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The Key to Making Any Relationship Work

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I recently did a TEDx talk in which I discussed the importance of mutual care-taking in relationships. I suggested that, at times, rather than follow our bliss, we attend to the needs of the people we love. We should do this, I proposed, not out of a sense or martyrdom, obligation or co-dependence, but out of love. When we do for others the things they want and need, in most cases, giving is reciprocal... we get back. Plus, there is the added benefit of simply feeling good about giving.

For the most part, the response I received was overwhelmingly positive. But the magnitude of the few negative responses was surprising. Apparently, going out of your way to please others, especially when you're not entirely in the mood, is a sign weakness and the fact that I suggested it, abusive. Hmm.

Actually, I think the whole idea about the importance of following one's bliss and letting our feelings be our guide is a greatly over-rated strategy. If you ask anyone who has ever been successful in any walk of life -- business, parenting, friendship -- in order to accomplish these goals, he or she often had to turn down the volume of that little inner voice that monitors every passing feeling.

Good parents don't always feel like reading bedtime stories. Successful business people don't always feel like putting in overtime. Loving friends sometimes have to keep their thoughts to themselves to avoid unnecessary conflict. In short, feelings are just feelings, not necessarily signposts for charting our best course in life.

This is odd for me to say, given that I have been a therapist for over three decades in a profession that worships feelings. But I have also seen the destruction that can come from the belief that genuine self-care is contingent upon always doing what is in our own best interest. It isn't.

Human beings are wired for connection. Current research in the field of social neuropsychology suggests that our need for connection supersedes our need for food and shelter. That said, it makes perfect sense that we go out of our way to please others. Our survival depends on it.

"If you find it in your heart to care for somebody, you will have succeeded."
-Maya Angelou

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