We make our relationships so much harder than they need to be. The difficulties started when conversations became texting, feelings became subliminal, sex became a game, the word “love” fell out of context, trust faded as honesty waned, insecurities became a way of living, jealously became a cyclical routine, being hurt started to feel natural… and running away from it all became our go-to solution. Let’s stop running! Let’s start working together to face these issues—to break the cycle, to communicate, to appreciate, to forgive, and to LOVE the people in our lives who deserve it.
The first step is letting go of the heartbreaking cultural story—or fairy tale—of “happily ever after.”
Our always-in-your-face, airbrushed media culture—with its continuous stream of picture-perfect highlight reels—has built the expectation in us that life is supposed to be like an endless day at Disney World. And nowhere does our media culture present a more skewed set of expectations than around our relationships. We are swayed to believe a great relationship is all sunshine and roses, despite the fact that most of us have witnessed firsthand plenty of examples to the contrary.
It’s time to get our heads wrapped around this once and for all!
Human relationships require effort and compromise. They require two people to practice patience and presence, and thoughtfully extend themselves for the sake of the other. They require us to redefine the fairy tale story of love that our media culture has attempted to brainwash us with.
It’s time to take a stand and acknowledge the fact that we’ve been fed lies most of our lives. We’ve been told that love is a feeling worth finding, but the reality is that love is an action worth investing in. It’s something two people must commit to as a daily ritual.
When you’re able to accept this new reality, and get past the fantasy about things needing to be magical all the time, you make room for the real joy of engaging deeply in a real relationship, which holds a powerful, flexible space that widens itself to accommodate the necessary struggles.
Let this sink in right now…
When your marriage, friendship, parenting, etc. gets difficult, it’s not an immediate sign that you’re doing it wrong. These intimate, intricate relationships are toughest when you’re doing them right—when you’re dedicating time, having the tough conversations, and making sacrifices for each other.
Truth be told, there is no soul mate, best friend or family member out there who will solve all your problems. There is no love at first sight that lasts without work and commitment. But there are, of course, people out there worth fighting for. Not because it’s easy, but because they’re worth it. Not because they’re perfect, but because they’re imperfect in all the ways that are right for you. You challenge each other’s thinking and behavior, but also support each other’s ability to change and grow. You complement each other’s flaws in a way that allows your souls to unite and operate more efficiently as one over the long run.
The awareness of all this, as you know, is often incredibly hard to come by. Especially in the beginning. And to that end, let me share a quick true story with you about one of our newest course students (I’m sharing this with permission):
What We Have Been Searching for All Along
About a decade ago on his 37th birthday, after spending his entire adult life loosely dating different women, he finally decided he was ready to settle down. He wanted to find a real mate… a lover… a life partner—someone who could show him what it meant to be in a deep, monogamous, trusting relationship.
So, he searched far and wide. There were so many women to choose from, all with great qualities, but none with everything he was looking for. And then, finally, just when he thought he would never find her, he found her. And she was perfect. She had everything he ever wanted in a woman. And he rejoiced, for he knew how rare a find she was. “I’ve done my research,” he told her. “You are the one for me.”
But as the days and weeks turned into months and years, he started to realize that she was far from perfect. She had issues with trust and self-confidence, she liked to be silly when he wanted to be serious, and she was much messier than he was. And he started to have doubts … doubts about her, doubts about himself, doubts about everything.
And to validate these doubts, he subconsciously tested her. He constantly looked around their apartment for things that weren’t clean just to prove that she was messy. He decided to go out alone to parties with his single guy friends just to prove that she had trust issues. He set her up and waited for her to do something silly just to prove she couldn’t be serious. It went on like this for awhile.
As the tests continued—and as she, clearly shaken and confused, failed more and more often—he became more and more convinced that she was not a perfect fit for him after all. Because he had dated women in the past who were more mature, more confident, and more willing to have serious conversations.
Inevitably, he found himself at a crossroads. Should he continue to be in a relationship with a woman who he once thought was perfect, but now realizes is lacking the qualities that he already found in the other women that came before her? Or should he return to the lifestyle he had come from, drifting from one empty relationship to the next?
After he enrolled in our Getting Back to Happy Course a few days ago, desperately looking for answers, this is the gist of what Angel and I told him:
One of the greatest lessons we learn in life is that we are often attracted to a bright light in another person. Initially, this light is all we see. It’s so bright and beautiful. But after a while, as our eyes adjust, we notice this light is accompanied by a shadow… and oftentimes a fairly large one.
When we see this shadow, we have two choices: we can either shine our own light on the shadow or we can run from it and continue searching for a shadow-less light.
If we decide to run from the shadow, we must also run from the light that created it. And we soon find out that our light is the only light illuminating the space around us. Then, at some point, as we look closer at our own light, we notice something out of the ordinary. Our light is casting a shadow too. And our shadow is bigger and darker than some of the other shadows we’ve seen.
If, on the other hand, instead of running from the shadow, we decide to walk towards it, something amazing happens. We inadvertently cast our own light on the shadow, and likewise, the light that created this shadow casts its light on ours. Gradually, both shadows begin to disappear. Not completely, of course, but every part of the two shadows that are touched by the other person’s light illuminate and disappear.
And, as a result, we each find more of that bright beautiful light in the other person.
Which is precisely what we have been searching for all along.
Time to Practice
Let’s consciously remind ourselves, again and again, that there is no shadow-less light.
Let’s embrace the fact that the deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated as is, and that too often we try to be sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image of what we want them to be—what we think we need, love, or desire. But these actions and perceptions are against reality, against their benefit and ours, and always end in disappointment.
The foundation of love is to let those we care about be unapologetically themselves, and to not distort them to fit our own egotistical ideas of who they should be. Otherwise we fall in love only with our own fantasies, and thus miss out entirely on their true beauty.
- Instead of looking for more signs of what’s not working in your relationships, look for signs of what is. – Because, as you know, what we focus on grows stronger in our lives.
- Instead of trying to change others, give them your support and lead by example. – If there’s a specific behavior someone you love has that you’re hoping disappears over time, it probably won’t. If you absolutely need them to change something, be honest and put all the cards on the table so this person knows what you need and why.
- Instead of getting frustrated and tuning out, tune in. – Here’s a quote from our New York Times bestselling book: “Tuning out, ignoring, disengaging, refusing to acknowledge, etc. All variations of the silent treatment don’t just remove the other person from the disagreement you’re having with them, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship you have with them. When you’re ignoring someone, you’re really teaching them to live without you. So, tune yourself back in!”
- Instead of looking for “easier,” appreciate the sacrifices. – Remind yourself of what a healthy long-term relationship is: a practice where two people wake up every morning and say, “This is worth it. You are worth it. I am happy you are in my life.” It’s about sacrifice. It’s about knowing that some days you will have to do things you dislike to make the one you love smile, and feeling perfectly delighted to do so.
And remember, relationships of all kinds are rarely 50/50 at any given instant in time. You can’t always feel 100%, or a full 50% of a relationship’s whole—life is simply too unpredictable for that. So, on the days when you can only give 20%, the other person must give 80%, and vice versa. It’s never been about balancing steady in the middle. Healthy relationships are about two people who are willing to make adjustments for each other in real time as needed, and give a little more when the other person can’t help but give a little less.
Yes, it’s a practice, love is. A daily rehearsal of honesty, presence, communication, acceptance, forgiveness, sacrifice and stretching the heart and mind through new and vulnerable dimensions.
Let’s practice, together.
We would love to hear from YOU.
Which specific part of this article resonated the most with you? What other relationship truths have you learned that have helped your relationships thrive?
Leave a reply below and share your thoughts with us.
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Your emails always arrive in my inbox on time. My husband and I just resolved and argument that absolutely involved our tendency to avoid each other’s shadows, instead of embracing them with our light. I absolutely love your story and analogy here. Thank you.
Also, I just ordered your new book. Congrats on hitting the New York Times best sellers list too. It’s nice to know you two are being recognized at that level for helping so many people around the world.
Gina Valens says
This was such a wonderful refresher for me, Marc. Angel actually took the time to speak with me privately for a few minutes in San Diego at your most recent past Think Better conference. She gave me great advice that went along the lines of what you said about the silent treatment and the need to tune back in to your partner during disagreements.
Anyway, I just wanted to quickly say “thank you” to you both for the support and guidance you given me over the past year. I’m making progress and I know I have you to thank for it.
Vance C. says
Timely and on point. Subscribing to your email updates last year was such a smart move! Thankful.
In this article I deeply resonate with the story you’ve shared. I’m that guy sometimes. Boom! Reality check for me… a need one!
Ps. Your new book will be purchased from Amazon now. My way of giving back to you. And I look forward to reading it too.
What do you do with the dark shadow of alcoholism? When he has overall good qualities except he drinks too much on weekends and he doesn’t see his drinking is effecting our family.
You get yourself to Al Anon. Be open to it and it will change your life and anyone close to you affected by the drinking.
I second the response of getting to Al-Anon. You and only you, must learn about this disease and decide if you want to stay on the roller coaster. It is the BEST thing you may ever do for yourself and, moreover, for your children. They know. You cannot hide this truth. Blessings!
Sally your comment struck a cord with me. Marc and Angels emails have been a shining light in my life. They are full of hope and inspire me.
This article is full of the best advice.
When someone is in our life we care about and they dont take responsibility for their actions it’s difficult. Marc and Angel your advice would help many people.
This is so true. Having come out of a five-year relationship with a woman who is a cerebral narcissist and love bombed me into adultery and divorce, I can stand up and shout with Marc on this one. When the feelings were gone so was she. When it came time to do the hard work, she ran to marriage counselors to vent rather than dig in an make it work.
Kudos for reading the culture correctly. I am so sick of it. I am so tired of a President who thinks he’s a rock star. Indeed, as I read job descriptions (I was laid off by three rock star/diva politicians), the copywriters are actually advertising for people with rock star mentality. God help us! We are incredibly messed up. It is time to turn off the noise of the pop culture and get back to reality. Your columns are a great starting place.
Riddhi Dharaiya says
I always love to read your emails. They give me new direction, new thoughts. Love you and keep writing… always…
I have recently been left by my husband who totally disengaged and tuned out from both myself and our son, it’s been one of the hardest times of my life and just wish he’d not run away from all the love and light he had, he’s obviously still looking for the bright light in his life and I’m left in the shadows ?
You are only in the shadows if you choose to remain there. You alone have incredible value! You can not change his choices, only your own.
Focus on you, your so. Shine, shine, shine!
Come on! We were raised by those fairy tale stories! The princess and the charming! Living a good life forever after! And so on.
And I still read those stories to my daughter!
One of the BEST of many BESTS!! Thank you both!
Great post! Let’s all get back to genuine analog relationships…
I had wonderfully beautiful relationships before answering machines, computers and smartphones. We looked to one another to give our word and live up to it. To make a date and keep it. To write one another love letters when we were apart.
The “closer” we allegedly get the farther apart we become. The older writers knew this and, to me, writing is a great part of a romantic relationship:
I loved you like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of. ~ Charles Bukowski
The best kiss is the one that has been exchanged a thousand times between the eyes before it reaches the lips. ~ Unk Nown
The part that resonates with me the is to stop looking for the easy way out all the time and to appreciate the sacrifices because there truly is beauty in the struggle. Also, I feel so at ease when I look at Love as a PRACTICE! because truly it is a practice and knowing that allows me to be comfortable with ups and downs.
Steve Hackney says
Though I keep trying to avoid your emails for some reason, I can’t stop opening them and reading every word. I see myself in a lot of your stories and as I think back to earlier times, I remember the work and sacrifice in my relationships. Looking forward to reading your book!
Perla Milner says
Thank u again for your words of wisdom… just celebrated 42 years of marriage? patience,sacrifice, and acceptance… enjoying “getting back to happy ?
Jennifer Lee says
Timely indeed. At this very moment, this truth spans deeply across 3 generations in my family.
1. Parents married 65 years who are having to take tired-turns caring for each other.
2. Empty nesters trying to hang on to the thin threads of 30+ years of marriage while looking through the rose-colored glasses of our media’s flawed soul-mate perfection we’ve bought into.
3. Grown children who have fallen into social media’s dark web of lies depicted in staged perfection, staccato conversation, and fraudulent friendships. So they buy puppies to care for deeply, and avoid commitment to imperfect people.
Thank you for this article. I had planned to contact a divorce attorney this week, but will instead contact a marriage counselor. And I will forward your article to loved ones…….
Love the book!
Manuela Müller says
You say very important things in such a simple way, with such good counsel, easy to receive and apply! I wasn’t aware of the dangers of tuning out! and I am thankful for your good advice “If you absolutely need them to change something, be honest and put all the cards on the table so this person knows what you need and why.” when needing something to change! Thank you! I can also give it on to others, facig the same challenges, you do a great job of helping us realize the pitfalls and finding accessible solutions! God bless you!
Mary Allen says
Of all the fantastic posts I have read from you, this is the one that I need the most. In a few paragraphs you have captured the entire fallacy of the “happily ever after” fantasy and replaced it with the truth about human relationships.
I thank you with all my heart. Wish I had understood this many decades ago. Thank you for all you do to improve our lives!
Beautiful, clear, and so incredibly on point with what I have experienced in my marriage and other important relationships over the past 62 years.
Yes, unfortunately, the man you mentioned in your post that attended one of your workshops seems to be reacting from an egoic perspective. He must think pretty high of himself to think that all these woman are there for his disposal. Of course he will not find what he’s looking for in another being. He needs to go within, and journey inward to truly find peace. He sounds very pretentious and superficial. I would never even fathom giving someone like that the time of day. Some people are truly meant to be alone-perhaps it’s best for their state of mind. I have actually transcended the need for human companionship- other than my children. I am most at peace when during meditation and honestly, no one else can give you that sound peace other than journeying within.
Allisther – You are a human being who states that, “I have actually transcended the need for human companionship- other than my children.” That sounds like a contradiction. Your children are human aren’t they? But you have “transcended” the need for human companionship. So you don’t really “need” their companionship? What do you need from them (your children)? An occasional text while you meditate yourself into almost peacefulness?
This is so beautiful. Thank you so much. I see how I’ve wanted to have my husband shine his light on my shadow but not being able to hold space for his and wanting him to change. My heart breaks so see what I’ve done. I think both of our shadows have grown bigger.
I have begun to practice self compassion that is beginning to help me to bring more light to my own shadows. I love the Thich Nhat Hahn, and Insight way of Buddhism. But I’ve not quite felt ok about the non-attachement idea. I want to have relationships and cherish them dearly. Today, I’ve been listening to this beautiful talke which seems to show the true nature of non-attachement while being attached to our loved ones. youtube.com/watch?v=GkRAJUzk2L8.
Thank you Marc & Angel! xx
Brooke Follett says
I do not remember when I signed up for your emails. I am truly blessed when I read them with the insight your provide. It’s profound. This is the way I look at relationships. I will take this and apply to mine and my daughters. But also in a future relationship. My ex tuned me out and any time I wanted to talk about anything he never made time for me. The bar was always more important to him. He never put time in to me to get to know me. I knew that and am glad I don’t have to live like that. I deserve so much better. My mom raised me to find a sled-puller. One will do anything to make things work. A teammate. That’s the only way love will survive. Wish so many others understood that concept.
MICHAEL J BONNELL says
I really like this because it is no bs. As humans, we always find a way to let the negatives over look the positives. This especially happens in close relationships. While your partner might not make the same amount as you or like the same things that you do, as long as they make you happier, that is what matters. That, and the fact that they will always be there to support you.
Elsa Karas says
I always read your blogs. My problem is I got involved with a married man. I am so in love with him but he has a family and I think this is just fun for him. He seems like a nice guy. I am widowed and this is the first time that I have fallen in love since. I do believe this is a game for him, but I do have a difficult time not seeing it. How do you fall out of love with someone you knew you could never have. I have ordered your book Getting Back to Happy
This article had put into words exactly what I did to my 22 year marriage. I walked away left my husband and 3 kids. I thought I had found what I was looking for in someone else but not so. Today I’m alone, wishing I had my family back and regretting not working harder on what I had. Fairy tales don’t exist!
I have been a faithful follower of yours for at least four years. You have truly helped me look within myself. As much as I enjoy the regular emails it is the links to these weekly tutorials/blogs that resonate with me most.
Love how every “lesson” comes back for me to be responsible.
As always, your words of wisdom resonate with me and you seem to always talk about what is relevant to me at the time – it’s magical.
Thank you. x
Thank you so much. This article is the most logical and thorough treatment of the illusions we have planted in our heads. I have been guilty of trying to mold my husband (and friends) to meet MY expectations. Geez, I’m almost 65 years old and know better – so much… BETTER.
Today, I am stopping all thoughts of altering him (and others)…focusing on bettering myself and letting the frustrations disappear. It truly is about working harder to make the relationships we have the best we can.
I am finally ordering your book – treating it as my Life’s bible. Your work is so important and timely. Bless your hearts!!!
I really like the quote today that “We’ve been told that love is a feeling worth finding, but the reality is that love is an action worth investing in.” According to Scott Peck, “love is an intentional act of will to nurture spiritual growth.” The opposite of which would be things that destroy spiritual growth, typically for self centered reasons. It seems to me the actions of your student were pretty devestating to the poor woman he married. Unfortunately, I relate more to her.
I think that love is kind of like a teeter totter, like you explained above. What I’ve learned from all of this is that I have to take better care of myself so that I am on the receiving end of Love as well as the giving end of Love. Most of all, I need to do things that nurture my own spiritual growth to reclaim the sparkle that my 20 year marriage to a self centered man took from me. It’s been a journey but definitely worth it!. Thank you so much for helping to get my focus back to happy!
Brian Wisdom Enotu says
“… When your partner gives 20%, you must cover 80%, this is sweet an analogy!” i am grateful i have you for the best counsel. Thanx so much.
Marianne P. says
Hello Angel and Marc: I am the skeptic who commented that I was not really a fan of motivational speakers but now I look forward to the postings I receive each day from you. I can relate to them in many ways and sometimes see myself in the same situations you describe. I didn’t receive a post today, Saturday, June 23 and was really missing my “food for thought”. Please continue with your daily posts. I purchased “Getting back to Happy and will read it on our trip back to NJ in a few weeks. I thank my nieces for introducing me to your blog posts and your book.
“Healthy relationships are about two people who are willing to make adjustments for each other in real time as needed, and give a little more when the other person can’t help but give a little less.”
I’m a millennial, and in a complicated relationship. And basically, lost in the crossroad. Why complicated? well, we’re lack of the above quote. I believe I’m the only one who’s giving and its tiring. I’m not expecting or asking. I’ll do it, but most of the time I found my self-playing the martyr in a so-called relationship. Yeah, I could leave him but I couldn’t because of that 4 letter words L O V E?