Note: this article is the second in a 2-part series. The first article is “How to Keep Your Life from Stagnating: Master the ‘Adaptation and Change’ Cycle”.
Most everyone longs for an ideal relationship. We may think of it as a seamless, mutually supportive, completely easy and nourishing union between two souls. But is that realistic? Let’s take a step back and examine the ingredients necessary to have a truly ideal relationship.
We all have our idiosyncrasies and odd ways, unique to us as individuals. No two people share the exact same idiosyncrasies. Even in the best relationships, some adaptation to the other person must take place. In fact, adaptation is an essential ingredient in the cultivation of healthy relationships. We need to adapt to our partner. Not everything about them will be exactly as we would like. However, even adaptation comes in two forms: healthy and unhealthy.
Adapting to certain idiosyncrasies and behavioral patterns is quite normal and necessary. But at some point, those behavioral patterns can become dysfunctional and unhealthy. Adapting to the point of losing yourself to such dysfunctionality in your partner is called codependency.
Change is the second essential ingredient to a healthy relationship. In healthy relationships, we pay attention to the feel of the relationship and are open to identifying the dysfunction in it. When we become aware of our own or our partner’s dysfunctionality, we need to make a point of talking it over and, if necessary, working with it for however long it takes to promote a healthy change.
Identifying dysfunctionality is not always easy. We have a natural instinct to adapt. Slowly over time, the dysfunction can increase. We may feel that something is wrong, but it can be years before either partner consciously identifies and names it. It can take even longer to get to the point where we, as a couple, can get together and actively work with it. It’s very important to nip these problems in the bud. However, at whatever stage the dysfunctionality is identified, healthy relationships can work with it to bring about healthy change. All too often, people get overly identified with the dysfunction and instead walk away from the relationship.
What really makes a relationship ideal is not that there is never any dysfunctionality. That’s simply not realistic. What makes a relationship ideal is that no matter how early or late the dysfunction is identified, the partners are open and willing to sit down, work with it, and bring about healthy change. In fact, doing so enriches, nourishes, and cultures the relationship. When we go through all those things together and work with them through the years, the relationship becomes even more precious, treasured, and appreciated. Going through all these challenges together becomes a source of beauty, comradery, and strength.
Adaptation then becomes a good thing. We adapt to a different and better way of living our lives together. But we must never forget that life is continually changing. So, we must always be monitoring the nature of our relationship, be willing to work with it to bring about whatever changes are necessary, and then once again adapt to the new dynamic.
So, the two key words to a healthy, non-codependent relationship are “adaptation” and “change.” Both words have a positive and negative aspect. Adaptation to dysfunctionality is unhealthy. Being willing to adapt to a newer and healthier dynamic is healthy. Being willing to do what it takes to change unhealthy and dysfunctional dynamics is healthy. But changing and compromising our own sense of self in the name of a relationship is unhealthy. In healthy relationships, both individuals are supported in their self-actualization. Their sense of who and what it is they are flourishes and manifests through the relationship.
Each person in the relationship might pursue their own unique interests or they may share some common interests. Which person takes the lead while the other takes the supporting role can switch back and forth, depending upon the situation. But in every instance, as Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet, “As the strings of a lute are apart though they quiver the same music.” Each person is like the string of a lute, vibrating independently, fully self-actualized, but in harmony with one another.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. From personal issues to global trends, Dr. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a 'bridge' between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Michael Mamas has been teaching for over 35 years and writes on a variety of subjects on his blogs, MichaelMamas.net and RationalSpirituality.org.