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Glass Half Empty? Or Half Full?

Relationships are everywhere. There is no place where relationship is not. We are always in relationship with someone or something – ourselves, our spouse, our children, our parents, our community, our co-workers, our bodies, the earth, our home, the car, etc…. We are always interfacing with ourselves, others and life.

How we are in relationship is, without exception, how we are in life. Our relationships mirror back to us who we are being, how we are thinking, what we make important and where we are stuck. They reflect back to us our moods, our values, our habits, and our innermost desires.

Most of us don’t think of relationship as a mirror. We tend to think of our partner as the dispenser – either the depriver or provider – of what we want. In all honesty, we move pretty self-centeredly and selfishly with others. When our partner does or gives to us what we want, we are happy. When they don’t, we are not. Not only that, but we immediately set out to “make” them give us what we want. We complain, withdraw, pout, lash out, nag, stonewall, shut down, cry, criticize, cajole, threaten, bribe – truly anything we can pull out from our bag of tricks to change our partner into being who and what we want. If we are unsuccessful in manipulating them into giving us what we want, we dump them for someone else.

This idea that relationships are this place where we “get” our needs met and therefore “you” should “give” to me is a game in which no one wins. We set ourselves up to fail at this game the moment we begin in. First of all, no matter how much we get, there is always the next thing that we want. We are not fill-up-able in a sense. Add to that the rarely thought about fact that the other person has their own wants, which are inevitably destined to conflict with ours a good bunch of the time.

But there is another matter altogether that is at the heart of every relationship failure. It can be best described by the glass half empty or half full question. What do we look for when we look at our relationship? Do we look for where we are fulfilled? Or where we are not?

Let’s talk about this further. Most of us come into relationship with a pre-conceived belief or two (or twenty) about ourselves from childhood. “I am not enough” or “I don’t matter” or “I am unlovable” are some examples. These beliefs play out in the background of our relationships. We come to relationship with the hope of healing and transforming these beliefs. But unconsciously, we are prepared, like soldiers going to war, to look for and protect ourselves from any evidence that might prove these beliefs are true.

So, for example, if I have this negative belief that I don’t matter, I am on the watch for where I don’t matter to you. Or if I have a negative belief that I am unlovable and you will leave me, I am on the ready for you to leave.

What this means, is that I am unconsciously searching out evidence to reinforce that I don’t matter. So, the second you don’t do what I want, like wash the dishes, I not only don’t get what I want, but I use this fact to reinforce that “I don’t matter”. The next time you don’t do what I want, like have sex with me, I use that as another example of where “I don’t matter”. All of my attention in relationship is now on where I don’t get what I want, and my unhappiness about that is amplified a thousand times, because I have it mean that “I don’t matter”.

Coincidentally, this amplification process has me miss the hundreds of other things you do GIVE to me. I honestly don’t notice them when I am focusing on where I don’t get what I want. They cease to exist.

In other words, my attention in relationship is on where the glass is half empty, on where I am unfulfilled. And unless I shift my focus of attention on to where I DO matter and where I DO get what I want, you are doomed to not win with me. I will ALWAYS from this half empty perspective, see you as someone who doesn’t give me what I want and as someone to whom I do not matter.

This is why we say relationship is a mirror. Look at how you are in your relationship. Pay attention to what you say about your partner, and you will see what you look for, what you believe and what you reinforce unconsciously. Is your attention on the glass half-full or half-empty?

Sonika Tinker, MSW, and her husband, Christian Pedersen, Certified Life Coach, are the founders of LoveWorks, a relationship training company offering leading edge relationship solutions. They have over 35 years combined experience producing and leading live trainings, online programs and customized coaching sessions to empower singles and couples to create passionate, intimate, inspiring relationships! (

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