How Hugh Grant ruined your relationship
It’s not just Hugh Grant. In almost every romance story in our culture, two people get together, something goes wrong and then, eventually, they fall in love and live happily ever after.
This gives us the totally bogus view that once you’re in love with someone, the rest of your life is like the last scene of the film Notting Hill. Picnics in the park, staring longingly into each other’s eyes and bringing up joyful children.
What could be further from the truth?
Being in a committed, long-term relationship is hard. In every partnership, the individuals sometimes rub each other up the wrong way, have issues with insecurity, resentment, habits that the other doesn’t like… Every relationship has conflict.
If we went into relationships knowing full well that this is the case, and that it’s normal, it wouldn’t be so anxiety-inducing when it happens.
As few people talk about it happening in their own relationships, and because it’s not really part of our cultural narrative, I’ve often thought there was something wrong with me or my relationship because we do have these issues.
I’ve usually felt, when we’re having difficulties, that it’s her fault. And that maybe if I were with someone different and more compatible, I wouldn’t be having this issue.
In fact, I now think that what makes a successful relationship is when people are committed enough to each other to work through difficulties when they arise, rather than either run away from the relationship or keep attacking each other.
I went to a workshop a while ago on intimacy. One of the things they said was that all your failed relationships have one thing in common: you!
So it’s you that needs to change if you want to have a successful relationship.
There are many ways to work through conflicts in your relationship, but the most transformative thing I’ve done is coaching with someone called Carol Van der Meulen. We looked at what I’m believing in those moments when I am angry with my partner, and it turns out I’m always believing something about her that isn’t true.
It was very difficult to see that for myself, because my righteous indignation made me so convinced that she was 100% wrong and I was 100% right.
Carol’s approach is based on ‘The Work’ by Bryon Katie, which is a set of steps you go through to let go of your judgement of others.
I was able to let go of these thoughts and stop resenting my girlfriend, without her having to do anything differently at all, or even know I was doing the coaching! It reduced the conflict in our relationship by about 90%.
The process you work through is, in a nutshell:
- What is the thought I’m believing that is making me suffer?
- Is this thought true?
- Is this thought definitely true?
- Who am I being when I believe this thought?
- Who am I being when I don’t believe this thought?
The full process with Carol would take two hours, but I’ll give you a short example of one of my sessions.
One night, I made dinner for my girlfriend. After she tasted it, she turned her nose up a bit and said it was too salty.
I had overdone the miso.
I was furious with her!
How dare she criticise this labour of love that I’d been slaving away to create especially for her enjoyment?
When I told Carol about this, I laughed, because I realised that I had really overreacted. But a big part of me was really upset about it.
We isolated the thought that I was believing in that situation, which was:
‘She needs to like the food that I cooked.’
Was that true?
Well, I mean, yes, I wanted her to like it.
Is that definitely true? Do I need her to like the food. Hmmmm. I’m starting to feel less absolute about this.
How do you feel when you believe this thought? How do you treat her?
I feel separate, disconnected, resentful and fearful that the relationship won’t work out and we’ll never be happy together. I’ll never please her. There’s tension in my body. A lot of repetitive, negative thoughts. I’m angry that she doesn’t appreciate me and my efforts.
I feel like a helpless victim, buffeted around by the likes and dislikes of the person in front of me.
How do you feel when you don’t believe this thought?
Relaxed, calm and connected. Allowing things to be as they are. Without the thought, ‘I need her to like the food I cooked’, I actually appreciate her being honest about not liking it. I’d rather she were truthful about what she thought, then I can improve it next time.
Her not liking the food has no detrimental effect on our future.
By the end of the session, I was no longer believing the thought, and therefore it was no longer making me suffer. It was like magic!
This doesn’t only apply to romantic relationships, but judgements we have about anyone: people with different political views, politicians themselves, criminals, people who cut you up on the motorway, your irritating colleague…
It points to a world-changing truth: that our suffering is not caused by other people, or things that happen, it’s caused by our negative thoughts about them. It’s our responsibility to change, not theirs.
If you want a romcom happily-ever-after, you need to do the work!