Do you feel like you put in more of the effort?

I’ve lost count of the number of people who get in touch with me asking “how can I make my partner appreciate me more and put as much effort into the relationship as much as I do?” or some version of that.

The short answer is you can’t. The only thing you can do is follow these steps:

1. Be yourself. I mean really be exactly how you are with your best and closest friends.

2. On the 1st day of every month, make the following lists:

        a.Who do I laugh with the most from those I know?

        b.Who do I relax with the most and feel that I put very little effort yet get so much?

If your partner is going up on these lists until they get to number one and stay there for at least three years, great; if not, then there is a very good chance that you are not a good match for long term cohabitation. Don’t force it, or blame yourself, or your partner. Just accept that you are better off as friends. Don’t do what 90% of couples do which is to persevere regardless believing that you need to ‘work at it’ or that ‘love will grow later’ or say ‘this is just the way it is’ or be scared that the clock is ticking or any of those ridiculous sticks we beat ourselves with when things don’t go well.

In other words, be uncompromisingly yourself, speak your mind always and hope that your partner adores the real you, AND INSIST that your partner does the same. Editing yourself into what you think the other wants to see will never ever work in the long term.

So that was my version of what a short answer is; now strap yourself in for the long answer. Please do bear with me, I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.

Love is a two way thing. You can only say that you love someone if they love the real you back. If you’re feeling that it’s one sided, or that you need to try harder or that you need to change or, and most importantly, if you feel that your partner needs to change, then what you are saying is that you recognise a void in your life, there is someone in front of you that may fill that void, however, you don’t think this void will be filled if you stay as you are or they stay as they are. Therefore you are going to chop and change yourself, or moan at them to chop and change here and there, and hope that somehow you make it work because you don’t want to start again. Starting again feels like yet another failure. This will not work because your void is actually talking to you, you need to listen to it rather than ignore it and just offer it any solution that comes your way.

So let’s pause for a second and look at this void we all are trying to fill, what is this void? The most common void most of us feel is loneliness. However, we are mislead by society into believing that having someone in our lives fills that void. This is not true. The definition of loneliness is that we do not have someone that we value in our life who, in return, values us as much as we’d like them to. In other words, alone does not mean lonely, most lonely people are not alone. Loneliness can be cured by the right person, but it can also be quadrupled by the wrong one. Contrary to popular misbelief, there are many ‘right ones’ in our midst, however, we need to be patient and listen to our heats rather than put all our efforts into trying to mould the wrong one.

There is another mistake many of us make when it comes to finding someone who values us as much as we’d like them to. We have an invisible sign on our forehead that says “hello, this is how much I value myself, please feel free to value me at that level too”. Therefore if you do not value yourself highly, then you’ll attract those who will not value you highly either. This brings us to another question: why do some people not value themselves and accept being in a relationship that is not full of love, joy and equal adoration of the mind? The answer is that we mimic what we’ve observed in our lives through learned behaviour.

Most of us had parents that didn’t truly love one another. We probably saw those that raised us laugh and relax and be themselves with others more than with each other. This teaches the children that it’s ok to accept not being loved. Even if we say “this will never happen to me when I grow up”, we subconsciously learn the tools for coping with incompatibility rather than the tools for finding and keeping a loving relationship with a best friend full of laughter, joy and honesty.

A further lesson is also learned by children of parents who aren’t loving laughing best friends. Such parents send vibes, unknowingly, to their children that say “you can see we’re not having fun and we’re here probably mainly for you. You owe us for our sacrifice therefore you must continue to please us to show appreciation for our love for you”. What this teaches the child is that to receive love, you must put yourself second and continue to please another.

This is why so many couples continue to ignore early red flags until one day they find themselves shackled in a loveless relationship where the cost of breaking it is too high due to children, money, fear of loneliness or some other reason. They will in turn teach their children the same tools for coping with incompatibility rather than the tools for having self worth and finding real reciprocal love. And the cycle will continue.

To break this cycle, we must not accept being in a one sided love relationship. The lovers must equally value each other. The gauge to use is time. Does time keep on increasing the certainty of equal love, laughter, joy and the ability to speak your mind with each other more than with anyone else? If so, continue with the relationship.

However, remember to keep checking regularly, at least once or twice a year. If you feel that the certainty is increasing, not just during year one — early excitement represents hope, not certainty — if it continues for say 2/3 years, then you can call yourselves partners and you can begin to consider long term commitments such as children.

Be honest, do not ignore red flags, face them, talk to each other about them, see them as opportunities to get to know your minds better and therefore either strengthen your bond or discover incompatibility early. Do not under value yourself by ignoring what you feel or by lying to yourself about the true level of love you have for each other. Do this, if not for you, then at least for your current or future children.

More than anything else, children need to see two life loving cheeky playful best friends, not neutered dad or angry mum or two co workers getting on with the task at hand without any fun, laughter or joy, fighting over who should wear the trousers. Neither parent should wear the pants, both should wear Bermuda Shorts.

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