Strength in Personal Relationships

By John Rocheleau

Cottonwood trees against lake in winter

When I receive email regarding relationship problems, the dominant impression I get is that most people who write in are not just unsure of their situation, they are unsure of themselves. They long for a fulfilling relationship, but the person they desire does not return their feelings in the way they would like, etc., etc., and so they feel at a loss.

If a person is uncertain and does not feel their own strength, they will seek validation and strength from others. This is never good. In a relationship, that person will seek cues from their partner before they determine how they themselves feel. Their self-conception follows closely on the heels of that conclusion. The relationship then becomes more about selfish need, than about sharing and mutual motivation. The uncertain person becomes increasingly dependent on their partner for strength.

My best answer to most of these folks is:

You will greatly benefit from more inner confidence; the kind of confidence that comes from experiencing your strength first-hand and developing trust in it. When you “know” and “feel” your strengths, you will be able to judge situations from a grounded perspective, and you will operate from that place of strength.

The most complex of situations and emotional issues are often caused by a simple lack of self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-understanding. Most all relationship issues can be solved by strengthening our relationship with ourselves first. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the current relationship will then get a green light. It just means that we will know how we feel from a perspective of strength, rather than of need and uncertainty. When we are sure of ourselves we can be more understanding and sure of others.

And on that path toward becoming sure of ourselves, it pays to remember that we are physical animals first and foremost. All of our self-conceptions and emotions are running on — and greatly influenced by — our physical systems. There is no way to separate our ability to enjoy healthy emotional relationships, from the health of our physical body. Mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical strength, are all tied together in this life.

The answers to most relationship problems are directly tied to your relationship with yourself. Improve that, and you will improve all your other relationships. You can call it developing personal strength, and you can begin a solid relationship with yourself through simple physical training. Sounds too simple? Remember that your mind, emotions, and body, are inseparable. So as you train physically, you develop mentally and emotionally — especially if you intend it to be so. It IS simple, but it is effective.

Begin an exercise program, running program, or take up martial arts, tai chi, or yoga. In that process, you will not only develop health and physical strength, but you will come to know yourself more, and you will develop internal strength because of the discipline you commit to. As you become more physically fit, your body’s systems will become balanced and free-flowing. That balance and flow will be carried over into your emotional self, and all of your relationships will magically improve — because as I said earlier, there is no way to separate your mind and emotions from your body. Balance and strengthen the one, and you will develop the other.

So it is worth considering that before you can solve these relationship issues that you experience, you must first own the fact that it is you who experience them. They do not come from your partner. Your problems originate within your response to the situation. Rather than try to manipulate the outcome, it is better to attend to your basic personal health and inner strength first. Rewarding relationships will grow from that foundation.

Just a simple thought toward a complex problem is all. A place to begin perhaps?

Over to you now…

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#1 David on 10.06.10 at 9:39 pm

Great! This hits close to my home.

I know this from first-hand experience .. relying on others to such a degree, mostly in emotional matters, so that if asked what I really though/felt, I couldn’t give a straight answer. Still find it hard. Two things have helped me a lot:

The first is learning to realize the simple (but yet profound) truth that an emotion is but an emotion and has no moral value; there is no way I’m “supposed” to feel – it just is what it is.

The second is working on the physical dimension, as you write. Especially paying attention to how I’m centered in my body.

Working on my posture – straightening up a hunched back, relaxing tensed shoulders, expanding a collapsed chest – does wonder! It’s amazing how different you feel/act with a straight back and an open chest versus the opposite. Martial arts, tai chi, yoga or just working out at the gym is great.

From my experience running can be tricky though, it took me several months to realize I wasn’t centered when running – my mind not in the moment but always at the goal stressing me towards it – making my running form tense and hunched, resulting in a more stressful than relaxing experience. Since working on straightening up my running form though, it’s great! Just a word of caution.

Oh, by the way, two corrections to your fifth paragraph: “self-accetance” & “neccesarily”.
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#2 Chris on 10.06.10 at 11:36 pm

Thank you John for this wonderful new post.

Of course, we often tie our own perception of ourselves, our very own self-acceptance and sometimes even our values, to the person(s) we love – and this can make us unable to understand the other persons’ true needs, since we get used to behaving with an almost “carrot and stick” attitude with them; I, for example, often feel that if they are happy and in a good mood it MUST be because I am doing something good, so I must carry on that way, but if they are down, cold and not talking, it MUST have been something I did wrong. Doing so can make us unaware of another person’s true concerns and not react spontaneously, especially if it has absolutely nothing to do with us!

However, I also think that True Love means giving unconditionally, i.e. we must do our best to understand the other person and make them happy and feel worth committing to our relationship. I know that many women talk about “falling out of love” because “attraction fades away”, whereas other women say they “feel neglected”. Now, of course, if they loved unconditionally, they wouldn’t pay attention to these things, but since WE do want to love them unconditionally, it may help to understand and take action.
While thinking about this latter point I remembered the times when I made her laugh, made her eyes bright and glittering, looking at me with that look a woman has when she has her first crush. They didn’t come out of nowhere, they came through my love for her, but also effort.

Second point, I think that physical needs can be tricky, at least to those who chose to follow a monogamous lifestyle. Putting aside the debate on which lifestyle (monogamy or non) is “true”, I think that men often pay attention to their physical attraction towards other women. It is considered natural and “OK”, but I think that’s what destroys the empathy between two people, their passion to commit and thus the overall satisfaction in the relationship. Same goes for women.

So my bottom line is we should be aware that many feelings, needs and so on start in ourselves, but if we want to follow certain values, we need to adjust them or train them (just like yoga!) in order to achieve our life goals. I, for example, know that if I just meet a hot woman (while already being in a relationship), my instinctive reaction is to look at them and feel very attracted to them. Some people advise simply not to act on such instincts, but I think that if my life goal is a monogamous commitment, I should also work on not having such instincts. Or divert them.


#3 John Rocheleau on 10.07.10 at 10:07 am

Hi David,

You made a couple great points. You said: “there is no way I’m “supposed” to feel – it just is what it is.” That is so true. We feel what we feel based upon many factors. Feelings are the result of our actions, our lifestyle, our health, and as you say, even our posture. Everything about us contributes to our feelings. The important thing is not what we would like to feel, or should feel, it is how we are living that counts. The feelings we experience will correspond to that.

And speaking about posture, I love what you said regarding how straightening your posture changes how you feel. I agree big-time with that. Our posture is directly connected to our parasympathetic nervous system — as are our smile muscles at the corners of the eyes and the mouth. Straightening up and smiling sightly (it can be imperceptible) in the eyes and mouth can cause huge changes in how we relate to just about everything, especially ourselves.

You are right about the running. Form is everything in running. Most beginning runners, and some long time runners, have terrible form. They carry their arms high and clench their hands into fists. That results in high shoulders, breathing only in the upper part of the lungs, and a lot of tension. Dropping the shoulders, keeping the fingers together but the hands open, unbending the arms a bit so that the hands swing at the hip level, keeping the stride somewhat short, and just generally being in your body to enjoy your own physicality, solves those issues and running becomes a beautiful thing. It’s still hard as hell sometime of course, but that’s how we learn discipline : )

Thanks for those corrections by the way. I rely on my spell check function. For some reason it did not highlight those.


#4 John Rocheleau on 10.07.10 at 11:09 am

Hello Chris,

I agree with you that true love means giving unconditionally. And more than that, I think that true love means BEING unconditional. I think a sense of ease is also important in a relationship; not to put too much urgency on needing to know how the other person might be feeling and how we can improve that. In a way, feelings should not be the goal in a relationship. Feelings should be the result of how you live and interact together. It isn’t your job to “make them happy.” It IS your job to be in integrity, to feel comfortable with yourself, to know and feel your inner strength, and to relate to the special person in your life from that place.

I have a visual image in my mind as I type this. I’ll try and describe it to you. Imagine a drawing of two couples spiralling up through the air in a double helix formation. There are spaces between them as they spiral upward. So this image says a lot to me. It represents two individual beings that are separate and yet drawn to each other. The spaces between them enable them to be truly who they are. They are not stuck together. They move independently and grow (upward spiral) because of two powerful forces: the space between them that allows them to fully actuate their individual potential, and their mutual attraction which is the magnetism that allows them to spiral up, propelled by the undulating currents of space between, and attraction. In this upward spiral they share through the space between them. This sharing is an offer and an acceptance. Each person is free and individual. They are not one, except in the grand ultimate sense. They are two — creating one experience together.

I hope you get the image I tried to convey. My mind works in ways that are often difficult to express to others. My main point might be, that it is important to lighten up, both with ourselves and regarding our view of relationship. We, and it, can be free within ourselves and within relationship. And in that freedom of mind we do not bind our partner to any role, especially the one where she is happy because of how you make her feel. If you support her through space and freedom and mutual motivation, she will be happy because she is who she is meant to be as an individual. That mutual support, motivation, and individual psychic space is the sharing energy that allows you both to spiral upward — together.

As for the physical stuff — sexual attraction and so forth — we should always remember that we are animals in this life, as well as beings who are capable of extraordinary spiritual heights. We are all of it, and somehow we must make sense of all of it and bring it all together in a way. Acceptance is the first step. Accept your physical nature and your sexual desires. They are a natural part of being human. In your comment you implied that we have two choices when confronted with sexual desire for a woman when we are in a committed relationship: do not act on it, or try to not have such instincts. Instead of those options, how about just enjoying the attraction for what it is — natural. Try smiling the next time you see a woman who is “hot” as you say; not to her, but to yourself; just enjoy the sensation and the magic of nature that blesses us with these biological pleasure points. Sexual energy does not have to result in sex. It easily transmutes into other energies and directions — but only if you allow it.


#5 David on 10.07.10 at 11:25 pm


Yes, love is unconditional! Let instincts be instincts, no need to suppress them. Love them instead as a part of you, and then you will be free to decide how to act (or not act, which really is an act in itself).

I love how you describe the glittering eyes of your loved. It is truly beautiful (and amazing) how our own loving can be reflected back to us – I love you because you love me, and you love me because I love you.


I hear the runner in you knowing exactly what I speak of. Also, I have recently noticed how nasal breathing helps me center (and keep down my pace!). There is also an interesting instinct that comes up, where part of my body is telling me I’m at the light edge of suffocation and need to make a gasp for air, when really I don’t.

Oh and I love your image of the upward spiral! The nursing of a seed into an expanding spiral of mutual exchange and understanding (an understanding which ultimately is just as much of yourself, as of the other). Two individuals together expressing the One.
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#6 Chris on 10.08.10 at 5:44 am

Hello John,

yes, I can imagine that helix.

My point is that, I think (or think that I have experienced) that acceptance and ease are not the same thing. I view human psychology as allowing “freedom to” as well as “freedom from”. Nature also includes the instinct to hate, the pleasure of revenge, violence and aggression, jealousy. That’s all part of nature. I think that enjoying them, rather than diverting or taking the reins, may ultimately lead us to bad actions, if not to bad thoughts or broken relationships.

This is why I have a high view of self-control, as is provided by yoga, prayer and other things that allow us to develop.

Translating this into your helix-image, and to love, I think that being at ease may not always yield behaviors that will sustain the attraction, and ultimately destroy the helix.
Think about those who are very nice and impressive at the beginning, and later take their partner for granted without any effort (don’t wash themselves, talk bad, neglect and put friends above). That often leads to a damaged helix.
Don’t you think?

#7 John Rocheleau on 10.08.10 at 10:06 am


Yeah, I used to be a competitive runner long time ago. Now I am just getting back into running again. Tired of being a “former runner.” I missed the feel and ease that running produces in the body and mind. Plus I have some issues that running will help me resolve.

I relate to your comment about the breath and how it can center you. In my Qigong and Taiji, breathing is paramount to becoming centered, rooted, and allowing the energy to be free. In my running I avoid limiting my breathing to the upper chest, and instead do what amounts to full yogic breathing where the breath begins in the belly and midsection, then expands into the chest and shoulders (so-to-speak). I find that helps me relax and gives me a good ground feel. I’ve a long way to go yet to get back into running fitness, but it is progressing and the old joy of running is taking hold again.

#8 John Rocheleau on 10.08.10 at 11:15 am


I totally get what you’re saying about the need for self-control. I too feel that it is paramount and extremely rewarding to exercise discipline. What I was saying about ease, and just accepting your natural urges, is a fine point that is tough to express clearly, at least for me it seems.

We must absolutely discipline ourselves so that we do not as you say, lead ourselves into bad actions. Discipline has been a huge part of my life in so many ways. I have learned that discipline becomes its own reward; that once a person becomes disciplined, doors open to them. Discipline and self-control have been the keys for me to advance in my Qigong, Meditation, Taiji, and in my art. Any spiritual, mental, and physical rewards I have ever experienced are the direct result of discipline.

Discipline teaches you things you could not possibly learn in other ways. Discipline and self-control taught me to be at ease with myself and with the nature of things. My meditation practice (which is part of Qigong) especially, resulted in what I refer to as, gifts or grace. And at that point, there was no struggle with human nature, including my own all-too-human drives of sexuality, and especially fear which is the forerunner of all other negative emotions. Since then I have taken a few steps backward, but that’s another story. It’s a pay-as-you-go system :-)

So if you see what I mean here, you’ll understand that freedom from these negative, albeit natural urges and drives, is achieved through acceptance of how natural they are, combined with a disciplined approach to life or a practice that cultivates self-awareness. Freedom is never found in rejection or suppression. It can only be realized through acceptance coupled with discipline and self-awareness, which then leads to understanding; not an intellectual understanding, but a realization or knowing that arises from within as if coming from the marrow of your bones.

We are reality. Each of us is existence in a microcosm. If we are to reach and embrace our potential, then we must accept, and understand, and move through, all of our humanity; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

So Chris, I agree with you about the need to exercise self-control. I just feel that instead of rejecting or avoiding a thing, it is better to accept and understand. The power of understanding is immense. Rejection on the other hand can be fear-based which leads to weakness. Well, I have rambled here haven’t I?

Thanks for your thoughts Chris :-)


#9 Chris on 10.08.10 at 2:44 pm

Hey, great that you understood what I meant :)

But do you agree that “accepting” does not always mean “enjoying”?
e.g. I accept that it is natural that the woman I love likes someone more attractive merely because he is more seductive and I am not.
However, instead of getting jealous and chasing other women, I should understand what attracts her and try to act accordingly.
Is that what you are saying?

#10 John Rocheleau on 10.08.10 at 3:37 pm


I think that you misunderstand my comments. I tend to be so wordy that the meaning can get lost in the maze of thoughts. Your relationship is what it is. Manipulating it is useless. At least that is how I personally see it. If your partner finds another man more attractive or more seductive than you, then so be it. There is no point in creating a competition by trying to understand what attracts her and acting accordingly. The only important thing is: to be truly you in the best way possible. Just be you. Don’t try to be what you think someone else desires. You’ll lose yourself in the process.

If you love unconditionally, you will experience joy when people you love find joy — even if that does not include you. True joy arises from understanding and wisdom. And in that particular joy there can be no possession or ownership, obligation, manipulation, or expectation.

Life is far bigger than this particular relationship. Expand your vision and learn to accept, understand, and let go. In that process you will gain far more than you think you are relinquishing.


#11 David on 10.08.10 at 11:01 pm


That’s exactly how I try to run! Nice to hear that we have similar views on running, I know too few that has. I find running to be a great way to connect body and mind.

#12 Chris on 10.08.10 at 11:09 pm


I understand now.

This is exactly where I see what is natural as something that we can chose to overcome and discipline. In the same way we, as humans, have been able to overcome conflict, crime, wars, poverty and much more (all natural), my aim – and I feel it has become the most important personal mission in my life, to which I can devote my entire career – is to find out, through wisdom, practice or anything else, how a fading and broken relationship can be mended again, how to reignite the flames if attraction has faded, how to make good what has gone bad.
I know that few people have succeeded in doing so, but it takes patience, commitment, understanding and sometimes also competitiveness.

While I, too, am not overly enthusiastic about the last point (competing to achieve love), I should point out that even competition is part of nature and the essential process of natural selection and evolution that leads to the survival of our species.
If we accept what is natural, then why would we suppress this, which is also natural?


#13 David on 10.09.10 at 10:36 am


Don’t buy too much into the perception that nature is all competition. That stems mostly from justifying our dominator mindset. Quite the contrary, nature is very much about cooperation and partnership. The mitochondria inside your very own cells makes a perfect example of this.

#14 John Rocheleau on 10.09.10 at 3:12 pm


I’ve written several articles around this subject of saving a relationship. One that comes to mind is: Two Simple Steps to Mend a Marriage. As usual I see simple solutions as being the most powerful. Simple in the sense that it is basic, not simple as in easy perhaps. Check it out, it might help.

I like what David said about cooperation and partnership. Communication is the foundation of that, and is the greatest tool we have in relationship, but it is surprising how many couples do not really communicate, So in my article I’ve linked to, I suggest a couple ways to bridge the gap and begin really communicating. Simple but effective.


#15 Farouk on 11.02.10 at 12:54 am

this is so true, i notice that in the mails i get too

#16 Ari Lestariono on 11.12.10 at 2:06 am

This article is good in expressing relationship, in my opnion this is what happens if we expect too much for people to return their feelings to us, either relationship as parents to kids, romantic relationship, friendship, or chasing someone for prospecting a customer if you’re a salesman. In my experience, if we just spread those feelings with sincerity, and without hoping to get reply and juts keep doing it, it will surprise you that you’ll make beter relationship.

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