When it comes to relationships, it’s all too easy to keep reaching for the same empty glass to quench one’s thirst—the primal thirst for relationships that offer understanding, connection, support, and comfort.
This manifests in continuing to seek, from those incapable of giving it to you, the emotional succor you crave. It’s a fool’s errand, unproductive at best, often incredibly painful, and like an addiction. So, why do it?
It’s human to keep returning to that emotional dry well because you have invested years into those relationships. Most often, they are with parents, siblings, children, and long-term friends. This is where the tyranny of hope becomes a problem. Habit and hope keep you returning when part of you knows you will be disappointed. It’s also easy to understand how with long-term relationships you can come to believe: If the very people who claim to love you the most can’t give it to you, there’s no hope of finding it elsewhere. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth.
Accepting loved ones as they are, even when the relationship is not as deep and supportive as you wish it were, takes a lot of practice. Deep down, there may be resentment. If you’re a highly sensitive person or an empath, you may feel that you’re giving them what you want and not getting it in return. The sooner you cease expecting water from a dry well, the sooner you will seek better connections elsewhere. They may be with a stranger, therapist, or with yourself. After all, can anyone ever know you as well as you know yourself? Probably not.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations is one of the hardest things in the world.
It’s easy to believe that with enough kindness and attention to close friends and relatives you can magically coax what you want from them. You can’t. In an article I wrote many years ago on this site called Scripting, I suggested actually telling people the words you want to hear. While that can be wonderful when you’re in a crisis, it doesn’t change the other person. They will, as we therapists say, revert to type. The minute you stop feeding them lines, they’ll return to their own narrative.
Having a long history with someone increases the desire for deep mutual support and understanding. So, despite your experience, it’s natural to keep coming back, but it doesn’t help. It only creates grief and resentment.
Remember: No one wakes up in the morning, gleefully rubs their hands together, and thinks: How can I disappoint the people I love the most? They, as you, are always doing the best they can.
What to do going forward?
Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Those relationships, even if they are less satisfactory, are still important and valuable. Get what you can from them and be grateful, because those people probably love you. If they could give you what you seek, they would.
Once you grieve the loss of what you wish you could have had with them, create new relationships with yourself and others. Actively seek people who satisfy your desires for a different kind of relationship, whatever that means to you. Develop inner resources, what almost every piece on this site teaches, to support you when you feel lonely, grief stricken, angry, frustrated, sad, anxious, or anything else unpleasant or scary.
As much as it’s wonderful to feel seen, heard, understood, and supported by another person, you will be with yourself every second of your life. Cultivating the best relationship you can with you is the ground you emotionally stand on.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang