As a newlywed I’m reminded that my marriage says a great deal about my wife and I. We’re not alone. Relationships are one of life’s most precious resources and they require investments of both time and energy. Understanding the reflective nature of relationships is important because they provide important insight into our character, habits, insecurities, fears, flaws, and personalities. Here are few things I believe our relationships—both those we are a part of and those we leave—say about who we are and what we desire from life.
I’m sure we have all asked ourselves why anyone would stay in an unhealthy relationship with someone who is dishonest, unfaithful, manipulative, or emotionally and physically abusive. The answer to that question often involves a person’s perceptions of self-worth. Our society often associates self-esteem with accomplishments, but it is entirely possible for a person to be well-educated, wealthy, and have all of the indicators of success yet still not see themselves, or their relationships, in a healthy light. And while there are many things that positively contribute to a healthy sense of self, our insecurities, past relationships and the relationship experiences of friends and family can chip away at our perceptions of self and the types of relationships we think we deserve. Knowing your worth is important because it is silly to expect someone else to look at you as priceless when you see yourself as worthless.
Patterns of Behavior
If we were to look back over our lives, we would see that many of us have pursued, or attracted, the same types of people. Oftentimes this is due to issues of self-worth that were discussed above. We might also find that our relationships have followed similar story lines or exhibited similar patterns. This can be attributed to our unique personalities as well as our fears and past hurts. For example, a man’s desire to check in during a past relationship might have been due to the unfaithfulness of his then-girlfriend. But, it will erode trust in a new relationship.
Spotting patterns is also a good exercise to determine our motives for the things we do. For example, a woman might find her pattern of having sex with men early in the dating process is not out of her own desires but because she thinks it will make a man commit to a more serious relationship. Being honest about our patterns of behavior is important because new relationships will end the same way old ones did if we don’t address our own attitudes and actions.
One thing I’ve learned from the high-profile affairs and sex scandals of famous men is that a person’s true character can’t be hidden. Even if you’re a master politician, athlete, or actor, who you are will eventually be revealed in your relationship. Many of our elected officials have shown that their lies typically don’t end with infidelity. If a man is willing to deceive his wife and children, whom he has pledged to love and protect, I don’t see why his constituents, customers, fans, etc. would expect absolute honesty in his professional endeavors. Character in relationships is not just a matter of being faithful. It also involves the level of patience, forgiveness, honesty, and kindness we show our mate.
Personal and Relationship Values
In addition to being reflections of our character, our relationships are also values statements. They demonstrate how we handle the things we hold most dear and say a great deal about our priorities. The irony is that they also reveal the distance between how we live and what we say we believe. For example, if a man of a particular faith says that he wants to be with a woman with similar beliefs but consistently dates women who don’t share his beliefs, it’s clear that his actions are out of alignment with his stated desires. The same is true for a married couple that says they value saving but racks up debt trying to live a lifestyle that they can’t actually afford.
How Others See You
Relationships, particularly marriage, are some of the best tools for self-reflection because they force us to face parts of ourselves that we either don’t see or would rather ignore. My wife has an all-access pass to my life and sees me at my very best and very worst. Our relationship is a great indicator of my emotional, spiritual, and social growth as an individual and husband. My wife plays an important part in helping me evaluate whether I’m as patient, kind, affirming, and communicative as I think I am. If the atmosphere in our home is characterized by tension and combativeness, however, there’s a good chance that one, or both, of us is failing to demonstrate love consistently.
Oftentimes our behavior in relationships reflects identities that haven’t fully formed, maturity that hasn’t fully been realized, and hearts that haven’t fully healed. That’s why understanding your identity and purpose is so important before entertaining a serious relationship, especially marriage. It is extremely difficult to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t know, and isn’t comfortable with, who they are. Understanding what relationships—past, present, and future—say about us is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from getting into situations that are clearly not in our best interest. When our relationships speak we would be wise to listen.
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BMWK, what is your relationship saying about you? What do your relationship patterns say about your self-worth, character, strengths, weaknesses, and values?