“Dear Celes, I have been with my partner for ten years now. I know I have made lots of sacrifices to be with him and I don’t regret my decisions.
However, recently I’m worrying if I am giving up aspects of myself and shaping myself to be with him, without realizing it. I don’t want to lose sight of my dreams. How do you manage between your goals and being with your partner when in a relationship?” — Anna
Hey Anna, most people’s approach to such a dilemma would be one of the following:
- Forgo their goals to be with their partner (which was what you did in the past),
- Pursue their goals at the expense of their relationship, or
- Find a mid-point where they can pursue some of their goals and still be with their partner at the same time.
Options 1 and 2 are unsustainable, because a win-lose or lose-win scenario will always result in lose-lose in the end.
For Option 1, if you forgo your goals to be with your partner, you will only find yourself deeply unhappy due to unfulfilled inner desires, which will result in unspoken pressure on the relationship. Even if you are completely okay forsaking your goals, you turning back on your goals will prevent you from attaining self-actualization, which prevents you from giving your best to the relationship, hence shortchanging your partner of the best you.
For Option 2, pursuing your goals at the expense of your relationship will prevent your relationship from thriving, since you won’t be dedicating your full time/energy to it. Even if the relationship remains afloat, it will only be a functional relationship (where two people stay together for companionship), rather than a synergistic relationship where both people blossom together. Your partner may also feel neglected and ask for a breakup, which is what happened to someone I knew—he lost his girlfriend after years of neglecting his relationship in the name of pursuing his goals.
While Option 3 might seem like a viable option, it is actually a sub-optimal one as well. While you may look like you are meeting both your needs and your relationship’s needs, you are really just straddling mid-way, where you do a little bit of both without getting the best of each area. You will soon find yourself stretched between two ends, feeling strained and possibly jaded.
How to Create the Best Relationship
The best relationships are about synergy, where 1+1=3. This means that both you and your partner progress further and faster together in life compared to if either of you were single. Rather than achieve an effect of 1+1=2 (where both of you are simply the sum of individual parts) or 1+1=1 or less than 2 (where you actually backtrack in your life from being in a relationship), you achieve 1+1=3 or greater.
In a synergistic relationship, there is absolutely no compromise of your personal goals, your partner’s goals, or the relationship itself—in fact, you and your partner achieve more by being together with each other.
Such synergistic relationships are uncommon because most people are not aware that such a standard is possible. To be honest, I never thought much about the dynamics of relationships until I got attached and felt the difference from being together with someone. I saw for myself how relationships can be synergistic and we, as the individual parts of the whole, play a crucial role in creating that synergy.
Example: Addressing Time Constraint for Personal and Relationship Activities
A simple constraint that I tackled with Ken recently was the issue of time—we had limited time with each other because of (a) his erratic work schedule, since he has a lot of global meetings and would have work meetings throughout the day till the wee hours of the mornings, and (b) we live 1.5 hours away from each other which made it hard to meet up on weekdays given his schedule.
We wound up spending time on the phone every night, which led to a total of 25 hours of talk time a week.
Even with the phone though, it wasn’t effective because we often had to block out time specially for the calls—being on the phone meant we couldn’t tend to other things, such as our personal activities, sleep, or even work. The phone isn’t a very encompassing medium too since it is audio-only and lacks the in-person touch.
Our solution? He invited me to move in with him, and it didn’t take me long to take up his offer, especially since I was already planning to move out even before I got attached. (I see moving out and living independently of my family as a natural progression of my personal growth.) Moving in with him was clearly an option that bent all situational constraints—time, space, and contrasting daily agendas.
By staying together, we naturally spend time together every day by virtue of everyday, necessary activities such as having breakfast/lunch/dinner, exercising, and sleeping/resting; it’s also quality time spent together in person, as a couple, as opposed to phone chats which we see as a “downgraded” experience to being together in person. No more having to plan around each other’s schedule as well just to meet up, and no more long commutes whenever we meet. The perfect solution. ♥
Notice that we went straight to the heart of the problem—time—and created a solution that broke that constraint. Rather than fiddle around with low-level solutions such as rationing the time we spend on our personal activities and on the phone, we worked out a solution which enabled us to meet both our personal agendas and our relationship needs—better than we ever could with our previous arrangement.
Example: Tackling Work Goals vs. Building the Relationship
I was originally worried that my relationship with Ken would cause me to neglect my work. Not that he is taking up my time (I do want to spend as much time with him as possible), but because I felt that by spending my time to connect with him, I would not be able to use that time to connect with others (all of you).
This concern was especially so after I noticed my to-do list items (for my work) kept getting pushed to the next day because I was spending so much time with him, on him (happily so as well).
While most people’s first instinct would be to cut back on couple time and reinvest the time back into work, it just didn’t feel right to me. I knew that the answer wasn’t to cut back on the time spent with him per se, because I do want to spend time with him. To cut back on time with him felt like I would be stifling my inner self.
Additionally, the solution of deliberately disconnecting myself from him just to connect myself with you guys felt counterintuitive… it felt like a solution rooted in fear and scarcity (i.e. I only have XX time and this time can only be spent with my partner or some other person). It felt wrong. It felt like a solution rooted in force (a place of unconsciousness) rather than power (a place of consciousness).
At the same time, neglecting my work was clearly not the answer. Helping others to grow is my life purpose. It was my passion before I got attached; it will forever be my passion even now that I’m in a relationship. It’s a part of me that will never change no matter who I’m with or where I am in life.
So my questions to myself became: How can I break out of this dilemma? How can I meet my work needs and be there with Ken/grow the relationship at the same time?
It didn’t take much brainstorming before I found the following solutions where I would realize my personal work agenda and further my relationship at the same time:
- Include my partner in my work process rather than work in silo. Examples would be to update him on things I’m working on, sharing of my latest projects, and getting feedback. My main intent is to involve him in this intimate part of my life (my passion to help others grow), which would naturally bring us closer together (and grow the relationship in the process). Furthermore, hearing his input (when he has thoughts to share) lets me understand him better (which again, grows the relationship) and helps me consider perspectives which I may not considered before (hence helping me grow in my work).
- Share my relationship experiences as part of my writing. This article is an example of how I’m leveraging on my relationship lessons to help others. This lets me tap into my natural flow which would help me to create great content in the least amount of effort… as opposed to writing topics which I’m currently not in the zone to write, which would result in uninspired content that takes up more mental energy than usual. Since my relationship lessons can be used to help others (my personal goal), this gives me an added incentive to invest myself into the relationship, which would then further grow the relationship. ♥
- Have a concrete, daily work plan. Since I was single previously, I had all the time in the world for my personal activities, and hence never needed a concrete daily agenda. Creating a concrete, daily work plan would help me to be more focused and productive at work, of which the positive effects will spill over to my relationship. This daily planning would also ensure that I would have time set aside for my relationship every day.
Notice that all three steps above do not result in a compromise of either my personal agenda or my relationship; they result in a boost of both myself and my relationship.
How to Create Synergy: Using the “And” vs. “Either-Or” Approach
The two examples and the solutions I have shared above are specific to my situation/relationship. They may be completely irrelevant to you. And that’s perfectly fine.
The long and short of my sharing is that long-term resolution of conflicts between the self and the relationship can only be achieved by finding the “and” path that enables you to realize both your personal goals and your relationship goals simultaneously—might I say, even better than if you were to tackle each area by yourself.
Because if you were to always adopt an “either-or” approach, i.e. either pursue your goals or grow your relationship, you will face a win-lose scenario which will ultimately descend into a lose-lose situation as I had explained above. Even a partial win on each side through rationing time/resource for yourself and your relationship will also ultimately descend into a lose-lose because you will just be straddling between two ends and playing tug-of-war between your needs and your relationship needs.
It is through identifying that synergy path that will let you (and your partner) soar high up in the sky, achieving more than if each of you were to be by yourself/with someone else. This is the mark of a true, synergistic, and expansive relationship.
My additional tips to making such a relationship happen:
- Always be in constant, open communication with your partner. Ken and I talk every day on things that are on our mind and things that may not be on our mind. Whenever we find any issues, we immediately bring them up with each other to get a conscious discussion and gain quick resolution (vs. leaving those issues hanging).
- Constantly articulate your needs (if any) so that your partner is aware of them. People aren’t mind readers, and if you leave things unsaid, your partner may not be aware of them. This may create conflicts in the future.
- Be in tune with your partner’s needs and ensuring that they are continuously being realized (with your help or otherwise). It’s not just your needs; your partner’s needs are equally important as well. This relationship is made up of two people and not just you. Work with your partner to make things happen for him, whether with or without your help.
- Leverage on your strengths and use them to grow the relationship. Between Ken and me, both of us have unique skill sets which complement each other well; him with his listening skills, fast-comprehension ability, empathy, and supportive strength, and me with my personal-development knowledge. Both of us constantly use these skills to nurture our relationship to the next level. Likewise, think about what yours and your partner’s strengths are and use them to further your relationship.
I hope this helps Anna; let me know how things work out for you!
As for the rest of you—what do you think? How would you approach the issue of self vs. your relationship needs?