Are you an overachiever? Have you accomplished more than most people in your age bracket? Are you the kind of person who loves extreme physical activities? Do you seek out difficult situations because overcoming them feels invigorating?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are probably someone who naturally gravitates towards challenges.
The good news is that this is a valuable and lucrative skill to have in the career world. The bad news is that this habit, which has probably landed you some incredible opportunities, can completely wreck any chances of you creating a healthy, fulfilling romantic relationship.
Why? Because as I stated in my last post, challenging people don’t work in healthy, romantic relationships.
If you like dealing with difficult, challenging situations and events, you may inadvertently also be drawn to difficult and challenging people. Which may mean that you are attracted to difficult and challenging relationships.
By definition, a challenging relationship eradicates the opportunity for real intimacy. When you’re constantly trying to manage or deal with someone else’s difficult behavior, you’re not able to let your guard down and be vulnerable with the other person. The requirements to feel safe enough to relax and just be yourself will not be present. You won’t be able to depend on the other for comfort, support or empathy. And if you can’t do this, you can’t have a healthy and functioning partnership.
Think about the amount of physical, emotional and intellectual endurance really challenging situations take out of you. After every big race, after landing a huge client or after completing a difficult degree, most people need some time off to regroup and refresh. This is completely normal. When one expends a lot of energy, one then needs to rest. In challenging relationships, there is nowhere to rest.
As human beings, we need sanctuaries from the stresses and daily challenges of the world. A healthy romantic relationship provides this basic need. A difficult and challenging romantic relationship will not be able to.
If you’ve now identified that the reason you feel so stuck in your love life is because you’re drawn to challenging people, it’s time to practice a whole, new way of being in relationships.
Although this is a process, and not so much a series of steps you take one after another, for the sake of brevity (and because I trust that you are an intelligent person who will ask for more information if you need it), I’m listing some helpful ways that you can break this bad habit.
Part One: Raising Awareness
1. Think of someone who naturally allows you to feel relaxed and at peace. Close your eyes and imagine you are with this person right now. Observe how your physical body feels when it’s calm. Give this feeling a name. (I call mine ‘Zen Time’).
2. Now think of someone who is frustrating, critical, irritating, and just generally a challenging person. Again, close your eyes and imagine that you are with this person. Watch how your physical body reacts when it’s with someone who is difficult and challenging. Give this feeling a name (I call my feeling ‘Taxed to the Max’).
3. Now think of a time when you were both excited and nervous. Perhaps you were about to win an award of some kind or you were anticipating something you were really looking forward to. You know what to do. Close your eyes, become aware of the sensations in your body and give this feeling a name. (For me, this is ‘Fluttering Stomach’).
After this activity, you should now have identified 3 different feelings and have given them 3 different names.
Part Two: Awareness in Action
1. Get yourself a little pocket notebook. Keep it in your back pocket or in your pocketbook and keep a writing utensil close by, too.
2. Each time you interact with a potential romantic partner (whether on a date, on the train or in line at the grocery store), check in with your body. Which feeling is being invoked in this particular person’s presence? Make a mental note of it because soon you’ll need to record it.
3. When the appropriate time presents itself (um, that would NOT be in front of the other person), write the name of the person with whom you were interacting and the corresponding feeling you had when you were talking with them.
4. If someone inspires Feeling 1 (peaceful calm) or Feeling 3 (excited anticipation), most likely they are someone with whom you could possibly have a healthy romantic relationship with. If someone inspires Feeling 2, steer clear.
5. Each time you interact with this person, jot down the corresponding feeling. A person who consistently helps you feel relaxed and like you can be yourself may make a great romantic partner. At the same time, a person with whom you feel a healthy sense of nervousness and excitement around may make for a great romantic partner as well.
Although you will, of course, have more requirements than just this for a great romantic relationship, this activity can help you weed out challenging and difficult people from the get-go. If you keep in touch with your body, what you’ll start to notice is that although your brain may love challenges, your body intuitively knows the people who are safe. It will send you this important message through physical sensations. All you have to do is pay attention.