Dear Keith and Maura,
My boyfriend and I talk on the phone constantly, but lately he doesn't seem to have as much time. He always tells me he loves me but I'm feeling dismissed and don't know how to handle it. What should I do?
Unfulfilled in Alabama
This may sound backwards, but focusing on someone else's behavior does not often get us what we really want.
You say you are feeling dismissed, so we will assume that you would like to feel embraced, loved, cared for, attended to. If you spend your time second-guessing why your boyfriend is behaving the way he is, you will only make yourself crazy. You can (and probably will) make up a million different stories in your head, and whether or not they are even true, none of them will make you feel any better.
Instead, we recommend you take his behavior - and your reaction to it - as an indication that you may have some work to do on your relationship with yourself. You may want to ask yourself, "In what ways do I dismiss myself, and how can I embrace myself more, love myself more, care for myself more, attend to myself more?" Just think about all the things you would like to receive from him, and find ways to give them to yourself.
Here's an example:
Before we met, Maura always wanted to experience a totally romantic valentine date. Every time she was in a relationship, when Valentines Day rolled around, her expectations were impossibly high, and she was always sorely disappointed. She expected her boyfriends to read her mind, and know exactly what she wanted. She expected them to feel the same way she felt about Valentines Day, and to enjoy the same things she enjoyed. She wanted them to make her feel special, but no matter what they did, it was never good enough.
Once she finally realized that she did not need a man to make her happy, Maura began to find ways to fulfill herself, and to give herself all the things that she had always wanted from a man. When Valentines Day came back around, she made a list of all the things that would give her the perfect valentine date, and to her surprise and delight, they were all things she could do all by herself! She planned the whole evening ahead of time. She sent herself flowers, with a beautiful card (signed by God) saying all the things she wanted to hear. She rented her favorite "chick flick" and after she enjoyed the delicious dinner she had prepared for herself, just the way she liked it (and by candlelight, of course) she watched her movie in total romantic bliss. By the end of the movie, she was feeling so wonderful, she never even felt the need to take the romantic bubble bath she had planned for herself - she was already completely satisfied!
Now you're probably thinking, "Oh, now come on, how could you possibly experience romance, and be completely satisfied, all by yourself?"
Our answer: we have no idea. We don't know how it worked, we just know that it did. And what we now understand is that as long as your feeling of self-worth or fulfillment is dependent on somebody other than yourself, you will never be truly satisfied. And all you need to do to change that is to make a decision that you are willing to try it a new way. You must be willing to believe that it's possible for your own self-love to be more fulfilling than any other love you have ever known. If you believe it's possible, you can make it so!
The other great thing about this method is that it works just as well when you are in a relationship as it does when you are single. Just start taking your focus off of your partner's behavior and putting it back on yourself, by asking yourself the types of questions we mentioned above, and taking action on the answers you come up with. Then watch what happens in your relationship.
Now we're not saying you should ignore your boyfriend all together, but start putting your focus on what he is doing right - the things you really love about him. And when you notice something you don't like, then turn it back on yourself, and see how you can change it in your own behavior toward yourself. When this process is done with real self-love and true commitment...magic happens.
And remember not to be too hard on yourself either. It's not about blaming or judging, it's about observing and creating. Creating the life of your dreams. The life you were always meant to live. Have fun with it!
Keith and Maura
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