For nearly 3 decades, choosing me as your boyfriend was like strapping yourself into a faulty emotional roller coaster whose wheels would scream and spark before jumping the tracks, offing us both towards an awful demise.
Sure, there was always that initial promising climb towards a giddy peak of excitement. But what always inevitably followed was a screaming plunge into undulating whip-lash twists and turns of confusion, chaos, and anger, capped off by a final plummet into heart-crushing disappointment.
What I’m saying is I never made for a very good boyfriend (or husband).
I never knew why, or even began taking any responsibility, until my late 30s.
I’m engaged now, three years into the relationship I always dreamed possible; the one that seems to prove that old adage: “When you finally find the right person, it finally makes sense why all those before never worked out.”
There’s surely truth to that.
Perhaps it’s equally true – or even more so – that I finally became the right person: A man who could actually pull this relationship thing off.
Silvy is a brilliant, sexy, beautiful, talented, scrumptiously divine woman. Any man would be a right fool to let her go. She is also a reflection of the Man I have had to become (and am still becoming) if I was ever going to make relationship with such a woman – or any woman – truly thrive, rather than merely keep driving love off the rails into excruciating oblivion.
I only know this because about 18 months into our relationship, I hit a wall.
Even though we had a beautiful connection and so, so many more things were right about our relationship than wrong with it, we had nonetheless been clashing over a cultural divide that even one of the most brilliant therapists in the world told us in a private session is unlikely to ever go away. After a little over a year together, that clash seemed to hit cataclysm status, and I found myself in painfully familiar territory. I feared this roller coaster was about to jump the tracks again.
I was sure I didn’t want to lose this extraordinary woman I’d waited a lifetime for, so I hired my own life coach, a man I knew would understand both my culture and my dilemma, a man I could therefore trust to help me navigate this scary situation with more clarity and intention.
In our first session, he asked me a question that caused a seismic shift in my experiencing of relationship:
“Bryan, what is the purpose of your relationship?”
“Is it to have kids? Or build wealth? Or worship God? … What is your purpose for this relationship?”
I already knew the answer. I just hadn’t considered the implications of it until that moment.
The core purpose for our relationship is to grow in our capacity to Love.
Many years ago I lived with a woman I wanted to love who did not value “growing” like I did. She mostly only wanted an honest man, a cozy home, and healthy kids. She didn’t have sincere interest in personal growth workshops, books, retreats, or any such inner/outer adventures – all the things I was a total junkie for.
There’s nothing wrong in what she wanted. I’m excited to be creating that homey kinda life with Silvy today.
It’s also fine she didn’t value personal growth. Countless couples endure a lifetime together without growth as a core aspect of their shared purpose.
Nonetheless, because our purposes for the relationship were at painful odds, we kept trying to pull each other in directions the other did not (yet) want to go. The brakes on our bumpy ride heated up as resentments grew and festered. Before long, those brakes went out completely as our grinding attempts to move forward caused us to lose respect for each other, which is when things turned catastrophic for us.
Some version of this played out in most every relationship throughout my 20s and 30s, though I mostly only thought I hadn’t yet found the right woman.
The reality is I had no meaningful context – or purpose – for why I was ever in relationship at all, other than, “I simply want fulfilling and drama-free companionship with a woman on my terms.”
Which, I have found, is the perfect purpose if you want to completely fail at relationship.
All relationships will face difficult times. Every couple will experience some hardship together, some gap in understanding, worldview, core values, cultural practice, or some significant external event, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or work, or an addiction – something that will push you both to the edge of your capacity to stay connected. If you don’t have a shared purpose for being together, there are endless pressures that can completely derail your intimacy together, even if you physically stay together.
A shared purpose can keep your wheels on the track through even the most difficult times together.
Silvy and I are deeply bound by our mutual commitment to growing in love together. We’re excited to have kid(s) and all that white-picket-fence stuff (we actually have a white picket fence enshrouded in yummy grape vines).
But it’s our commitment to growth that binds us at our core.
We both experience our relationship as a beautiful container for the ongoing expansion of our minds, the healing of old internal wounds, and our growing capacity to live authentic and powerful as heart-connected, loving human beings. Our commitment to growth extends to our work, too, where Silvy serves other people’s desire to grow through her work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, and I serve others as a writer, public speaker, Life Coach and Relationship Coach.
Our choice to stay together wouldn’t be right for everyone. Certainly not if your purpose for relationship is having an easy, quiet home life and kids; or economic stability; or merely a companion or lover; or mom’s approval, or dad’s, or God’s; or a green card; or whatever else one might have as conscious (or otherwise) purpose for relationship.
Sometimes Silvy and I wish our only purpose was an easy home life (or a green card)! Commitment to growing ain’t for the timid of heart!
Although it does make for the most thrilling roller coaster ride I’ve ever been on that also just continues to get better, more deeply enriching and satisfying as we go.
So … if you’re in a relationship, ask yourself,
“What is the purpose of my relationship?”
If you’re single, ask yourself “Why do I want to be in one?” (you can admit it: you totally do.)
It’s ok if your purpose changes over time.
Whatever your purpose for relationship is today, it can be profoundly empowering to know it for yourself, and communicate it with clarity and kindness to whomever you’re dancing with now, or in the future.
Otherwise, you might be strapping into a roller coaster neither of you wants to ride.
If this brings clarity for you, please share in the comments below.