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You Get What You Need

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”

That Rolling Stones refrain is playing in my head repeatedly of late and it seems clear that this is as true a love song as I have ever known. Although I would never have thought it in my earlier years, what I know of love that has staying power is that it is actually rarely about what you want. Growing up and cultivating sustainable love is mostly about learning how to accept what you get, turn it into what you want, or at least embrace it as what you need.

I learned this at work the other day, when a customer called to reorder some products. An articulate and well studied cancer survivor, she told me things about my own products that I never knew. When I asked her if she received my newsletters, she said, yes, but there wasn’t much there for her. She had done this work. I like to believe that my messages make a difference for everyone- but the truth is that people take what they need and it might not be what is most important for you.

The song continued repeating as I struggled with finding peace in my relationship with my father. A difficult man, a pain filled childhood, and years of resentment and hatred all come together at every meeting. In the past the feelings were justified responses to not getting the compassionate witnessing and loving attention that we all crave. This time the pain is about bearing witness to my own struggle to transform my inner relationship to my past and to him. Hatred and resentment rarely impact the object of our feelings, instead they keep us stuck in the same habitual patterns that we have come to know as relationship for years. I will never get what I want from that relationship, but I am starting to know how to look for what I need.

This song has been a love song in my marriage for decades. Learning how to see the relationship that we have as the one we need instead of resenting the shortcomings of the one that we wanted is requires daily vigilance. It is easy to be confused and to refuse the love that a partner can give, if it doesn’t look or feel the way that we want it to. This happens most frequently in my marriage when I am deep in my own battles with my own insecurities.

When we are most lost to ourselves and unable to accept our weaknesses or recognize our strengths, all of the places where our closest relationships fall short become unbearable. It is so painful to recognize the moments when we are incapable of loving that blaming the other is a ready survival mechanism. Often the response is so habitual that we don’t even have the time to choose a different response. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need… Getting to what you need in a relationship and giving up the fantasies of what you want is the key to staying and doing the daily work of connecting. Celebrate getting what you need and it may surprise you how easily it starts feeling exactly like what you want.