"Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals."- Mahatma Gandhi
Are love and leadership good bedmates?
To answer that question, I'd like to take you on an exploration from a conversation I had with a client. These notes were captured by a listener on the call. The names have been changed because the situation is universal.
This particular conversation is a common intimate relationship concern. It could just as well have been a business situation. The example ultimately occurs anytime we reach outside ourselves for gratification or fulfillment. Whatever we find will be temporarily satisfying, at best.
On a group coaching call, a client, whom I will call Roger, said:
Roger: I am no longer attracted to my wife. I used to be, but now I get annoyed with her a lot. And, I miss that feeling of excitement. I want to feel turned on, and I want to feel like someone thinks I'm hot. I'm just kind of going through the motions, hoping my feelings for Sally will change. We have a great family. I don't want to lose it, but I also want excitement.
Jan: A universal fantasy about relationships is that something outside of ourselves will keep us fascinated and interested for the rest of our lives. In a marriage or in a job, as long as you attach your happiness or unhappiness to your spouse, your company, or anything outside of you, you can never be happy enough, once the honeymoon wears off.
Notice for a moment. When you are feeling an emotion, any emotion, what is the source of it?
Roger: My thoughts?
Jan: Yes; your thoughts give you your emotion. You have an expectation, a fantasy story, an idealism about how an intimate relationship should feel, and that story has you feel something -- happy, sad, disappointed, excited, whatever - based on the story you are telling yourself. Can you invent new meaning around the same old facts?
Roger: I suppose so.
Jan: Is love a fact? No. Love is a meaning, a perception, a feeling that is based on a fact. Did you know that you can actually design what you are attracted to by the meaning you give it? You can.
In the issue you presented, you have a real adult need for companionship, intimacy and newness; but let's see if there is also an unmet childhood need* imbedded in what you are experiencing. (* An unmet childhood need is something you truly needed as a child from your parent figures for your sense of self worth and value, and you didn't get the need fulfilled.) Unexplored, the blueprint of your childhood will keep determining the destiny of your life.
If you can separate a real adult need from an unmet childhood need, you can begin to take care of your true adult needs through authentic dialogue, standing for your needs while also listening for theirs, and engaging in dialogue that is partnership based.
In the work we've been doing lately, what is the repetitive mood that you experience when things don't go the way you think they should?
Roger: Lonely, sad and hurt.
Jan: And, when you are feeling lonely, sad and hurt what behaviors do others see you do?
Roger: I get scornful and irritated and short tempered. And then I say snippy things.
Jan: Great. Now, what are some ways you quickly try to escape those feelings?
Roger: I make the other person wrong. I may demean them. I definitely blame them. I just want to go have a drink or watch TV.
Jan: OK, now look for a moment at your childhood. Close your eyes if it helps. What did you need from your parents that you didn't get, but wanted more than anything?
This is not about blaming your parents for anything. Somewhere in every child's life, as things happen children draw conclusions about themselves and life. As children, you and I were not aware that we were making conclusions about others, or ourselves, or life, but those early "decisions" became the blueprints of our lives which will repeat themselves, if left undiscovered.
Roger: I wanted to feel that I mattered, that I belonged in that family, that I was really wanted.
Jan: Now, this is a key point. Today as an adult, how do you go about getting that feeling of belonging, mattering and being wanted from things outside of yourself?
Roger: That's easy. I stay busy all the time making things happen at work and turning things around. I feel like I really matter and get validated - a lot. Plus, I make sure I'm the boss, and that people have to come to me for things. Of course, then I feel burdened by it all, but it gives me an identity.
Jan: Do you ever fantasize about how things "should be"?
Jan: Fantasies are a great way to feed unrealistic expectations. For example, you might fantasize that the perfect mate will always adore you and only you; they won't have any annoying habits; they will always look model-perfect, but you don't have to; and they will always turn you on. Sound about right?
Roger: Absolutely. Doesn't everyone want that?
Jan: Well let's see. Take your issue of not feeling attracted to your wife. Write down all your expectations, standards and "shoulds" about what that means? Get your thoughts up where you can see them. Now look and see if they are real adult needs or fantasy ideals from childhood.
The way you can know if something is an unmet childhood need is if your self worth or gratification goes up when you get what you want, or if your self worth and joy goes down when you don't feel valued. If your feeling of being wanted or mattering is in any way tied to another's response toward you, then you are in the blueprint of a childhood need.
Let's take your need to feel attractive to someone. If when someone flirts and shows you attention, you feel better about yourself, then you are in a childhood need. If someone ignores you and you feel depressed, you are also in an unmet childhood need. But, if you feel good about yourself regardless of how another responds to you, then your self worth is not tied to your story of how others see you or respond to you. That's freedom.
If you want to live in the freedom of authentic, connected, adult relationships, the key is to begin to matter to you. To begin to want yourself as you are. To see the unique gift you are, and make that matter. To begin to care for your own needs.
As you matter to yourself, you can begin to have a new level of conversation with your spouse that is not contingent on their reaction. You can clarify and engage around your adult needs, opening to the mystery of what could unfold in open dialogue.
As you take responsibility for your own mattering, you can bring clean connection to your relationships with others -- not looking for them to fulfill something inside of you - "giving to give" as my coach Nan Shaw says, versus "giving to get" something from them.
Wouldn't it be great to begin to create your life versus living in the fantasy of being swept off your feet by someone? What would it be like to be swept off your feet by you? To be turned on by who you are? To be bowled over by your unique gift?
Roger: I'm definitely not bowled over by me. I mean, I'm ok, but I've never imagined what it would be like to be bowled over by my unique gift. I'm actually shy about that.
Jan: Learn how to do that for yourself. When you do, you will then be able to bring clear-headed, clean connection to the relationship with your wife, or your staff, or your children, not needing them to make you feel important, validated or having worth.
You will be able to make partnership requests, getting interested in their needs and wants without setting your own needs and wants aside to keep the peace, or sneaking to get your needs met, or imposing your needs on another.
Are love and leadership good bedmates? It sounds cliché to say, the more you love yourself, the more you can love others. But, I believe that's a worthwhile perspective.
Take the time to look objectively at your life. Notice how often you look for gratification outside of yourself from a job, another person, a parent, or even a particular response from someone. Set aside the fantasy that over there is better, and embrace your life exactly as it is right now.
In my experience, loving ourselves lays the groundwork for inspired leadership.
All my best,