I listened to author and psycho therapist, Esther Perel, talk about affairs on a podcast the other day. She said in affairs people don’t turn away from their partners they turn away from who they (themselves) have become.
Esther Perel said when people cheat on their partners, they often say, “I feel so alive.” Once again they feel seen. Someone is curious about them and asks them questions about themselves. It feels great.
When we feel freshly seen, it makes us want to try other new things. We may change our hair or buy new clothes or the proverbial mid-life sports car. We may also do something radical, like quit our job, write a book or take up new hobbies. It’s all about the permission to change.
When we feel comfortable in a relationship, we tend to want to keep the relationship and ourselves status quo. We don’t want to rock the boat. In our satisfaction with our relationship, we may stifle our growth. The key is to let the security in a relationship give you the foundation to grow from rather than the anchor to keep things the same.
Confusing status change with growth
In Are You Motivated by Status or Growth?, I talked about how the status goal narrows our focus and keeps us disconnected from the truly important relationships. When we aim for material success and status, we keep things superficial. We do not make time for emotional vulnerability, which in doing so stymies connection with ourselves and others. We don’t grow emotionally or relationally beyond the status we seek.
When status is our motivator, once we’ve achieved a certain level of it, our motivation drops.
Alive and kicking
Obviously, I’m trying to tell you to aim for growth. Growth keeps us feeling alive in or out of relationships. When we have a growth mindset, we don’t have to turn away from what we have become, because we are always becoming. We continuously incorporate enough change in our lives to keep us engaged.
How to grow?
I’ve thought about recreating myself and evolving a lot. Thinking was a good start but eventually I had to push out of the safety zone and take action to grow. Growth takes action. Here is a breakdown of how to do it:
- Don’t go on autopilot. In relationships or just in your everyday life, you cannot grow and sleepwalk at the same time. For example: Don’t assume you know what your partner will do or say in every situation, even if you have been together for years. Let them surprise you. Listen deeply.
- Get curious, learn. If there is something that piques your interest, ask questions, look up information, find a place to do it. When you go to a gathering, talk with people you don’t know. Ask them questions about themselves. What you learn about them will help you understand yourself and them better. This works with people you know well too. Ask your partner a personal question. They will enjoy being noticed.
- Be interesting. I don’t say it out loud often, but the underlying message I aim to convey to my children is be interesting and you will be successful. A few things to do to become interesting: travel, get to know all kinds of people by asking them questions about themselves; try new things whenever the opportunity arises, get out of your house and off your technology.
- Embrace change, look for it. The only way anything changes is if something changes. For example, instead of fearing that change in job responsibilities, see it as a chance to grow. When you feel low or bored, actively look for an opportunity to leave one situation, job, relationship, mental state, etc. and take on another. Each day or week, tweak something. Take a different route to work. Read a new genre of book. Ask a new person to sit with you at lunch. Novelty stokes that alive feeling. Think about times when an unexpected change ended up being a good thing.
- Make mistakes, fail.This is probably the hardest habit to create when it comes to growth.Allowing ourselves to flounder, takes courage. Instead of thinking of mistakes or failures as detrimental to our reputation (status), think of them as steps in our growth spurts. People who succeed and have growth mindsets, allow themselves to make more mistakes than those who play it safe.
We don’t have to have affairs to feel alive. We can create our own growth and bring on the same feeling.
When has unexpected change caused you to grow? Are you content with who you have become? What areas would you like to continue to grow?