What motivates you to have a better relationship or even a better life? Because it will take work. Do you do the work of loving someone? It’s work to accept the parts you find annoying or tedious – it’s work to make yourself understood – it’s work to listen to disagreement – it’s work to respect the differences. It’s work to to survive important values collisions. It’s work in a frantic/busy life to find one-on-one time to deepen your relationship instead of avoiding difficult conversations. 


What motivates you to have a better relationship or even a better life? Because it will take work. Do you do the work of loving someone? It’s work to accept the parts you find annoying or tedious – it’s work to make yourself understood – it’s work to listen to disagreement – it’s work to respect the differences.

A client my age, who is also a therapist and I shared the OMG moment “Why don’t we have the energy of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton problem”. I thought about this a lot. Like the Russian Detective in Stuart Kominsky’s novels I don’t suffer from ambition, but I think it’s more than that. They are motivated by having power – having it and wielding it – that doesn’t motivate either her nor I – though I am motivated by the ability to influence values about what works in relationships through my Podcast.

Power is really important to share in relationships. Most couples arrive in therapy talking about communication problems, but often it is really about power struggles. Many partners are not motivated to share power. Often a partner who makes more money, or has a prestige job like a doctor who is catered to in a hospital is very comfortable with their position of power & takes it for granted. So having the most power in a relationship is very attractive.

Sharing power in a relationship is a lot more messy & difficult, just like it is in a democracy. An authoritarian government is easier because decisions are made at the top & everyone has to go along. In a democracy, just like a relationship there is the work of compromise & negotiation. So when one political party or partner wants power at all costs & refuses to negotiate & sneers at compromise, then you have real problems.

Relationships grow us up into being better people. Our partners that attach themselves to us usually have the strengths we lack, which is why we are attracted to them. We want to be more whole, have more range to who we are & we accomplish that by learning to have more ability by living with someone who has those strengths that are missing in ourselves. This is why respecting the differences is so crucial to relationship longevity.

We tend to grow weary of the strengths & annoyed with our partners in years 6 to 10. This creates a crisis that can be turned into an opportunity to honestly face painful truths about yourself & grow up. This can be accomplished when you stop hiding out in blame. Blame is very comforting & is a cocoon of lies you tell yourself that destroys the possibility of growth. 

Blame is the easy thing to do & the right thing to do is struggle with hard truths. If you are motivated to reduce the easy out of blame, begin your complaints by saying I instead of you. Try that shift & see if you gain more insight & perspective to the part you play in the problems. It takes two people to ruin a relationship, not one. 

It’s really hard to be motivated to do what is hard, by deciding to grow up & do the work of being a better person & yet that is the path we must take. I’m going to say this again because it is really important & I recognize it is a huge ask). (REPEAT)

Money and consumer consumption motivate so many people today. Money is a powerful tool to comfort yourself. So underneath drinking too much or spending too much is the motivation to comfort yourself. Consider the ways you comfort yourself in a relationship you are unhappy in & the consequences of avoiding truth so you can stay comfortable.

It is our job to soothe ourselves so we can grow by risking discomfort & do the work of repair or making amends. It is our job to soothe ourselves to have uncomfortable conversations about what is missing in our relationships. There are ways to soothe ourselves that are healthy, such as meditation or reading fiction for 6 minutes.

It’s work to be vulnerable and share. It’s work to survive conflict with respect. It’s work to find the generosity within yourself for someone else when you are exhausted. It’s work to respect the differences you believe are wrong – it’s work to learn to negotiate and find the space in between the two of you where solutions come from – it’s work to think of the two of you as an “US” –  the third entity that requires a lot of attention.

So real love requires that you are motivated to grow into a better version of yourself – that wince of recognition that you need to identify your wants and speak up or that wince of recognition that you have taken up too much space in the relationship and need to back up and make room for someone else. 

It takes work to step back and look at yourself instead of pointing your finger to blame someone else – it takes work to look at how you both contribute to problems – instead of the easy comfort of self-righteousness. It takes work to be honest with someone else about what is missing in the relationship. It takes work to have 25-75 conversations to soften the hard edges of those differences. 

I believe relationships are the most important part of our lives and at the same time they are so easy to take for granted – it takes work not to fall into complacency as the years roll by. Taking each other for granted is such an easy trap to fall into which explains why Boomers have the highest divorce rate.

It takes work to be honest with yourself and the truth is the more grown-up you can be with yourself – the more you can face painful situations – the more often you can risk doing that with someone else – 

What motivates me to do the work of being authentic was my Father & the result is that my life has improved and has more substance.

A pivotal moment in my life was at ten years old. I knew my mother’s mother, my grandmother, did not love her. My father had a remarkable ability to be honest. I remember asking him why my grandmother didn’t love my mom – he looked surprised -& he said 3 things etched deeply in my memory from 60 years ago “I’ve never understood it, I can’t explain it and she’s always been treated as the 5th wheel in that family.” That moment set me on a path to paying attention to unspoken pain and learning how to help make that pain bearable. My father did not pretend what I said wasn’t true, he didn’t avoid it by telling me “You don’t know what you’re talking about” which was the easy way to dismiss a kid in the early 60’s. His ability to respect a hard truth laid a foundation of being motivated to face harsh realities. I am so sad at our culture’s acceptance of lies & conspiracy theories born in blame & hate. Reality matters immensely which is why I appreciate knowing the step sisters in the real Grimm’s fairy tales whacked off their toes & heel to stuff their foot in the glass slipper, instead of the sanitized Disney version.

In season 1 Episode 6 of the TV show Sense 8 The character from Iceland shares a saying from her country: “It’s not the drugs that make a drug addict. It’s the need to escape reality.” Reality has so much difficulty attached to it & yet the only way to make things better in either your life or your relationship is to face reality & deal with it.

As I mentioned in conversation with Terry Real in Episode #94 too many therapists are lopsided in giving support & kindness when growing up requires facing difficult realities & truth. Excellent therapy is a dance in the art & science of offering challenging truths as well as support.

Temporary comfort needs to motivate all of us less often. Our desire for comfort erases the motivation to do the hard work of dealing with reality. No one person has a corner on the market of reality. Facing reality in a relationship includes knowing reality always lies in between both people. That’s the messy part & hard work making room for two points of view instead of clinging on to only one.

Caring about truth, deciding to be more authentic (which does not include being mean) is also about being motivated by long term thinking. The lack of seriousness about climate change tells you how little long term thinking matters in today’s world.

Short term thinking is all about avoiding, deflecting & being comfortable. Long term thinking requires sacrifice, the way Europe is making sacrifices in order to support the Ukraine’s fight for democracy while Americans in our more distant cocoon of comfort are not sacrificing. – If authenticity is your motivation then it means taking ownership of your wants and voicing them and also being able to sacrifice your wants for others or for the US, the third entity in order to be successful. It’s not about taking the easy way…

A big motivation for me is being able to pursue a variety of interests – being interested in what life offers expands the world in so many ways – nobody but myself cares that I got a world art history certificate from the Smithsonian. I love/value lifelong learning and it’s so fun to have lectures by people who are excited about what they’re sharing. It also makes you more interesting when you have many things you enjoy and can talk about. Boring is not something my husband and I experience very often. When you are motivated to have individual interests & pursue them, then you are more interesting to your partner & yourself. 

Shopping is too often defined as a major interest and I find that sad as much as I enjoy finding unique items on Etsy. If your only interest is your job or your children then retirement will be more difficult. Everyone has to sample a lot of things that don’t work out to find the ones that do. If you want a more interesting “you,” partner or relationship then talk about that now and be willing to explore your curiosity.

So one suggestion of how to leave the comfort trap is to exchange the motivation of comfort to being motivated by curiosity. Curiosity always increases happiness & helps people move out of depression. Instead of the easy annoyance behind criticism, try being curious about why your partner has this bad habit, how does it work for them or what is a deeper story about it? Following your own curiosity will make your own life more interesting to you & will expand possibilities for your relationship.   

Exploring requires you value just trying – you try things out with your partner or for yourself and a whole lot of them won’t work out. Just trying is important all by itself and can be very motivating if you decide that is true. You can decide that trying matters as much as success.

Working at things even when they are hard is a value that nurtures motivation. Even when no one notices all your effort, a quiet self-satisfaction within can be enough. No one asks me about my podcast or downloads – no one – I work hard at it & invest in it because I’ve decided it’s important & that’s enough for me.

A lot of my podcasting motivation is trying to influence your values, so you will hold yourself to a higher standard because the work of relationship success is worth it. Meaning and purpose evolve from your values. Connection is a value when you volunteer to deliver Meals-On-Wheels as my husband has for over a quarter of a century. Think about your values, look at your calendar & your credit card statements. Do your values align with how you spend your time and your money?

There is a level of ugliness in the world that deeply troubles me. Things that are not acceptable are celebrated while the rule of law is stepped on. Our values & what motivates us is worth thinking about. I want to end with a quote from the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin: “Is the Holocaust an aberration or a reflection of who we are?”. 

My challenge for you today is to think about your motivations;

What makes you sparkle with interest in your own life?

What keeps you motivated to be a better partner? 

What is your evidence of working at improving your relationship? Are you motivated to share power?

Draw a circle & make pie shapes about who has power with money, kid decisions, vacations & sex? (who wants sex the least has the most power).

Ask yourself how often you take the easy way out & deflect hard conversations?

How motivated are you to look at yourself instead of falling into the joy of blame?

I suggest you go to TED talks & type in search Motivation & then listen to help you explore this important topic.

This episode is for my Dad – thanks for being real. My podcast & 450 page website is like wikipedia offering knowledge in the public interest. My children’s book, Dancing With Your Lizard Brain is for sale on amazon. Thanks for listening & spread the word!

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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