Can you be independent, strong – and have a deeply fulfilling relationship? Whether you have a partner or not right now, take a moment to consider your instinctive response to that question. It can reveal an awful lot, not only about our intimate connections but our experience in other areas of life too.
Often, when we have a sense that something’s not quite right in our relationships, we find this deep-rooted belief underlying our disconnection. It's as though at some point, we decided we had to make a choice.
Either be disempowered and meet a lovely partner, or be a single, successful, empowered woman.
It looks crazy, doesn’t it, when you put it in black and white? And yet it’s a surprisingly common and powerful block for so many of us when it comes to bringing more love into our lives.
Today I want to explore where this belief comes from, how it can impact you – and how to use that insight to transform your relationships. But first, a quick note on how this can transform even seemingly unrelated areas of your life.
Using your relationship as a lens
As with so much of our “stuff” around relationships, we can use our intimate relationships as a lens through which to open up all sorts of insight.
For many, maybe even most of us, intimate relationships are the hardest connections for us to cultivate. As we explore how to thrive in them, we can apply the lessons we learn to every type of relationship.
If you can sharpen the way that you’re able to communicate, give, receive and thrive in your closest relationships – the ones which often push most of our buttons – frankly, everything else becomes pretty easy.
So, even if your priority right now is a connection elsewhere in your life, try reflecting on how this belief could be impacting your situation. You might be surprised at what’s revealed.
Strength, success and the role of the feminine
So where do we get this idea that we can’t “have it all” when it comes to fulfilling relationships and independence?
If you can relate to this underlying belief, it’s not surprising. There are 3 powerful factors which can come into play when we evolve assumptions like this. Do any of them apply to you?
1. Our cultural paradigm
Many cultures treat success, no matter your gender, as a concept requiring more "masculine" values. There’s an intriguing piece of research called the Hofstede model of national culture, which categorises countries as displaying masculine or feminine traits.
The UK, the United States, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, Italy and China all rank highly when it comes to valuing “masculine” values – things like heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. More feminine ones – collaboration, consensus, care – are given lower status.
So, when we achieve highly, it's often by cultivating our strength, independence and achievement around these “masculine” areas... whilst repressing the aspects of ourselves considered to be “weaker”.
In our relationships, by contrast, adopting a competitive, individualistic approach can block us from being able to access true connection.
Regardless of our biology, we need to be able to draw on both masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves to create the conditions for deep intimacy and love.
- Think about areas of life you’ve achieved success in: perhaps your career, business or leadership.
- To what extent has this been based on cultivating so-called “masculine” traits?
- How do these traits show up in your intimate relationships, and what impact do they have?
2. Messaging around relationships
A second factor in our understanding of relationships come from the models we’re given of what relationships look like. Think about the myth of “two halves make a whole”, or that whole “I give my whole self to you” thing.
Whether it’s in movies, commercials, or pop songs, the idea of love as being an all-encompassing experience that swallows the identity of those involved is a very common one.
In archetypal terms, the “fairytale romance” draws heavily on the idea of the Princess. The Princess is subservient. Innocent. She needs rescuing, and rarely has the independence to make her own choices.
But the Princess isn’t one of the 5 Women’s PowerTypes we use as our models for female power. Instead, we talk about the Queen, alongside Lover, Warrioress, Mother and Sorceress. These role models offer us valuable alternatives when it comes to thinking about how we might show up in our relationships, without losing our innate female strength.
What ideas of love and intimacy were you “sold” as you were growing up? When you think of a fulfilling relationship, what cultural images spring to mind – films, books, songs? Looking at them objectively, how healthy are those partnerships, and would you really want to be in them?
3. Our relationship models
In any discussion of relationships, it’s really important to recognise the role your upbringing plays. We all grow up surrounded by relationships that we absorb unconsciously as our “model” of how things are.
Maybe your parents had an unequal partnership, where one made all the big decisions. You probably know these couples in life now, right? She's the Bitch and he's the Victim, or he's the Bully and she's the Victim. They wouldn't know who to be outside of those roles.
That's what happens where one disempowering archetype meets another disempowering archetype.
So how do we begin to unravel this conditioning, and develop a new way of thinking about relationships?
Soft power and relationships
Soft power is at the heart of our methodology at One of many, and it's key to discovering a very different approach to your relationships.
By “soft” we mean agreeable, calm, gentle and yielding.
And I know that you might be reading this thinking, “I don't want to be yielding to anybody!”
But creating fulfilling relationships, just as creating a fulfilling career or becoming a powerful leader, has to involve yielding on some level. Not to another person, but to life.
To the flow of what’s happening.
It’s learning to approach challenges with gentleness; to go with your natural flow and rhythm, instead of against it.
And “power” is, from its root in middle English, simply “to be able”. It’s not having power over someone else.
In this context of relationships, power is about your capacity to love. Your ability to be in a space or connection with others, no matter what, and collaboration.
Soft power isn't weak, co-dependent, or submissive. It's a place of strength and power that comes when you let go of pushing and forcing and trying to compete, and learn instead to flow through life in a gentle and subtle way.
What makes a real relationship work is one whole person taking responsibility for themselves. One whole person coming and being in relationship with one whole other person. Together, they create a third entity: the whole relationship.
Breaking the cycle comes when you step into your soft power and begin to create a new paradigm.
Find your fulfilling connection
If you’re ready to discover some practical ways to shift things in your relationships and discover the power of true connection, join me for Love and Intimacy. It’s a free online workshop happening live on Saturday 26th October at 9am London time.
I’d love it if you could gather with us live, but if you can’t make it at that time do register anyway and we’ll make sure to send you the recording.
Our intention is simple. To support professional women to handle the day-to-day so they can unleash the bigger impact they feel called to make in the world.
We believe real leadership is less about skill, and more about having a well of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual strength to draw on. Every week we support thousands of grassroots leaders globally with our free articles, videos and online trainings with powerful tools and methodologies created BY women FOR women.
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