“We are born with a capacity to dance together but not with the necessary training.”—David Richo
As soon as I read the first line in chapter one shown above, the analogy made crystal clear sense of my ignorance about relationships and how to navigate past it: I needed to learn HOW to love, not just want to love and want to be loved.
Love, as the oft mentioned quote reminds is a verb, but even if we accept this truth, we have to learn how to exercise this action, and we have to be willing to let go of so much incorrect and unhelpful advice in order to find the peace and contentment we seek.
Today’s episode can help in all relationships you are engaged in. Fundamentally, the book was written in 2002 for readers trying to improve their romantic relationships, but indirectly, the skills and concepts shared will foster healthy relationships platonically from close friends and family members to acquaintances, neighbors and strangers we bump into along our travels and life journey.
Recommended by my counselor, my copy of David Richo’s book is annotated in detail, and I have referred back and reread different sections since my first reading. I have chosen to work with a counselor since nearly five years ago, but it did take time to find the right one. Meeting regularly, primarily for preventative and skill strengthening purposes in areas I wish to improve, the opportunity to meet with a professional, trained in the area of expertise we do not have is helpful to make sense of what we learn not only about ourselves but how our minds and emotions work.
With all of that said, as soon as I read the book, lightbulbs went off repeatedly in my mind. Ahas occurred frequently, and I found an ease I had never felt before regarding my approach to interacting with others in a variety of different relationship scenarios.
While I highly recommend you pick up your own copy and read it closely, I wanted to share with you in today’s post/episode the primary component that underlies everything about being an adult in life and love.
The world we live in would rather have us feel insecure and lacking, even though it blatantly argues the contrary (when you purchase their product, create [enter lifestyle and accoutrements] for all to see and witness, or behave in a certain way), so it is no wonder we are confused about what we should or should not be doing when it comes to relationships. And even if we eventually do figure it out, trying to understand what it is that worked if we do not know ourselves, leaves us struggling to explain to others why it works if they inquire, don’t understand or have not been introduced to the fundamentals shared below.
The good news is, this intangible unknown need not be unknown any more. Knowledge is key, and this practice is essential to cultivate habits that will heal you and then strengthen your ability to connect as an adult with adults to build a life of social harmony and contentment.
First, we need to let go of some unhelpful and often destructive habits.
Let Go of F.A.C.E.
The ego when neither understood and left to its own devices will become inflated and hinder any chance for a healthy relationship between two adults. Let’s take a look at the acronym Richo came up with that clearly delineates what we need to step away from if we wish to become an adult in relationships.
Fear will always be present in our lives. It is the awareness of fear and what fear provokes us to do that must occur so that as Richo says, “It never has to lead me”. So while fear may be a natural emotion, it is our job to understand what the fear signifies within us so that we can then understand ourselves better and move forward in a healthy manner, not a fear-led manner.
Richo speaks about learning from our fears, “Fear usually rears its ugly head exactly when we are ripe for a change”. As well, when we feel we do not have the power to direct our lives, fear enters, and we make decisions, if we let fear direct, from a place of avoiding losing any power we thought we had.
Jealously is a result of fear as well. If we allow jealousy to grab hold, we are not abiding by the ability to let go of the actions of another, and instead becoming engulfed by others, rather than being present and open. What is our life trying to tell us? What strengths, what decision-making skills are we lacking? Jealousy arises when we are not secure with our ability to trust that we can be content and full all on our own, and so we cling, we grasp. Richo shares, “Jealousy is a combination of three feelings: hurt, anger and fear.” Any or all of these three feelings may not be directly related to your partner at the moment, but inspired by past pain. Knowing where and why your fear arises is the map that will set you free should you follow it.
When we attach ourselves to a particular outcome, behavior, etc., we are clinging out of fear. Attachment in the mind, as Richo explains, is a belief in polarities – a belief that there are only two outcomes – “I have to be in charge, or everything will fall apart”. Such thinking is faulty, and when we recognize that the polarities are unhelpful in cultivating a strong relationship not only with others but with ourselves, we come to realize what we have control over only ourselves – how we communicate, how we prepare, how we engage, how we take care of ourselves in order to do our best, so that we can be at peace with the outcome knowing we did our best. So instead, the healthy ego shifts the above belief to “I let the chips fall where they may”, knowing we will tend to our responsibilities and do what we can in that moment to the best of our ability – truly and fully.
The peace that comes when we practice letting go of attachment is uncomfortable initially, but freeing continually, thereby allowing us to expend our energy on better pursuits and passions.
Similar to attachment, yet unique on its own, letting go of control is to take responsibility of ourselves. How do we take responsibility in order to let go of control? Set and maintain personal boundaries, build a strong foundation of self-respect (which will lead us into letting go of entitlement), come to understand that growth comes from struggle and yes, pain. This is a natural cycle, so when something unwanted occurs, the adult who has let go of control will be able to find the opportunity to grow and apply it forward for a more content and fulfilling life.
Entitlement rears its head when we have expectations of how we should be treated, what we should feel, what should happen when, etc., etc., etc.. I know I am guilty of feeling entitled when it comes to relationships, and if you have ever caught yourself in your head or outloud saying, “[they] should have . . . [insert behavior],” you too have unconsciously felt entitled. Based on how (through modeling by our parents or elders or media or friends or social circle) and what we were taught about the trajectory of relationships, we establish a map of behavior and events that should happen, and thus the entitlement “gene” is given to us, and we accept it. But we do not have to keep it any longer.
When we feel entitled, Richo states, we are kept from giving anyone our attention and appreciation – two skills we must engage in if we want a healthy, loving adult relationship. Also, we cannot give someone our acceptance and allowing to be themselves because we are too attached to our own version of how everything should be. Again, two more skills that must be practiced in order to be part of a healthy adult relationship.
Entitlement does not allow us to connect fully and completely with another person, and from the start, we are hindered in our ability to discover a loving relationship.
Now that we have let go four unhelpful habits, we now have room and energy to practice the five habits and skills that will strengthen our relationships in all areas of our lives, especially our romantic relationships. Let’s take a look at what the Five A’s are, as explored and discussed in How to be An Adult in Relationships.
Practice and Strengthen regularly
Each of the five A’s are feelings and actions to both give and receive in order to be in a healthy relationship. Each definition is shared directly from the aforementioned book by David Richo
—Attention from others leads to self-respect.
—Acceptance engenders a sense of being inherently a good person.
—Appreciation generates a sense of self-worth.
—Affection makes us feel lovable.
—Allowing gives us the freedom to pursue our own deepest needs, values and wishes.
Richo explains that when any one of the five A’s are not forthcoming from others, specifically others we seek it directly from, we may feel we are to blame, and while we need to find others who mirror back to us these five A’s, if we are to build and maintain healthy adult relationships, we also need to find them within ourselves.
However, while we need to find strength and awareness and understand we have self-worth, we also need to not expect to be fulfilled in each of these areas from one person. Beginning with our parents and then to any one adult we may in a relationship with, Richo asserts, they cannot be everything and fulfilling in all ways. Thus, “it is necessary and healthy to receive need fulfillment from other sources all through life . . . an adult sensibility releases us from expecting any person to fulfill [us] totally.”
There is freedom in knowing the truths of healthy bonding and contented living, and to better understand what each of the five A’s is and looks like in practice both for ourselves and from others, I encourage you to pick up the book as his examples are specific and anecdotal which provide clarity and a deeper understanding.
We all have the capacity to love and love well; we simply need to be willing to be a student, do the homework regularly and consistently and have the courage to change and be open as we go along our journey.
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