This is not the article that I was going to share today, but sometimes I get a strong feeling to go in a different direction. Today is one of those days.
This morning I was asked by a friend, to weigh in and give some advice in a group where I’m one of the resident expert coaches on dating and relationships.
In the interests of confidentiality I won’t share the name of the group or the person in question, but as I found myself writing to her, I realised I could have been writing to anyone, in any relationship situation.
Her story is that of a very brave woman. She was living the life that she thought that she should live. She was married, and wanted a family. But she wasn’t happy…so she courageously ended her relationship with her husband, to begin a relationship with another woman who she fell deeply in love with. But now she’s battling with fears and questions, that she doesn’t identify with the right labels, that she is feeling an immense pressure to make a decision now that will affect the rest of her life, that she’s choosing a harder path for herself, that it’s not the ‘right path’.
What should make you happy?
While not everyone has experienced this situation, the details are just that…details. I know a lot of people who are trying to create for themselves what their life should look like, feel like, what should make them happy…and are making themselves miserable in the process.
In life, there is often a disconnect between what you believed your life would look like (and would make you happy), what you think your life should look like (and should make you happy), and what your life does look like (and what makes you happy).
When we grow up with such vivid images in our minds, and thrown at us from TV, magazines, films, friends, parents etc we can often get very attached to these ideas as being ‘the right way’…and we dismiss any alternatives completely.
In reality, what we expect our lives to be, and what they turn out to be are very different…and with good reason…we take on other people’s ideas of love, life and happiness and then try and fit ourselves to them because that’s the way life is…but we often end up unhappy because it’s not OUR way, the way that’s right for us.
Coming from a girl who spent 20 years living a life she thought she *should* live and being unhappy in the process…believe me, I know.
What should make you happy vs what does make you happy
Rarely do we actually stop and ask ourselves,’what feels good to me?’, ‘what do I want?’, ‘what makes me happy?’…we just carry on, carrying on and expect it to all work out one day.
It takes real courage to wake up from the slumber of ‘just carrying on’, because that’s what everyone else does. It’s not easy to admit that something’s not right, and that you’re not happy…but choosing not to just keep doing the same thing and instead to create a life for yourself that feels right, that actually does make you happy and works for you is brave and admirable.
The honest answer is that none of us knows what the future holds. Life can change in a heartbeat and throw us an unexpected curve ball. Trying to make a decision today that will be ‘right’ for the rest of eternity, and committing to that rigidly is where a sense of pressure comes from. We sometimes feel like we’re running out of time to make a decision that will then be there forever. No wonder we end up feeling stressed! 🙂
We can only ever do the best we can with the information we have at the present time. The reality is that the decision that is right for you today, may not be right tomorrow…and that’s OK. Allow yourself to be in flow, being flexible and moving with the flow of life and how you’re changing and growing as a person, rather than putting yourself in a box today that you might grow out of tomorrow. Instead try living without the box!
What should a committed relationship look like?
One of the challenges with committed relationships is that people make a commitment once that’s there forever…and in doing so, they can feel trapped, or lacking in freedom…but also they can get complacent and take their partner for granted. “We’re going to always be together”…so they stop making the effort. I know he’ll be there no matter what tomorrow, so if I don’t make the effort today does it really matter?
The approach I always encourage people to take is to create a commitment that they want to continue to choose each other every day. There’s not an assumption that they definitely will or definitely won’t be there tomorrow…they want to continue to choose each other, but it’s a choice made every day. Knowing this, each person needs to keep putting the effort into the relationship each day, and they each need to continue to put effort into being the best version of themselves they can be. Relationships take ongoing effort and commitment to each other in order to continue to flourish and grow.
Finally…I invite you to lose the labels in your life. Does it really matter if you describe yourself as heterosexual? Lesbian? Bi-sexual? Man? Woman? Mother? Career-woman? Domestic Goddess?
…instead look at the label “ME” what am I? Who am I? What makes ME happy? What do I want? Labels can be so restrictive, so by focusing on the label “ME” you can make it mean whatever it means to YOU…which is all that matters. Whether you’re into men, women, or aliens with pink polka dots, doesn’t really matter…what matters is what matters to YOU.
I know a woman who left a marriage to be with another woman…to her it wasn’t about being gay, she just met someone she loved deeply and couldn’t live without…the fact that it was a woman was irrelevant to what they shared together. They were two souls who met, fell in love and created a life together.
I also have a friend who on coming out to her parents, they were devastated. To them, happiness could only be found with a husband, wife, 2.4 children and a white picket fence, therefore to them, she was committing herself to a life of misery. The thing is that to some people a husband, wife, 2.4 children and a white picket fence IS a life of misery. What makes you happy, and others happy can be totally different…so embrace what feels good for YOU.
So all that said, my advice to anyone in a situation like this would be to consider a few different questions:
– What do you think your life “should” look like? …and why? Where do these ideas come from? Are they really yours? If not, it’s OK, you took them on for a reason, but if they aren’t serving you, then it’s also OK to let them go.
– What actually makes you happy? Look back over the past year…and whether it fits the idea of what life should look like or not, look for the times, experiences, and moments in which you were happy. Then start to build up a picture of what your happy life could look like…remembering that life is organic, it’s always growing and changing, and it’s OK for you to grow and change with it.
– What does the label “ME” look like? Have fun playing with it, create the lifestyle and choices that are truly right for you.
…and finally, what choice will make you happy today? Life is short. Things change without warning. Live for today’s happiness, create that for yourself. You could plan out the next 30 years of your life, and something could happen that could completely change everything. So what will make you happy today?
…and then give yourself permission to enjoy it, now, while it’s happening, in this moment. Because this moment is all we’re guaranteed in life…so make the most of it, and allow yourself to feel happiness and joy today.