How to cook up relationships that work!

We all cook up our relationships in a metaphorical kitchen, but your kitchen hasn’t made anything but disasters.

You know this by how many of your relationships flop, burn or leave you wanting something real.  But are you ready to take charge of this?

Taking responsibility for mastering your kitchen won’t be as easy as grabbing the prettiest picture from the frozen foods aisle and throwing it in the microwave.  You know what you actually get from eating processed pseudo-food you didn’t work on yourself?  Heartburn.

And it’s not just your romantic relationships.  This is about your rules, your recipes in other words, for building friendships, colleagues, and romance.  A recipe is a set of instructions, a set of ingredients, and an expectation. Most of us get our recipes for relationships and apple pie from our families. You will most likely be trying to repeat that old family pattern, whether it actually works for you or not.

We also get our expectations of relationships from media, personal experiences, and our general outlook on the world. This is what I’m talking about when I say your cookbook. It’s your ideas for what relationships are supposed to contain; the ingredients. Your ideas about how all relationships should come together; the steps of the recipe. And the picture in the cookbook is your expectation of what this is supposed to look like when it’s done.

If you have a cookbook that’s full of Cordon Bleu pictures, with McDonald’s quality ingredients, and very short cooking times, you have a recipe for disaster. Without the right ingredients, the right techniques don’t work.  Without the right expectations you’ll be constantly disappointed no matter how great the reality. All three sets of information have to work together.

So prepare to throw out the shelf of old cookbooks that have been haunting you.  You can cook.  I can help.
You will need:
1. Ingredients – Honesty, Loyalty, Intelligence, Commitment, Kindness, Humor, Flexibility.
2. Instructions – Time, Space, Boundaries, Honesty, Humor, Flexibility, Willingness to let go.
3. Expectations – Paint the picture you want and not what other people have told you to want.

Ingredients – you can’t make a recipe without something to make it from and the best tasting food comes from real ingredients.  Look at what you expect for ingredients. Is your ingredient list all about the way things look?

Have you ever had a cookie that looked delicious, perfect in fact, and then it was abusive to your taste buds. Someone used a bad egg, put in too much salt, and you can feel the hydrogenated fat substance waxing up the top of your mouth.  Ooooh, nasty.  And if it reminds you of the last significant other that you’ve had; get better ingredients.

Look for ingredients of substance. Honesty, loyalty, intelligence, commitment, kindness, humor, and flexibility. In 15 years nobody will look like they do today, and the kind of fun you‘ll want will change.

Pick your friendships, your long-term business relationships, and your romantic relationships, based on more than looks and how amused you are in someone’s company. It’s important for people to have a sense of humor and to be good-looking, just not as important as the rest of these qualities.

Don’t overlook people who work hard and are willing to put in the time for what they want. This is not only for business relationships. If you find someone who is willing to work hard at what they do, and doesn’t back down from a challenge, they might also be a good bet in a romantic relationship or a friendship.

Assemble your own ingredient list, write it down, and stop bargain shopping when you deserve better. There will be some similarities between the lists for friendships, romance, and business.

It can even be useful to think of each in terms of the other. Would you have a romance with this person? Why not? If it’s important enough that you wouldn’t want to get romantic with her, you might not want to go into business with her. If you wouldn’t go into business with him, why in the world would you get into bed with him?

We often treat romantic relationships like they’re the least important of these as far as requiring a higher quality of ingredients. Romantic relationships will have the largest potentially negative effect on your life. Insist on the best ingredients. If you wouldn’t be friends with or wouldn’t go into business with, don’t get in to bed with.

Instructions – because the best ingredients still won’t jump into a bowl and make dinner on their own!

Last year I tried to make traditional Christmas Fondue with a shortcut.  And I ruined the whole thing much faster!  Relationships take time.  Rush them and you will have another learning experience to look back on.

If the other person is rushing things, they might not be ready for prime time, or they might be trying to get you hooked before you notice to much.  Rushers have a very high tendency to be abusers who will attempt to isolate you as well.  This is not just for women to be aware of.  Plenty of men get emotionally abused after being rushed into a relationship and isolated from friends and family.

All those books you’ve laughed about, the ones that give you rules to follow for dating; they actually work.  Mostly because they make you take your time when you don’t want to.  Sit down and write out when you feel comfortable reaching the normal dating milestones, friend ship markers, or when you’d feel comfortable handshaking a deal with a business partner.  Now go back and add at least a month to every one of the dating milestones.  Friendships probably need a couple of weeks more than you’re giving them.  And never handshake a deal without a contract.  Business relationships are supposed to stay surface for good reasons.

Once you’ve made yourself add in some time to actually develop the relationship, add in some space and boundaries.   These two are intertwined; you get the space by having the ability to say no.  Saying no is you making a line that you’re telling the other person not to cross.  If they respect that, you’ve got great information on how they’ll respect you later.  If they get mad and have a pouty fit that you’d ask for space, wow. That’s some good information too.

Give people a very few chances to overcome their need to pout.  They either grow up, or they’re not the ingredient you thought they were.  Don’t continue to try and make apple pie with a bad apple.

Part of making space in a relationship is being honest about what you want and any feelings that you have.  Yes, that’s uncomfortable and space can feel a little too distant from what you want.  But the alternative is pretending about who you are and what you actually enjoy.

Pretending you like sports you really don’t want to play is not the start of a relationship you’ll actually want to stick with.  Make sacrifices for people, just be honest about it.  “No I do NOT want to work on Saturday.  I’ll do it in exchange for a day of my choosing”  “I won’t lie for you.  I’ll keep my mouth shut even though I think it’s stupid to try and lie to people and I’ll only do that because you’re my friend.”  “I will carry a gun through the woods next Saturday and wear three sets of long underwear to do it.  And then I’d better get a date night that does not involve the entrails of various furry creatures.”

You’re not going to be perfect and you’ll hear about it in most relationships.  If you get defensive you’ll look weak to business associates, narcissistic to your friends, and uncaring to any potential romantic partners.  That’s all bad.

Instead, try to use humor and flexibility.  Other people, whether they mean it or not, are funny when they’re talking to you. Don’t take everything you hear seriously.  Humor allows you to distance yourself from the situation, and flexibility allows you to consider whether or not what they’re saying is true.
When a situation is emotionally overwhelming, try to find something funny about it. Engaging your sense of humor allows your brain to think about situations in a new way. Once you can see that it’s not the end of the world, you can use your flexibility to see how you can learn from this.

Sometimes people just say random crap.  Humor and flexibility allow you to see the difference between the random, useless pieces of crud that come your way, and the constructive criticism that you can actually use.

One of the most important ingredient in any recipe for relationships is the willingness to let go. If you can’t let go of a relationship, the other person will realize that they have more power than you do. They may not want this power but they’re going to know they have it.

Some people will react by getting away from you because they don’t feel comfortable with that level of power. Others will become your new best friend because they like to control you. Either way, there are very few situations that benefit from this kind of  power disparity.

This willingness should not be a game playing technique or a threat that you use to beat other people over the head.  This is more about keeping your eyes open and being aware of where the situation is heading. If you see your relationship is going nowhere, take charge of the direction. This may mean a deepening of intimacy or willingness to let go of the relationship when the other person has no desire to follow suit.

Remember that in business situations the meaning of intimacy really refers to how much money there is on the table and how much trust needs to be codified within some kind of contract. And make sure that any goodbyes you say are very polite. You never know when you may need a referral or a hand up from someone in the future.

Expectations – The pretty picture that you’re aiming for!

I hear my clients say that they don’t want to have expectations of anything. They feel that this will somehow negatively affect any outcome. But when I cook I like to see the picture of what it’s supposed to look like at the end. This isn’t to jinx my cooking, the picture is a guide to what the end product should look like.  It helps me realize if I’m way off track so I can decide if I want to head back towards the original recipe or head towards something new.

Expectations also keep you in line. If you have expectations that are extravagant, then you need to be buying extravagant ingredients and taking a great deal of time and care with the outcome. If all you wanted was McDonald’s, drive through is pretty easy.

Take the time to make a picture of how you want relationships to look.   Be willing to check this picture with the people who know you well and have already proven they support you.  If you hear that you’re picture entails more work than you’ve previously shown a willingness for, you’re probably on the right track.  The best relationships take more work than anyone actually wants to put in.

If someone tells you that you don’t deserve something that good, you’re out of your league, or you can’t get what you want due to past disasters….practice using your humor and flexibility.  Then move on to a more supportive friend who will help you figure out a new ingredient list.

Be willing to adjust your picture to a situation that feels comfortable but may not have been what  you expected.  The picture should be a general idea of what you want,  not an ironclad contract.

Good Luck and Great Cooking!


Picture from flickr creative commons

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