Mark Groves – Human Connection Specialist
So, 12 years ago, almost to the day actually, I was moving into a new house that I just bought with a girlfriend that I’d been dating for five years. And on the day that we were moving in together, I planned on getting engaged. I planned on it, right? So that was the plan.
So, I got to the house early to sort of set the stage, and I got there and laid out some roses from the front door that led in, and – I know what you’re thinking, like, very cliche. But I didn’t have Pinterest back then, so this was like my best work, okay? Stay with me though.
So she gets to the house, she walks in, she follows the roses. I think, like, for women, if you lay out roses, there’s just something in their DNA where they just follow. So she follows them to the kitchen, and on the island is a takeout container from our favorite restaurant. She opens the container, and, inside, it says, “Will you marry me? Yes/No,” and there’s a pen hanging, and she checks “yes.” Right? So, we did it. Okay. It gets worse before it gets better. In that moment, for the first time in my life that I can remember, I’m sort of, like, outside of me, like the Matrix, in a way – don’t worry, it’s not a woo-woo talk.
So, I’m thinking about how I’m feeling, I’m sort of like watching us celebrate, and I’m really observing my feelings, and I’m thinking, “I think I should be more excited than this.” And before I’d gotten engaged, I was quite nervous about it, I felt anxious. I would talk to people that I trusted, and I asked their advice, and they’d say things like, “I think you’re just afraid of commitment.” And I thought, “Well maybe I am, but maybe it’s something more than that.”
And so I would spend all my spare moments on the internet, searching for things like “How do you know if she’s the one?” Yeah. No small topic. It would bring me to this website called The Runaway Bride – which no longer exists, unfortunately – and I posted my story on the forum. People on there were going through what I was going through, or had been, and what was beautiful was they didn’t care what I chose, they just cared that I made a choice that was right for me. And so this one woman, she asked me three questions that would forever change my life. And the first question was: “If she left you tomorrow, would you be okay?” And I thought, yeah, I would be okay.
And the second question she asked me was: “Can you imagine what it would be like waiting for her at your altar – whatever your altar is?” And I thought, no, that like made my stomach hurt, made me anxious. And the third question she asked me was: “Can someone else love her better?” Phew! Yeah, and she was worthy of that. She was and is an amazing woman. And that question was actually the first time I ever even considered the situation outside of my selfish bubble. It was: How will this affect me? What will people think if the relationship ends? I don’t want to hurt anyone.
It was like, wow, this fear of stepping into my truth or honoring whatever my feelings were, I wasn’t allowing her the opportunity to have the relationship she was worthy of. So I invite you, if you’re in a relationship, or even to think of your past partner, to ask yourself: “Can someone else love them better?” And if the answer is “yes,” then, of course, why are you leaving that gap? Because if you don’t fill it, someone else will. And, of course, the follow-up question to that is: “Do you want to?” And for me, I didn’t want to. And I didn’t know why, I just knew that I didn’t want to, and my truth was that I needed to end the relationship. So I did.
But on the day that that engagement story ended, that part of my story was sort of like the beginning of this amazing journey that has brought me to this stage today. I, since that moment, have been obsessed with understanding relationships, with understanding the science and psychology of why they work and why they don’t, and why are we attracted to people who are not good for us, often? And why, when things are terribly bad, do we have such a problem leaving relationships – if we even do? And why, when someone’s actually ready to show up for us and love us, we’re like, “They’re too nice”? Right? And it’s unattractive. Like, that’s messed up!
And I thought, “Why is it that if relationships matter to us so much, that we don’t take the time to learn about them and to be really good at them? Now, I have the belief that we are all obsessed with relationships, because no matter where I go – coffee shops, the seawall – people are talking about their relationship stuff. They will pin you against the wall if you ask “How is your relationship?” And I don’t have the research to support this statement, but I am almost certain that more coffee and wine is consumed on the subject of and the recovery from relationships – right – than anything else. So I might decline sales in those areas after this talk, hopefully. So, if we’re so obsessed with it, why? Because when relationships are great, they’re amazing.
I love this painting from Laura Banzan Martin because it’s everything. It’s why we’re here; we’re here to connect. But when relationships don’t work, they’re devastatingly painful. Relationships literally – love literally affects our hearts. In a study where they gave people a wound on their arm, they saw that if they were in high-conflict relationships, they actually healed slower. And John Gottman, who’s like the godfather of – that’s my God, by the way – he’s the godfather of relationship research – I know, it wasn’t good – he saw that if he was observing a couple that were seemingly fine and he measured their physiological responses, if they were in a high-conflict relationship, their bodies were responding like they were beside a tiger. Is that crazy? Our bodies don’t know the difference between a high-stress job, a high-stress life, and a high-stress relationship.
So you imagine, if it just affects a small wound on your arm, that healing, what does it do when we’re fighting things like heart disease or cancer? And if really bad relationships, or challenging ones, can affect our health in a negative way, can positive ones help us heal, maybe, or preserve our health? And the answer is yes. In the longest-running study on happiness, the Harvard men’s study – which now includes women, about time – they saw it wasn’t your blood pressure or your cholesterol that predicted your health at 80, it was the quality of your relationships at 50.
Yeah. But not just romantic relationships, relationships of all kinds – friendship, family. Because the skill set of being able to connect to another human being and communicate effectively is the most important skill we can develop. And the other thing is, love with another person is probably the most challenging thing that we’ll all face because love requires us to look at the things we’re not good at; it requires us to accept them, and you know the areas of development that were talked to us about? We have relational areas of development too. And really deeply fulfilling loving relationships require so much humility, but they also require so much more courage.
When we actually begin this journey of understanding – which I did, and I didn’t know it was called this till I got to this stage of my career – building relational awareness. Essentially, that’s a fancy way of saying “What is my stuff?” And then, how does my stuff play with their stuff? Which actually sounds dirty when I think about it, but – My stuff, your stuff … What is my stuff and what is their stuff and how does it relate? And anyone we relate to, our stuff relates to. And when we actually look at the research on why we do what we do, we see that about 95% to 99% of what we do is subconscious. Isn’t that crazy? One to five percent of what we do is conscious. That doesn’t seem good! Right?