This is probably not the way it normally goes, but I can pinpoint the exact day my midlife crisis started. It was my 39th birthday, which also happened to be my twins’ third birthday. (Pretty cool I share a b-day with them, isn’t it? 🙂 ) We had a giant party at our house with 60+ guests. And all of a sudden, somewhere between pin the tail on the donkey and blowing the candles, it struck me that 99% of these people didn’t actually know me. At all. They knew nothing about anything that matters to me. They knew nothing about my hopes and dreams and struggles. And I didn’t really know most of them either.
It struck me that I didn’t want to spend my birthday with people who remained strangers even after years, and in some cases decades, of being in each other’s lives. It struck me that these were not my people. That somehow I had landed here in this backyard with dozens of acquaintances and relatives, but no real friends.
That day I popped a Xanax, plastered on a fake smile, and got through the day for the kids’ sake. But it was a start of several months of what I can only call crisis mode. Feeling dissatisfied. Feeling misaligned. Feeling like I was on the wrong path, with the wrong goals, with the wrong people. Questioning everything.
My midlife crisis was not about buying an expensive sports car and finding a younger husband 😉 . It was about realizing that I wanted the exact opposite. I didn’t want fancy things. I didn’t want fake. I didn’t want superficial. I didn’t want dozens of acquaintances. I didn’t want to spend one more birthday with virtual strangers. People I was never going to connect with. My time is precious. Why waste it on relationships that are never going to go anywhere?
Since then I have learned a lot. I have SO much more clarity on where I was going wrong and how to get more of what I want and need in relationships. So much so that I want to share it all with you.
Below are the 10 steps I have taken and the 10 steps that might just help you too enjoy better, more meaningful relationships.
1. Know Yourself
To truly be satisfied in relationships, you need to feel free to be yourself.
And to be yourself, you need to become crystal clear about who you actually are. Within. Underneath all the layers of what your family wanted you to be growing up. Underneath what society taught you you should be. You need to find the authentic you.
If I asked you right now, how would you describe yourself? What are your personality traits? What do you bring to relationships? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you need from relationships to feel satisfied?
And if you answered my questions, would you do so with confidence because you have explored yourself inside and out? Or would you waiver? Would you parrot back adjectives that random people at random times have used to describe you?
If you can’t yet answer these questions with confidence, there are a gazillion ways you could go about figuring all of it out, but one easy way to get started would be to check out my series of posts on personality types:
Related: How To Make Your Brain Happy
Related: Your Blind Spot And How To Handle It
These posts discuss the Myers-Briggs personality type theory, according to which we are all born one of 16 different personality types. The posts above help you find out your personality type and figure out what it means. They will give you words to describe yourself and your preferences.
In addition to finding out your personality type, another thing I would suggest is figuring out your love language. According to this theory, different actions make different people feel loved and cared for. The five love languages are 1) words of affirmation, 2) acts of service, 3) touch, 4) quality time, and 5) gifts. In order to truly feel loved, you need others to speak your love language. For example, my love language is quality time. So if someone gives me a gift, it doesn’t really make me feel loved. I only truly feel loved if someone spends quality time with me.
You can take the love language test here.
2. Accept Yourself
To be able to show up as the authentic you – the real you – in relationships, you need to feel comfortable in your own skin. You need to learn to accept yourself.
Easier said than done! This was a major stumbling block for me. One reason all those guests at the birthday party didn’t know me was because I rarely felt comfortable being myself.
For me, accepting myself came as a side effect of learning about the personality types. I had felt like the weirdo oddball for most of my life. I felt so different from most other people that I thought there must be something wrong with me. But then I learned that my personality type is very rare, around 1 to 2 percent of the population. So no wonder I wasn’t running into too many people like me!
Once I found out my personality type, I learned that there were other people wired like me and I was able to connect with some of them online. I learned that my personality type – just like all the other ones – comes with both strengths and weaknesses and I learned to accept those too.
I learned that there was nothing wrong with me. I was just different from most.
3. Appreciate People For Who They Are And What They Can Offer
One beautiful thing that happens when you learn to accept yourself, faults and all, is that you learn to accept others as well. Exactly the way they are. You learn to appreciate human differences and see how we all have a unique purpose. You stop resenting people for being different from you and not approaching everything the same way you do.
We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We are naturally good at some things. Those things come easy to us. At the same time, we are naturally bad at other things.
Now, it’s easy for us to understand people who have the same or similar characteristics as we do, people who have the same strengths and weaknesses as we do. They are on our team so to speak.
It’s much harder for us to understand people who are different. In particular, when you are naturally good at something, it’s difficult to understand how someone else could be so bad at it. It’s so difficult in fact that it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that those other people must be crazy or somehow inferior. It’s easy to let yourself be frustrated by them. Are they crazy? Why don’t they just…? If they would just do what I do…
But they are not crazy. They have their strengths and weaknesses just like you do. Actually, they are probably really good at something that you suck at.
Think of the geek with no social skills. You have great social skills, so you can’t see why it’s so hard for the geek. Why is he so awkward? Can’t he just copy other people and learn to say the appropriate thing?
And in the meantime, the geek is preparing to save the world with his latest invention and looking at you saying wtf is wrong with you? This math is so simple. Why can’t you understand?
We can’t all be good at everything, but we are all good at something. We need all kinds of people in this world. Appreciate you for your gifts. Appreciate other people for their gifts. Whatever they may be. However different they may be from yours.
4. Stop Waiting For People To Change
Accepting other people as they are and appreciating the gifts they bring to this world will add to your zen quotient and drastically reduce your frustration levels. But it won’t make you suddenly fall in love with everyone. Personalities will clash. Needs will be incompatible.
And the vast majority of the time, that’s just the way it is. People can and do change the way they behave, but let’s face it: most people won’t change their ways to accommodate your preferences.
You know those people with the gifts that are different from yours? With the weaknesses that are different from yours? That’s the way they were born. You can wave your magic wand all you want. You can wait for them to see the light.
But you would be wasting your time. Their personality is what it is. Their level of personal development is what it is. You can either decide that what they are able to offer right now is something you need in your life or move on to the next step. 🙂
5. Let Go Of Relationships That Aren’t Meaningful To Make Room For Relationships That Matter
A long time ago, I learned to let go of people who are verbally or physically abusive. And I have never once regretted ending such relationships.
What took me a couple more decades was to realize that it was ok to let go of people even if they hadn’t intentionally caused me harm. I used to be a people-pleaser, and because I wasn’t very good at saying no or standing up for what I wanted, I would just sort of accidentally slide into “friendships” with people I actually had very little in common. But I have finally ended these relationships and I’m very cautious about making new friends, because of a few realizations:
- It’s possible for two people to be great people, but not be great for each other. I want to be able to be my authentic self as much as possible. I want other people to be able to be their authentic selves as much as possible. If my authentic self clashes too much with someone else’s authentic self, it’s usually not worth the effort to pursue a relationship.
- It’s possible for two people to be great people, but to want and need different kinds of conversation or different kinds of support than what the other person is capable of offering. In these cases, it’s a waste of both parties’ time to pursue a relationship.
- It’s possible to appreciate people for who they are and what they contribute, but still not have room for them in your life. There are only so many hours in the day. I have a husband and kids and a full-time job and a ton of interests. I simply don’t have enough time anymore to say yes to people unless it’s someone that’s extremely important to me. I would rather have a handful of amazing relationships than dozens of half-assed ones.
6. Figure Out What Exactly You Are Lacking in Your Relationships
If you complete Step 5 above, you will let go of relationships that are not working and are not worth trying to fix. You will let go of what you don’t want.
But how do you get more of what you do want?
Well, the first thing to do is clarifying exactly what is currently lacking and what it is you want more of. This is unique to every person and their current circumstances, and maybe you already know what’s missing. But if you are not sure, you might get some clues by studying your personality type and learning your love language.
Or maybe these examples of what I felt I was lacking will get your wheels turning:
- I didn’t have hardly any relationships where I felt comfortable being myself. It would be easy to blame this on my lack of self confidence, but the truth is that I had mostly surrounded myself with people who were not a good match for me, because I had not been very intentional about the types of people I was spending time with. I could sense that my authentic self would make them uncomfortable. I could sense that they wanted something different from relationships than what I wanted. So I would keep myself hidden.
- I didn’t share interests with most people I was spending time with. And I would let others dictate the topics of conversation, leaving me bored and not very stimulated intellectually, which is something I have always craved.
- I didn’t have hardly any relationships where I felt my introversion was accepted. I needed people who would welcome me as the quiet companion. I needed people who would encourage me to take the time for myself that I needed.
7. Let Important People Know What You Need, Within Reason
Up in #4, I wrote that most people won’t change their ways just to accommodate your preferences. But if you are lucky, some beautiful people you are in a close relationship with will do that because they love you. And these are the relationships you want to invest in. These are the relationships worth working your ass off for.
No two people are a perfect match for each other. To have an amazing relationship, it’s always necessary to negotiate. It’s always necessary to compromise.
My husband and I have a lot in common. We are a pretty-near perfect match in terms of chemistry, values, politics, religion, and many of our interests. But our personalities also clash like crazy. I’m an introverted intuitive to his extraverted sensor.
In order to make a relationship like this with two very different people work, you have to be able to ask for what you need. You have to be able to describe what you need in very specific ways to help the other person understand. Here are some examples of the types of things I have asked of my husband:
- Sometimes I would like for us to do things together without talking.
- Sometimes I would like for us to talk about various topics in-depth rather than jumping from topic to topic.
- It would be helpful if you would remind me to take time for myself, because I need it, but I could use some encouragement to show me it’s ok.
But make your requests reasonable. In your quest for authenticity, you don’t want to squander someone else’s.
8. Be Willing To Accommodate Others In Return For The Same
If someone is willing to compromise for you, be sure to return the favor. One-sided relationships suck. Relationships where BOTH parties make an effort are where it’s at.
My husband will engage in endless conversations with me about personality type theory. I will engage in endless conversations with him about woodworking. Just like personality type theory is not something he would spontaneously become interested in, woodworking is not my natural talent. But we have developed an interest in each other’s passions, because we care.
9. If You Don’t Have The Right Kinds Of People In Your Life, Seek Them Out
Sometimes the people who are already in your life just can’t give you what you need, for whatever reason. And the people who are capable of giving you what you need, just aren’t going to come ringing your doorbell. Easier said than done, but you have to make an effort.
Where would the kind of person you are seeking hang out?
Take a class. Join a volunteer organization. Try meetup.com.
You might run into some duds, but the gems are out there looking for you, just like you are looking for them. 🙂
10. Be Open To Alternative Ways Of Meeting Your Relationship Needs
For various reasons, it might take a while to find what you are looking for in the real world, especially if you are looking for someone to share very specific interests. In the meantime, don’t forget that connecting with other humans isn’t limited to sitting down for a conversation in a coffee shop. There are online forums. There are podcasts. There are blogs (!). There are books.
How lucky are we to be alive at a time in human history when you can just type a few words into a search engine, and with the click of a mouse, find pretty much whatever kind of conversation or advice or support you are looking for?
What about you? What do you struggle with the most when it comes to relationships? Any tips to add to my list? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂