Sad but true

To love is to be lonely.

Every love is broken by illness, separation, or death

The exquisite nature of love, the unique quality or dimension in its highest peak, is threatened by change and termination, and by the fact that the loved one does not always feel or know or understand.

It’s an heart-shattering quote from psychologist Clark Moustakis as referenced in Passionate Marriage.

Everything ends. Your greatest relationship will too. It will probably be the worst pain of your life, and your partner won’t be there to comfort you.

You have to be able to soothe yourself.

If there’s one common thread I’ve found in my review of the self-help relationship canon, it’s that soothing yourself is vital to relationships. Your partner will sometimes be unavailable to soothe your exterior pain–and in many cases will be the source of a disagreement. Getting rattled and angry only makes it worse. To build a ridiculously amazing relationship, we have to take ownership of ourselves, to distance ourselves from the current fire, to remind ourselves that we’re awesome and worthy of love on our own, that this will pass, that it will be OK.

David Schnarch calls this “holding onto ourselves.”  Brene Brown slots this ability under the courage to be vulnerable–a key to living wholehearted, richer, more ridiculously amazing lives. Being vulnerable will sometimes backfire, but that’s the price of admission for amazing relationships.

I can personally say that as someone who used to flare up too easily, one of the best New Year’s resolutions I’ve ever made was to remain calm. That meant calming myself, both physiologically (breathing, yoga, exercise, hot tub, massages) and psychologically (reminding myself of this mantra).

That requires eating a little crap. It requires letting things go. It requires not caring about the moment but staying true to a few overarching truths: I am awesome, my partner is too (usually), and getting mad hurts both of us.

It’s hard as running an uphill marathon backward while juggling piranhas.

But it’s incredible how much warmer your partner is when you’re calm versus when you’re pissed off. That strikes most of us as head-smackingly obvious–we tend to enjoy the company of friendly, nice, calm people and tend to dislike jerks who overreact. I consider (mostly) overcoming my anger instinct/muscle memory one of my greatest accomplishments.

And there’s a major bonus: Self-soothing is training for the eventual break that will happen.

One day, your partner won’t be there. You’ll be dead, they’ll be dead, or you’ll split for another reason.

One of the greatest gifts a partner can give you is practice for helping yourself through the hardest time of all.

The User Manual is designed to help your partner manage you and help you manage yourself to make your relationship ridiculously amazing. But it’s my hope that it can also help as a reliable road map through those awful days of pain and recovery, when critical thinking ability is low, emotions run wild, and we need all the help we can get to start healing.