Isn’t it funny how the moment we jump into a commitment with someone, we can start to rip it apart? A lot of that is fear, and a lot of that is projection. Sometimes we roll into something seamlessly, but that’s rare. Relationships take work from the start. That doesn’t mean they aren’t fun or rewarding. It simply means that two strangers—people with completely different life experiences that shape our perspectives and personalities—are coming together to try and form a lasting union. And that shit is complicated.
So, how do we know when we are in something good and we’re doing the work, or when we are sabotaging the growth process with our massive egos? We asked our girl Michelle Afont, relationship expert, divorce lawyer, and multi-published author whose most recent work is The Dang Factor, to help us decipher relationships that are either ego-based or heart-centered, aka real love and acceptance along the way.
First, relationships based on ego aren’t always the other’s fault (hello, the word “ego”), and can sometimes be a result of jumping in too quickly, putting too much faith into a rebound, or diving into a relationship when we aren’t satisfied with ourselves.
“The reasons we choose to date a particular person will dictate if that relationship will survive for the long haul. If we are generally unfulfilled when we begin to date someone, chances are we will choose an ego-based relationship. Although not intentional, a largely unfulfilled person will seek fulfillment from an outside partner who can provide a temporary Band-aid for what is lacking within,” Afont explains.
“In an ego-based relationship, we are seeking to fill an urgent need within us to become ‘whole’ by the presence of this person in your life. An ego-based relationship is rarely, if ever, long-lasting. This is because an ego-based relationship centers around what that person ‘gives’ us in order to compensate for what is lacking within.” In other words, Afont explains that we should never base our satisfaction in a relationship on whether or not the other person completes us. We must first be complete within ourselves.
“Whether we are lacking self-esteem, self-confidence, solid personal relationships, or any other internal deficiency, ego-love simply provides a temporary feeling of being whole. An ego-based relationship is not built on a solid foundation, which is why the relationship quickly crumbles. In an ego-based relationship, we seek someone who can fill a void. Maybe you want to feel prettier, or have a better reputation, or prove you can get a boyfriend. Maybe you want to have a better relationship with your family or be more financially fit. In an ego-based relationship, we feel we can achieve these goals through a partner. The issue, of course, is that the relationship lacks heart-centered love, a necessary ingredient for long-lasting commitment.
With ego-love, we often think this person can ‘fix’ us. In other words, we pick a partner who can build us up for what is lacking within. The inner pain is still present, we have simply sprinkled a little sugar on top to make us feel better and stroke our ego.
It is important to ask ourselves, what is the motivation for being in the relationship? Is there a hidden agenda? Do you really love this person from your heart, or are they simply making you feel better in the moment? Do you genuinely love this person or are you trying to prove something to others? How do you feel when you are in the relationship? Are you faking it, or are you being your true authentic self?
It is crucial that we date and ultimately fall in love with someone for the right reasons. Dating someone because they give you compliments to ease your pain or because you think this person is who your parents and friends will approve of is ego-love, and will never reach the level of heart-centered love.
Conversely, heart-based love is the real deal. It’s genuine and authentic. A heart-based relationship does not serve one specific purpose. Instead, it brings an overall feeling of well-being and peace. A heart-based relationship is based on the true feeling of love. It embodies partners who are equal and complement each other’s lives. It includes partners who balance each other out, without pressure to ‘fix’ one another. In a heart-based relationship, each partner enhances the other without complicating each other’s lives.
The best way to achieve a heart-centered relationship is to be at our personal best before we enter the dating arena. When we are at our lowest points is when we will seek a quick fix to self-healing. While it is unrealistic to be at our 100% optimal selves while in a relationship, we certainly want to be as close as possible to a peaceful existence prior to dating. The last thing we want to do is have the urge to find someone who can make us feel better about ourselves. The task of self-love and self-worth lies within us, and cannot be placed upon another human being.
To achieve heart-centered relationship status, we need to get to the heart of what really keeps couples together. Heart-centered love revolves around common goals, common interests, mutual respect, and mutual adoration. One person swooping in to ‘fix’ the other will not result in heart-centered and long-lasting love.”
Afont hits the nail on the head for a really tricky series of questions to ask ourselves. If we are unhappy in a relationship, it just may really be us, and not them. Are we letting them love us in their own unique way? Or are we demanding they love us in very specific, unyielding ways that don’t come naturally to them? Are we aware of our own insecurities and preemptive storytelling? Are we interested in learning about them, or feel they are genuinely interested in exploring us? Accepting each other’s baggage? It’s not an easy journey, so we must find a solid travel partner—not someone we aren’t serving.