The DNA of Relationships: You Have a Relationship With Others


Do you ever feel like all the problems in your relationship are caused by the other person? Find out why it is never just one person's fault.

Not long ago I was on a plane to San Francisco for a relationship conference and a woman recognized me, introduced herself, and mentioned that she had used some of the videotapes I did some years back. Sarah thanked me for helping her though a difficult time. Expecting to hear a success story, I asked her how the relationship was going now.

Sarah hesitated, then simply said, “Well, that relationship ended awhile ago.”

“Sorry to hear that,” I said. “What was the problem?”

This time she didn’t hesitate: “The problem was him. He didn’t really respect me.”

“I see,” I responded.

“I’m in another relationship now. This one’s better.” Sarah laughed. “He’s got problems too, but this one’s better.”

Sarah’s story is really not that remarkable. And that’s the point. Her situation is a common one, repeated in many lives over and over: “The problem was him.”

Does this sound at all familiar? Things haven’t changed much through the millennia. It’s the same blame game that Adam and Eve played, pointing to the other person as the source of the problem.

What about your troubled relationships? Do you hear yourself making similar statements about the other people? Do you see the problems as their fault?

Most psychologists and counselors recognize this basic relationship truth: It’s never just about the other person. If the problem were always the other person, then we wouldn’t have counselors and therapists. We’d hire a “relationship repairperson” and send him or her over to the other person’s house!

It’s never just about the other person.

I want you to think about this: The problem you have with another person is often a problem you have with yourself. Now, you may be talking back at me, saying, “No, Gary, I have to tell you, this other person really bad and did me wrong.”

Maybe so. But I’m guessing that there’s more to it than that. Because usually there is.

 Usually the pain that another person causes you is coming out of a fear or insecurity you have about yourself. Think about it: If someone says something about you that you know isn’t true, then it’s not really a problem. You are hurt by what people say or do only when something rings true.

Let me use a simple and obvious example. Let’s say you’re six feet two inches tall. By most standards, you’re considered a tall person. Let’s say that at a party a friend calls you “Shorty.” Now, there’s no reason for you to take offense, and you probably wouldn’t. In fact, other people would look at your friend oddly because she was saying something that was obviously not true about you. You aren’t particularly offended because you are confident inside yourself that what was said wasn’t true.

But let’s say that at the same party, your friend calls you “Skyscraper.” Now this bothers you. Why? Perhaps because you’re insecure about being too tall. What she said pushes a button inside you. You’re thinking, It might be true. I’m too tall. I’m faulty as a person.

At that point, you assume your friend was doing you wrong, was making fun of you. Yet, for all you know, maybe she was saying it as friendly teasing, or even perhaps she (being on the short side) admired you for being taller. And yes, it’s possible she was being mean. But even then, the real problem isn’t really what she said. The problem is how you see yourself. You reacted to what she said based on some inner fear of not being normal or feeling somehow defective. How many times in relationships are you blinded by what others say? You’re offended by someone else, and that, then, becomes a relationship problem. Instead you need to take a look at yourself, clearly and objectively. You need to point the camera at yourself through the right lens.

Note that I’m not saying that the problem here is that you are too tall. You may not be. Many times the statement that offends us isn’t true at all. The problem is how we react to what others do or say. Any accurate snapshot of a relationship problem never focuses just on the other person—the picture must also include you.

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