I don’t often mention here how before coaching executives in the social and emotional skills of leadership, I coached mostly men and a few women on the social and emotional skills of attraction and dating. I still do, but less so, although most of my clients touch on it at some point in our coaching relationship. Intimacy and vulnerability in any area touch on intimate relationships.
I mention it more on the podcast than in the blog. I still participate in some of the online forums I used to. I took more time than usual to answer a question one person posted. I thought it worth it to post my response here. The question is the title above. My answer is below:
It’s a broad question to answer and I think there’s a more useful question that I’ll get to in a second. If you’re baking a cake or growing a garden, you can choose what ingredients to mix in or what seeds to plant. With a woman, you can only choose full packages among the ones you meet. She’s stuck with all of you too. If you get along in many ways but not in others, you can’t swap out parts. Nor can you swap out parts of yourself you or she doesn’t like. Most of us would like to change parts of ourselves and find it takes years. Changing for someone else may take longer, for both of you. You have to learn to work together on some parts.
So it helps to start with self-awareness of what you like in a woman, what you offer, how much you’ll change, and how much you can work with parts that don’t match. In all areas of life: professional, family, kids, fantasies, sex, money, cleanliness, food, etc.
Then it helps to have the social and emotional skills to make her feel comfortable sharing those things about herself to you so you can tell how much you’ll overlap. These are her vulnerabilities so she’ll usually protect them, but they’ll come out eventually so the sooner you learn the better. It’s rough when they only come out in fights.
Once you decide its worth it, when you commit to long-term, knowing the areas you don’t overlap, it helps to have the leadership skills to lead yourself and her through the changes you want to make for each other. For example, if you like a cleaner house than she does, you agreed to her parts of the house being at her level of mess, and she agreed to clean more often than she normally would, that adjustment will take time. It may not happen. Or it may happen more one way than the other. If you both want to make it work, do you have the skills to listen, empathize, etc.
The biggest key to an enduring relationship after it starts is managing and resolving conflict. Conflict is inevitable. I broke up with my last girlfriend because her way of handling conflict didn’t overlap with mine. A couple of my best friends are friends because when we argue we quickly pick up we can learn from each other and change from argument to questions and curiosity. My mom and stepfather celebrated 42 years together and handle arguments in their way. It wouldn’t work for me, but for them it does.
Enduring commitment also means not being distracted outside what you’ve agreed to, which means security that you don’t feel you’re missing out and not insecurity. Lots of other things too.
Back to the more relevant question. I suggest the question is less what thing makes a healthy, strong relationship but how to develop in yourself the awareness, skills, and experiences to be the partner you can be and find out when you match or not. By analogy, if someone asks how to play Mozart, you could point to the notes on the score and say when the note is here, press this key, when it’s there, press that key, and so on. In principle, you’ve told someone how to play it. Nobody teaches that way. You don’t learn to play one piece. You learn to play music, which means scales and beginner exercises, than intermediate ones, performances, advanced exercises, learning theory, learning music history and the lives of composers, and so on.
So I think the bigger question is how to identify what you need to make yourself the partner you can be and reach that potential.
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