Relationships play an important part in our lives but they are tricky to get right. According to most popular relationship guidance the keys to successful relationships are said to be things like good communication, being honest about your feelings, being affectionate often, showing gratitude, and so on. But I feel these items are missing the point. Don't get me wrong, they are great ways to maintain a strong relationship but they are merely subsets, or derivatives, of a more important relationship requirement: that each person in the relationship is living their own individual lives to their full potential. How we live our life as an individual defines how we live our life as part of a relationship. If we are not true to ourselves, not living our lives to our full individual potential, then how could we fully commit ourselves to building a successful and wonderful relationship? It's not possible. The effort that each person brings into a relationship is directly related to the effort they put in to themselves as an individual.
A wise woman (my mum) once said...
If you are not living to your whole individual potential, then you can never be the full half of a relationship
People that are willing to accept underachieving, mediocrity, or are just happy to be "above average" will get that exact same level of quality in their relationships. Why? Because they will think that to contribute (and receive) "above average" is all they need for their relationships.
Relationships require sacrifices
Being in a relationship requires effort. A lot of effort actually. Ignoring all the nice thing about relationships (romance, passion, etc) relationships are really just the union of two people (unless you're a polygamist) that can function as a single unit to work towards common goals. That sounds a bit cold but stay with me, I'm making a point here. :P
Relationships provide us with many benefits including pooling resources (e.g. money, house, cars), sharing experiences (e.g. travel, new activities), and bringing happiness through emotional connection. But all this requires a concerted effort because sometimes the decisions made as a functioning couple may actually be in opposition to the desires of one of the individuals. This is what most relationship experts call making a sacrifice.
Sacrifices are very important in a relationship. Being part of a relationships requires an individual to consider the needs and thoughts of the other person, and sometimes even place those ahead of their own. That is, there are times when an individual must make a sacrifice for the sake of improving/helping the relationship or the other person.
But, and here's the catch, a person who is not fully living their own life as an individual will be less likely to choose to make a sacrifice. A person that feels like they are "missing out" in their life, that they have not achieved everything they want, or that their life has been wasted, is not someone who will willingly make a sacrifice.
It is only when you are truly happy being alone that you can become selfless and dedicate yourself fully to someone else.
Live your own life
What exactly does "living your own life" mean and why is it so important? Put simply, every second of our lives is spent with ourselves, living in our own minds. We cannot take a break from it, we cannot go live someone else's life, and we cannot simply shut it off if we don't like what is happening. It's our life and we have to live it 24/7.
No relationship that we start will ever come close to this level of time in our lives. Even if we managed to spend every single second with our partner we will still not ever be as fully immersed in the relationship frame of mind in comparison to the individual frame of mind. Our brains are wired to think as an individual and it is only through a conscious decision that we move into the relationship frame of thinking, but even so it is still our individual mind that was activated first and had to make that choice.
As such the attitude we take to our life as an individual is what shapes everything else around us. The way we choose to live, think, and behave as an individual pervades our entire life. As previously mentioned, every second of our life we are living as an individual, therefore every second of our life is determined by how we treat ourselves as an individual. If we do not respect ourselves, or cannot be honest with ourselves, then it is impossible to expect anything else from our life. This includes our work, our family and our relationships.
If you are not fully living your life to your maximum potential then you can never fully contribute to a relationship.
An Example (using Maths!)
Most health relationships function with a roughly 50:50 split of contribution between the two people involved. Let's consider an example relationship with a fictitious couple where the two people have a pretty decent life - they both work in respected professions, both have good incomes, maybe they have some children, a few close friends, they've ticked a few things of their bucket lists, and they are relatively content with their life. But contentment is not necessarily happiness is it?
Looking a bit deeper it is obvious that both are not operating to their full individual capacity. For whatever reasons they are coasting through life, content with being "above average". For this example we'll say that they are both only functioning to 50% of their true individual capability.
Doing the simple math, it becomes obvious that the maximum each person can contribute to the relationship is 25% (50% effort x 50% contribution = 25%) and when combined that only comes to a grand total of 50% effort for their entire relationship. That means their happy little life together will only ever reach half of it's maximum potential. Their relationship may be good now, but it has the potential to be so much better if they just put a bit more effort into their own individual happiness.
This example might seem overly simple but it was done that way for a reason. Because it is actually this simple! If each person is only bothering to achieve 50% compared to their actual ability then they will put the same (or less) effort into their relationships, and the result will always be a relationship that is just good instead of being the wonderful and exciting adventure that it should be.
How to fix it
The answer should have struck you by now, but I'll spell it out just in case. If you are not living your life to your full potential, not chasing your dreams, and not being 100% honest to yourself then you are sabotaging your life and ruining your relationships.
If this sounds like you then you need to start making some positive changes in your life. Find what excites you in life, be honest at all times, try new things, and never give up on your dreams. Do not settle for "above average". Do not lower your standards to accept what is nearby and common, but rather set your goals higher and see what steps up to meet those lofty heights.