After a loss like divorce, it’s human nature to wonder, “What’s next?” In the beginning, your pain may be so great that it takes a great deal of energy just to face each day. As you progressed through the Rebuilding Seminar, you worked on grief, anger, self-worth issues, and opened the door to looking at love, relationships, and sexuality. You grew, you changed, you felt better (thankfully), and the issues you confront changed. Still, there’s that question, “What’s next?”
Your answer may spark many emotions. Here’s a few:
- Fear: “What if I get into another relationship that ends?”
- Excitement: “Now, I can do what I’ve always wanted.”
- A mixture: “It’s a whole new world out there. But what’s best for me?”
Let me share with you one important aspect of relationships that makes things easier right away. Ready? Here goes: RELATIONSHIPS ARE BEHAVIOR. Regardless of what you or anyone thinks or feels, the actual relationship takes place in the behavior that occurs.
Let me explain. One way to understand this is to imagine meeting someone for the first time. You get to know that person by what they say and how they say it. Also, you get to know them by what they do and how they do it. For example, you say “Hi,” and they say “Hello.” But they don’t look you in the eye, and that person’s voice is soft and hard to hear. Now, you don’t know very much about this person, but it’s natural to make assumptions. You think, she’s shy, or he’s not really interested in meeting me. Maybe later you find out that neither interpretation was correct, and that this person was just feeling ill that day. The point is, you (and anyone) begin to evaluate behavior, give it meaning, and this creates your sense of the relationship. BUT THE RELATIONSHIP ITSELF IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK OR FEEL, IT’S THE BEHAVIOR BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU. (And, it’s best to check out what you think so that your interpretation of what’s going on is accurate.)
For example, everyone wants to be respected in their relationships. But how do you know that’s happening? What are the behaviors that occur that lead you to believe that the other person respects you? Perhaps it’s helping you with a task when you ask, or giving you space when you need it, or taking over one of your chores when you’re tired. Your sense of getting respect from another person comes from the behavior (words and actions) that person engages in toward you. And, of course, it works the other way around: others judge your relationship by how you behave (words and actions) toward them.
So, as you can see, we may have many thoughts and feelings about someone else, but the relationship itself is constructed by the behavior between the two of us. This is essential to know because it keeps you grounded in reality, not stuck in fantasy or feelings of what we’d like to have. Also, it points you in the direction of teaching someone else just what you want in any relationship and how that works so that the other person can demonstrate caring for you in a way that is meaningful to you. It also helps you to learn about what that other person may want in turn.
Will Limón, MSW is the author of the internationally-published “Beginning Again: Beyond the End of Love.” He is also the self-published author of “Healing Heartbreak,” “The Way to Well-Being,” “Learning 2 Relate,” and co-author of “The Roots of Love.” Return to this column in the newsletter for more tips on healthy relating.