Wednesday, July 25, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Support Each Other's Dreams

I want to write books. I've already written one and I'm working on the second. In case you don't know, writing one of these things takes a lot of time and dedication. You're going to spend a lot of time writing, editing, rewriting, and obsessing over every little word. If you're in a relationship, you're going to need one very important thing: a partner who supports your goal. Thankfully, I have that in my wife.

My wife gets what I'm trying to do. She's my biggest supporter, and that doesn't just mean she's a cheerleader. She believes in my dream so much that she pushes me to work on it. In fact, she was the one who insisted I finish my book and get it published online. Without her, it would still be a file on my computer.

Today's article isn't just a chance for me to plug my book, it's an examination of a very important truth. We all have dreams, but not all of us get to fulfill them or at least try. A big factor in whether we realize these dreams is having people in our lives who understand our dreams, encourage us, support us, and truly understand what we're trying to do. Not only do you need someone in your life who supports you, you need to be the same thing to them. You aren't a good partner if you don't support their dreams.

It should be obvious, really, but you'd be surprised how often couples don't get this. One of them has a life-long passion and the other person decides to rain on that parade and be their biggest voice of doubt. Whether it's getting in shape, running a marathon, going back to school, or attempting to be a stand-up comic, they're going to hear a lot of negativity from everyone else. It shouldn't come from you as well.

Put yourself in their shoes. You must also have dreams of your own, passions and goals. How would you like it if the person you loved, the one individual who was supposed to be your stalwart ally in the world, never wasted an opportunity to undercut and discourage you? Do you think you'd keep up your dream in the face of that? Would you want to? This is why you need to be their supporter, because you'd want them to do the same for you.

But I do understand why some people will not support their partner's dreams. It's scary to see them taking these big steps. Usually you're not afraid of them failing, you're afraid they might succeed. What happens then? The answer is usually that your life will change. You could have more money, which can create a whole host of issues. You might have more attention that you don't want. At the very least, you'll have to adjust your life and things won't be the same.

You might also fear being left behind. This is another reason people aren't supportive. There's a fear that if your partner succeeds, they will drop you like dead weight. Which is why one of the most common areas partners don't support each other is in weight loss. It's common for someone to feel threatened when their partner tries to get in better shape. Sometimes its fear, perhaps they can do better. Or you feel they are rejecting you.

You are potentially the biggest obstacle that stands between your partner and their dream. In fact, you probably have the power to squash it altogether. It's tempting, because you might feel, deep down, that it will mean everything returns to normal. They'll abandon their silly notions and get back to business as usual. Except that's not what will happen.

Crushing someone's dream is also crushing a part of them, a part of who you fell in love with in the first place. Our dreams make us who we are. Take them away, and we aren't quite ourselves. What remains is a shell that is mostly us, and instead of a dream, we have a seething bitterness about what might have been, and that's a recipe for relationship disaster.You might have stood in the way of their dream to keep things the way they were, but instead, you could lose it all.

This is why, before you make a life-long commitment to someone, you need to understand their dreams. What do they want out of life? What's their goal? Are they doing it already or do they plan to one day? You need to know this because you have to ask yourself whether you can live with it.

The same goes for anyone you plan to be with long-term. Is this a person who will support you, encourage you, and even push you when needed? Is this a person who will be an ally or an adversary? If you are thinking about marrying someone who isn't at all enthusiastic about your life-long goals, then you need to seriously re-think whether this relationship is for you.

A friend of mine is a magician. He met his wife while he was doing his act, and she's been by his side ever since. She's been sawed in half, levitated, and disappeared more times than witnesses in mobster trials. She knew going into this relationship that she was marrying a magician and she never once thought about making him give it up.

What if she had? What if she had married him and then demanded he give it up? She knew what she was getting into, and when you are thinking long term, marriage, building a life together, then you need to be able to see your partner's dream in your life. If this dream isn't something you can live with, if their pursuit of it isn't going to work for you, then you need to seriously consider whether this is someone you want to be with.

I would like to point out that sometimes this isn't a bad thing. You need to know whether or not you can't live with your partner's dream. If you remember the series Friends (and who doesn't, they re-run it constantly) then you may recall the episode when Monica dated a man who wanted to the Ultimate Fighting Champ. He was terrible at it and kept getting hurt. Monica eventually broke it off with him because she couldn't watch him get hurt. She knew that he wasn't going to give it up, and she made the right call. It wouldn't have been fair to him if every conversation was her telling him to give up his dream.

This brings us to a big caveat in everything I'm saying. You should be supportive of your partner's dreams, you should be a source of encouragement, but not all dreams are equal. If this dream is dangerous, illegal, and could do serious harm to you or your family, then you are under no obligation to remain silent. Relationships aren't a suicide pact.

When you are a supporter, it will also be your job to make sure that they are passionate but reasonable. When you object, do it out of understanding. Do it because you want them to succeed and object to them doing something to harm their dream. When you do it that way, you are far more likely to find a receptive audience.

For example, while it is my dream to write books, my wife won't let me quit my day job. After all, we still have bills and food still costs money. She is supportive, but part of that support is maintaining our financial integrity.  If I decided that I wanted to give stand up comedy a shot, and I have thought of that, I can't just quit my job and move to New York. First, I will need to find a few open mike nights and give that a shot. She's fine with that, because I'm still pursuing my dream but not sacrificing our stable life together to do it. There is balance.

There's a great book, Quitter, by Jon Acuff, that talks about exactly this. The book is all about chasing those dreams, but doing so in a sane, reasonable manner that doesn't put your well-being at risk. Perhaps if you find yourself lacking support, it could be because your plan is risky and could be pared down at first. If you want to be a professional poker player, don't empty your bank account and go to Vegas. Start small and reasonable. Enter a local tournament where the pot is small, don't gamble the rent, gamble a nice dinner. Get a realistic idea of your talents and abilities. See how much more you have to learn. Remember that while you do want support, you can't very well expect anyone to support you while you completely destroy your family.

And as a supporter, it will be your job to make sure that this doesn't get out of hand. Be the cool head that keeps them on the right track without being too discouraging. Be the voice of reason that doesn't say no, but rather, start small and build. Help them set reasonable goals and realistic timetables. Don't hold them back, but keep them on the straight and narrow and remind them that while their dreams are important, their family is too.

My wife won't let me quit my day job. Nor will she let me quit my dream. She will read my work and tell me when it needs improvement. She never shuts me down, but she will steer me away from a cliff. I try to do the same with her because I get her dreams and want them to succeed.

Support each other. It's good for your relationship and it's good for you. Besides, I'm sure you knew what you were getting into. When you fall for a dreamer, that's what they're going to do: dream. You can either try to stop them from being who they are, or help them be the best version of themselves possible.

What are relationships like in a fantasy universe? Find out in the book I wrote. 
Read it for free right now.

1 comment:

  1. Hats off for another great post. I like the concept of the "grounded dreamer" Heart in the clouds, but feet firmly planted in reality.

    It is so true that we have the potential to be our mates best asset or worst enemy when it comes to dreams. I find it very fulfilling to see some of my wife's aspirations becoming a reality. I believe she feels the same about me.

    Hopefully, you have encouraged others out there as well. Thanks for what you do, Charles. Put me in the category of those rooting for you to achieving your dreams.

    Wishing you the best!