Life can often seem overwhelming.
We have so many responsibilities and obligations demanding our time and attention. Kids, work, partners, friends, parents and other family and other organisations we have got involved in.
And to cope with the stress of modern life there are industries that have set up to solve our overwhelm. Productivity, time management, self-care, mindfulness etc. The problem is that we need to take time to learn these tools. I want to start to give you a way to reframe this to takes the stress out.
Context Determines Capacity
When life seems overwhelming, it’s because we have too much content to fit within our current contextual framework.
Think of the content as being clothes and the context is the wardrobe. There’s a point where all the folding and organisation just doesn’t hack it any more.
When you have too many clothes… and you really do need them all… then you need to upgrade the wardrobe space.
Likewise, when you’re overwhelmed with life and all you have to do, there’s a point where mindfulness, self-love and all that stuff doesn’t cut it. The solution is a new paradigm. I want to share with you a new paradigm for all the things you have to do in your life and in particular, of course, for relationships.
Context Over Content
The biggest and quickest shifts we can make are when we change the context we see something through.
If I give you a message to send or an action to do, you solve a minor problem. But usually you just delay the problem.
When you get a perspective change you can eliminate a host of problems.
For example, recipes give us content. They help us to know what and how to cook a meal. We still have to shop and find the ingredients and measure the quantities though.
Services like Hello Fresh, change the context from knowledge to action by giving us everything in one bag.
Relationships Become What they Are From The Context We Put Them In
Our relationships are a reflection of a number of factors that began from our very earliest days.
Our attitude to relationships was shaped by our relationship with our parents, our past experiences and observations. That has shaped who we chose as a partner and the attitude we came into the relationship with.
So when we change our perspective, we change the context of our relationships.
The more we can zoom out and see the bigger picture, the more that we can put everything within a context that makes sense.
So let’s look at a context for life and relationships.
Life As A Quest
When people see life as an overwhelming list of chores, demands and tasks it is because they haven’t contextualised their life into a bigger picture. That bigger picture is a question of identity.
Ultimately, we are defined and contextualised by our identity. An identity is how we view and define ourself and how others view and define us.
When you ask someone how they see yourself people will answer on different levels.
For some, their life is defined by what they do. They are an Accountant. They are a Mother. They are a Husband.
When we choose to identify as our actions we become a commodity. There are lots of Accountants, parents, spouses. And we yearn to be different. To have our unique qualities recognised.
Sometimes we identify as how we are being. I’m kind. I’m creative. I’m confused.
All of us are more than what we do and our qualities.
When we identify as a quality, we limit ourselves to being in specific boxes and archetypes. So we can be a creative accountant. Or we can be a loving father. Or a devoted wife. But again this doesn’t really sum up the richness of who we are.
Our self-esteem and security rests on how we identify ourself. Our values are an expression of how we identify ourself.
In Search of Meaning
The quest of life is about how we answer that question of identity. How do we express the unique individuality of who we are and how do we tell the story of our life?
Simon Sinek talked about organisational identity in his concept of the Golden Circle. What they do. How they do it. And why they do it.
In the same way, we have what we do. How we do it. And why we do it, which is based on who we see ourselves as being.
What Does Identity Have To Do With Relationships?
Relationships are all about how we see ourselves and our partner. Our identity affects everything within our relationships. Let’s look at three specific aspects.
Conflict Is Based On Identity
Most people argue about the basics of life. Sex, money, children, work and so on.
One wants to save and worries when their partner spends frivolously. The other wants to spend extravagantly and so they constantly fight over money.
The conflict here is at the level of content. One wants to save and the other wants to spend.
The resolution comes at the level of meaning. What money represents to them.
One sees money as safety and security and the other sees it as a way of having rich experiences and expressing their love.
Their conflict is in how they relate to money. That is part of their larger identity.
We fight over what people do, because we don’t understand how they see the world.
In contrast, our bond with a partner is based on our level of intimacy. A deeper knowing and acceptance of each other.
When we understand how they see the world, we can understand how they feel and why they do what they do. That understanding is the forebearer of acceptance and love.
How Long Does It Take To Get Over A Breakup?
The pain of a breakup is the breaking of that bond.
Many people suffering the anguish of heartbreak ask how long it will take to get over the pain they feel.
People will tell them that time heals. Some will even tell them it takes half the time of the relationship. Studies have even been done into this, without any definitive answer.
Because the question is like the alleged theological enquiry into how many Angels can dance on a pin. It is baseless and completely irrelevant.
When we lack proper context we ask irrelevant questions.
Time is only relevant to a breakup, in the sense that it creates psychological distance. It isn’t the function of time, but that over time we have other experiences that change how we view the lost relationship.
How long does it actually take?
The moment you stop looking from a frame of fear of what you’ve lost and how life will always be worse, to looking at what is possible and how life could actually be better is the instant you heal.
The moping and wallowing we all do, is just a stage that generates the motivation and inspiration for something else. The healing happens when we change how we look at life.
Viktor Frankl noticed this in Nazi Concentration Camps and based his therapy on helping patients to develop meaning. The meaning they found is the path to healing.
Identity In Dating
A relationship is a process of getting to know someone. At each level of knowing there are factors that would make you incompatible.
Awareness of yours and their levels means that you are better equipped to understand who is a good match.
Yet so many people want to learn the right text to send or what they have to do to get the guy or girl. So dating tactics lead people to play roles from insecurity. This mask stops them from building the strong bonds that are built to last.
This is why I so strongly advocate the idea of building relationships on truth. The truth is what will be revealed over time. Anything other than the truth collapses when exposed in the light of day.
Every Problem Begins At The Level Of Identity
Relationship problems exist before you ever knew each other. They are problems laying dormant, inherent in the frame of how you see yourself and the world.
Couples on the honeymoon stage of a relationship will claim to be so compatible and in love.
We’re both ambitious, we both want children and we want to live in the country they might say.
Ten years later they start divorce proceedings citing irreconciliable differences over unreasonable work hours and how they raise the children. We can agree on what we want, but once we open that box there’s a number of dimensions inside it.
Marriages and longer relationships usually break when they are put under pressure. Having kids. Money problems. Dealing with relatives. Work or health pressures and so on.
The differences were already there, but without the pressure, they weren’t revealed. And of course, people change. As we grow our identity changes.
So what I’m saying, is that often it isn’t that relationships go bad. They had the problems laying dormant. They just hadn’t been pressure tested.
This is especially true when people in desperation for a relationship mistake lust for love and idealise who their partner is rather than get to know them.
Of course, we can’t know everything about someone before we commit, but we can learn how well we can handle our differences.
The Three Universal Quests
All of us have quests that we undertake. Things that we see as important to us. Underneath though, there are three key universal quests that drive our life. These are the three questions we constantly ask in relating every situation to the narrative we make of our life.
How we feel about the answer is what determines our emotional state.
The three quests are money, relationships and meaning.
Money and power are the currencies for what value do you bring to your community. With lots we feel valued and important. When we have little we fear for our ability to survive and get by.
When someone passes off our work as theirs it triggers us because it threatens our perceived value.
Love and friendship are the currencies for who do you belong to and with.
When we have lots we feel secure in our place in society. When we have little we worry that we’ll end up alone and unloved.
When we get left out of social gatherings, it triggers us because we feel rejected and that we don’t belong.
Meaning and purpose are the currencies for what difference has your life made. At one end we can feel connected to all of life. At the other we feel unrecognised and misunderstood. When we do work that makes no difference we question the value of our efforts.
What Is A Quest?
The word quest, is a shortened form of question. In the old French meaning it meant acquisition, hunt or to search. It’s earliest origin was to ask or seek.
We go on quests to find something like the Holy Grail. Really though, as every Movie lover knows, each quest is about who the Heroine is and what he can become.
Whether it’s Rocky, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Bridget Jones or Bilbo Baggins, what they sought was to answer the question of what they could become. Could Rocky last the distance? Could Luke become a Jedi and save the Empire?
A quest is a journey of finding what you can become and giving meaning to your life.
Relationships Are A Quest
When we don’t look at life as a quest, we look at what we have. The cultural fantasy is to win the lottery, fall in love and invent something life-changing.
The money gives us freedom and worth. The love validates who we are. And the invention means we mattered.
Yet, this is based on an idea that what we have, the observable things we acquire, riches, a spouse and status are what life is about.
Life is about who we become and how we live.
In order to become, we have to be challenged. We have to face trials and temptations. We have to fail to see how we can cope with adversity. We have to be rejected, to see how we can know our own value when others don’t see it.
But when we look through the wrong lens, failure looks like not good enough. Rejection means not good enough.
Life is a journey of owning and shaping our identity.
The stupidest thing we can do is to sell our souls to get a result. Yet when we look at the world all we see are our politicians, business people and lovers selling their soul for their whims.
A Quest Is A Journey
Relationships are about who we become in the moment.
On Facebook and Instagram relationships are a badge of proving our worthiness. Look how loved I am and therefore I must be worthy. We keep up with the Jones’s not just with our cars and houses, but with our relationships.
When we buy into this merry-go-round of social signalling, we become insecure.
Singles often report feeling judged for their lack of partner. We talk of Spinsters being left on the shelf as if they are unwanted.
Yet from my experience of walking alongside people in their relationship struggles, the worst place to be, is in a toxic relationship where you cannot be yourself. Nothing kills the human spirit more than imprisonment.
Happiness Is Not A Destination
Happiness is not a thing to be captured. It is the byproduct of a life well lived.
Happy ever after is a state of being. A comfort, peace and contentment not a relationship status.
Yet, just as we seek having money over being truly valuable, we want to show we are worthy of love as opposed to being loving.
Diet drinks, magic pills and quick tricks are all attempts to circumvent nature and avoid the quest of becoming. They are loved by those who want the shortcut. But you cannot change the nature of life.
Diet drinks still spike insulin levels. Magic pills have side effects. And quick tricks work temporarily.
Life, as a force, has no urgency. It goes on. It evolves and ultimately we all succumb to it’s rules. Life and relationships are an infinite game. There is no finish line. We cannot ever be there. We can only engage in the quest.
Your choice is to play the game as if relationships are a quest or as something to hoard.