aren’t impulsive and reckless with money. Disagreements over money is one of the major sources of conflict in long-term relationships. Marrying someone usually means intertwining oneself fairly significantly with the other person financially. Being with someone who spends impulsively recklessly, and who isn’t transparent with his or her finances, is a tough position to put oneself in. And being the type of person who does this–spends recklessly and frivolously–doesn’t only hurt oneself, it hurts one’s partner–the person one supposedly “loves.”
In a marriage or long-term relationship, financial decisions ought to be made thoughtfully, deliberately, and by talking things out with one’s partner. If a couple is affluent, then this may matter less. But if two people are middle-class or below, then this will become more and more of an issue because the two people will be financially interdependent, even more so as children enter the picture. Creating a budget, sticking to a budget, will require a good deal of personal responsibility and accountability. As well as transparency and honesty.
In other areas of the relationship, accountability is crucial because it leads to “I” statements–especially “I” statements where we own–and own up to–our own behaviors. Most of us are born being exceptionally gifted at blaming others and circumstance for our bad behaviors. We’re innately great at finger pointing. It takes a tremendous amount of some combination of: inner growth, being well-parented, and perhaps even grace, to develop the capacity to take responsibility for our own part in things.
Taking responsibility for our own behaviors–owning WHAT we do (or did) and WHY we do (or did) it–is an essential skill in disagreeing, even arguing, fairly and in a non-destructive way, and being able to hash things out constructively with one’s “beloved.” –And I use quotes around this term, because if one’s partner truly is one’s beloved, then it shows up in how one treats this person, it shows up in one’s behavior, one’s daily actions, especially when one is under stress or when the two people are arguing. Martin Luther King Jr said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
In marriages and relationships, the ultimate measure of one’s love for one’s partner isn’t found in times of agreement and comfortable living, but in times of disagreement, arguments, and stress. If one can still behave fairly and considerately and civilly–and even with kindness and humor–towards one’s beloved in times of strife, then there is love. But if when disagreements arise and or when stress increases, angry outbursts, venom, name-calling, blaming, and or temper tantrums ensue and are the rule and norm, then, honestly, is there really much love for one’s “beloved”? Isn’t one’s beloved a beloved in name only?
In marriages and relationships,
the ultimate measure of one’s love for one’s partner
isn’t found in times of agreement and comfortable living,
but in times of disagreement, arguments, and stress.
Love means putting the other person and his or her interests and wants and desires and fears and insecurities on the same level as our own, giving them equal footing, treating the other person and these desires and fears as if they were our own. And it may even mean in some cases putting the other person first–taking a figurative bullet for the other person. And to the extent that we can do this there is love. If we can only do this under optimal conditions, then there isn’t much love in us. The learning of real love is the learning of how to give our beloved more and more equal footing in our own inner world and in our decision-making, and in not treating them peripherally or as number two or as an accessory in our own egocentric pursuits.
And we will never get very far in this process if we are not willing to be accountable for our own actions, if instead we insist on blaming others or our circumstances or our past for our bad behavior. As unsexy and unromantic as it sounds, love means responsibility and requires it. To the extent we are irresponsible in our relationship, we are unloving.
2. You Are Self-Aware.
We can’t be responsible if we are unwilling to or incapable of being self-aware. Responsibility and self-awareness go hand in hand. If we’re unaware of our own part in things, our own choices, our own decisions, our own impulses and motivations, then we will be forever blaming others and circumstances, as well as courting and deepening some form of mental illness. To be responsible means to be self-aware.
And self-awareness is not an ability we’re born with. It’s something we each have as a potential, and as such, it needs to be developed, nurtured, practiced, exercised. The more we come in contact with self-reflective self-aware people, either through our choice of what we read or by interacting with people who are very self-aware (i.e. a teacher, counselor, therapist, parent, friend, mentor, et cetera), then the more our self-awareness will tend to develop. It’s no coincidence that most forms of psychopathology and mental illness involve an inability or unwillingness to be self-aware and to take responsibility. And it’s also no coincidence that many forms of treatment of many psychopathologies and addictions involve increasing the person’s self-awareness (i.e. “mindfulness”) and ability to take responsibility got their behaviors and decisions.
Self-awareness also means we will be able and willing to monitor ourselves and our effort and attention levels in the relationship. Are we trying hard? Are we showing up to the relationship as the best or near-best version of ourselves? Or are we mailing it in? Are we just lifelessly and lovelessly going through the motions and thus being a drain on the relationship? If we aren’t self-aware and if we aren’t monitoring ourselves, then all sorts of laziness and unscrupulousness can seep in. The reality is that commitment–extracting a commitment from another person–rarely brings out the best in us. What we humans tend to do once we get into a committed situation is lower our standards out of ourselves, take our foot off the gas peddle and begin cruising, taking the other person for granted, easing up on ourselves, letting ourselves go. Why continue trying to win the other person? We’ve already won him or her. So now we can stop the show, give our “best self” a rest and a vacation (after all, he or she’s surely earned it after the performance they just put on!), let down our guard, show our true colors, and backslide into who we really are–our baseline comfortable self.
And without self-awareness we’ll never catch on to this tendency in ourselves and to how much we’re taking the other person and the relationship.
And without self-awareness–including awareness of our own and the other’s mortality and fragility–we won’t be able to break this cycle.
3. You Are Capable of Being Transparent and Willing to Be Transparent
One of the fruits of increased self-awareness is increased self-knowledge–we come to know ourselves better. We also come to know other human being better–what their deep down motivations and desires are. We are not all the same, but there tends to be a lot of similarity, especially when it comes to our basic motivations and desires and what drives us. The dissimilarity arises in terms of how we try to deal with our basic fears and anxieties and desires and drives, given our personal histories, upbringing, location, conditioning, and influences.
So as we become more aware of ourselves, we tend to become more deeply aware of our own fears and insecurities and anxieties and buttons as well as our longings, desires, hopes, and motivations. This level of deeper self-awareness is some fairly profound self-knowledge. This level of knowledge about ourselves tends to give us knowledge not only just about ourselves, but about some of the deeper struggles that others are dealing with.
Of course, the degree of our self-awareness depends not just on how smart we are and the level of self-awareness of those around us and of those who have authored what we are reading, it also depends on how courageous and honest we are. both our honesty and our courage set hard limits to our self-awareness and our ability to be responsible. If we are not very honest with ourselves, then our self-awareness and self-knowledge will be corrupted from the get go. Same with our courage. If we are very anxious and afraid, then we will be frightened–nay terrified–of learning very much about ourselves.
And if we are not able and willing to be honest–i.e. transparent–with ourselves, then we will not be able and or willing to be honest–read: transparent–with another.
If we can’t/aren’t willing to be honest with another, then we’re not fit for–ready for–a real relationship. What we will inevitably end up doing is using the other person, exploiting him or her, manipulating him or her.
4. You Have Self-Control and Are Able and Willing to Control and Change Your Own Actions and Reactions.
Another fruit of self-awareness and personal responsibility, as well as honesty with oneself, is the increase of self-control. As we become more aware of ourselves and our own fears and anxieties and triggers, we become better able to either not act out on them and instead just witness them and let them pass, or to actually choose other behaviors and ways of thinking about and responding to them. This is a fruit of “mindfulness.”
One of the major sources of conflict in relationships is reactivity–in particular emotional reactivity and volatility. If we’re always flying off the handle, if we’re a hothead, if we’re constantly pissed off and angry, if we can’t control ourselves emotionally, if we’re easily triggered, then we will constantly be flaming our relationship and lashing out our “beloved” and our children.
Self-control comes from self-awareness.
Learning to be more self-aware, responsible, honest (and courageous), transparent, and self-controlled, are not only necessary prerequisites for really being ready for a real relationship and for becoming a more genuinely loving human being, they are also part and parcel of becoming more mental healthy.