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Comparison Is the Thief of Joy

Welcome to the second entry in my new journal on relationships! If you've been following along with my journey for some time, you know that I used to write a weekly journal on how I quit my job as a lawyer to start grace + hudson. Much of that journal focused on challenging the things we are taught to believe about career, success, and money which just aren't true. I've experienced the same form of transformation in my thinking about traditional models of relationships, marriage, and love. Since most of my customers are either getting married (or have gotten married in recent years), I knew this was something that would resonate! I hope my new journal on relationships helps you look at relationships with a new perspective, and navigate them when they get hard.

In this week's journal, I want to talk about why comparison can be the thief of joy in your relationship. Back when I was in a traditional career as a lawyer, I noticed that everyone seemed to be following a "life checklist."You may have heard me talk about this before. It goes a little something like this - get into the best college, get the best job you can at the highest salary you can, get a promotion or two, buy a condo, get a dog, get married, have a child, buy a house, and at the end of this list, when you have achieved all of these milestones, happiness will be waiting for you. WRONG! In my first job at a law firm in New York City, before I even went to law school, I happened to notice that all of these lawyers who went to Harvard and Yale seemed to have it all. They had ginormous salaries, a million dollar condo in NYC, spouses and kids, fancy cars, designer bags. You know, they seemed to have completed this "checklist" with gusto! Yet they were downright miserable - some were angry, many were sleep-deprived and generally unhealthy, and some even abused alcohol and drugs. I was only 22 years old at the time, but I remember having this observation so clearly. If these people are "successful" then why are they so unhappy? It was the first time I really began to question what we're taught to believe about career and life in general. It was the first time I really discovered the distinction between (a) pursuing a life that's all about acquiring things, with the belief you will find happiness after you acquire them and (b) building a life that allows you to experience happiness everyday - not just when some external milestones are achieved. 

As I began to think about this more, I came to the realization that we are all - more or less - taught to follow the same path, aren't we? For example, we're all expected to go to college after high school and if we don't, we're "floundering" and "lost," right? But what if I want to be an electrician or a hair stylist? I don't need to go to college to be those things. I need to go to a specialty school and it's very, very possible to build a lucrative career doing these things. Or, as another example, maybe I don't want kids. Maybe I just don't have the yearning to be a parent and raise a child. But having kids is something we're "supposed" to want, isn't it? Friends and family will question you a bit if you go against the grain there, won't they? It's because we all are taught to follow this one-size-fits-all checklist and when you depart from it, you'll be questioned a bit. But we are all different! We are all born with different personalities and desires and dreams and wants and needs. Why in the world are we all expected to follow the same path? I found that the instant I said "NO" to this life checklist and started to really dig internally to find out what would make me fulfilled in this lifetime, I found happiness. Happiness is not found after you complete a series of standard accomplishments.

How does this apply to relationships? Well, we're all pretty much taught to expect certain things on a certain timetable, more or less, aren't we? If your partner doesn't do x, y, or z, then he or she is not "the one." And if your relationship doesn't meet standard timelines, people will tell you you're in a "dead end relationship." But we're all different, so why would there ever be a one-size-fits-all model for relationships? And if yours doesn't meet that model, but your best friend's does, why are you made to feel badly about yourself? Maybe you have different needs than her. Maybe your version of happiness in partnership looks different than hers.       

Let me talk about this in the context of a real life example. So I have a friend who grew up in a very co-dependent family. Co-dependency in a relationship basically means that each person involved (in this case, her, her mom and her sister) is so mentally, emotionally, and physically reliant on the others to the point that some sort of dysfunction exists. Think of it as an unhealthy level of being intertwined. The term co-dependent was actually coined in the 1950's in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous to describe how the partners or family members of people addicted to alcohol become intertwined with the toxic life of the alcoholic. So as you might imagine, this friend of mine who grew up in a co-dependent family (alcohol was not involved by the way - other circumstances led to this) is going to need to learn how to stand on her own and really embrace her independence in order to grow into the very best version of herself. Makes sense, right? To live our best life in this lifetime, we want to be in a state of balance - some dependence on others and some independence. So she's most likely going to attract romantic relationships that bring up this issue - that help her break away from the need for too much dependence. That help her exercise her independence muscle, so she can get stronger and become more balanced. There's some psychology behind this, but I won't get into that now. I think this makes a lot of sense to most people without getting too deep into the science behind it.

Now let's look at me. I am on the complete opposite end of the spectrum where I probably have an unhealthy level of independence. I have always been a "I'll just do it on my own" kind of person. I'll be the first to admit I have some trust issues around depending too much on other people because they're probably going to disappoint me or let me down at some point. I have a hard time making firm commitments because I like to feel independent from others -- that feels a little safer to me. So, without me even saying more, you can imagine how incredibly different I am from my friend and how I am going to be in relationships that look incredibly different from hers. Unlike her, my job in this lifetime is to learn how to be closer to people. To learn that it's safe to depend on people to some degree. Again, we all need a healthy balance between independence and dependence. So in romantic relationships, I'm going to be learning how to get closer and my friend is going to be learning how to get less intertwined with her partner. These relationships are going to look VERY different. For example, it's probably going to take me much longer to make a firm commitment than her. That doesn't mean her relationship is better that mine. Do you see what I mean? I bet you can think of someone in your life who got married after dating for 10 years, and it doesn't mean their relationship is any better or any worse than someone who got married after dating for 2 years. I would bet that the couple who married after 10 years was probably - to some degree - dealing with the dependence/independence conflict. 

You see, relationships are supposed to grow us. And we all have different things to learn. That's why you can't compare your relationships to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. It'll also rob you of your opportunity to grow into a better version of yourself. What if that couple who married after 10 years and had a beautiful child together gave up in year two because, you know, the relationship wasn't moving fast enough? Their beautiful child wouldn't exist. The beautiful lessons they have learned along the way would have been missed. This is why you shouldn't compare your relationship to the relationships of others. This is why you shouldn't abide by that one-size-fits-all relationship checklist that says if you haven't done X by Y date, your relationship stinks and you should move on. No, no, no. Just NO! And this is also why you shouldn't judge the relationships of other people. Chances are, no matter how close you are, you really have no idea what goes on in the privacy of that relationship. You really have no idea what issues they've been given to work through and how they're managing them.

So the next time you find yourself doubting your own relationship, comparing it to others, please remember this journal entry. Know there are deep reasons why your relationship looks the way it does. And why it doesn't look like the relationship your friend has. Create your own prescription for happiness and love based on your specific, particular needs and the lessons you are supposed to be learning in this lifetime.

Wishing you love + growth in all of your relationships! xoxo


  • Post author
    Stacy Mikulik

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