Relationships – Our Greatest Teacher

The most telling thing about a person’s spiritual development is the nature of their relationships. Relationships can be open and loving and sharing, heartfelt and filled with joy, or they can be dismal prisons of stress, discouragement and failure.

What would it look like to hold love with another person, without all the garbage?  Jesus loved in a real way.  That should give us a clue. He TOLD us it was a clue.  “Love each other as I have loved you.” . . .  So what does that look like?  

”I see you.  I see your light.  I see your vulnerabilities. I see your darkness.  I love you anyway.  I recognized within you the love that is within all of creation, as I recognize the love in the trees and in the wind.  I love it all.  You see all of that too, in me, in the world.  We stand together, awake, seeing and sharing the love that we see.  I can watch you doing whatever it is that brings you joy and not smother you or control you.  I can love you enough to let you leave, if that is what you need to do.”

If your relationships are like this, you don’t need this article. If however, it’s not, read on.

We measure our lives by our relationships. They are one of the few things that allow us to tangibly compare our success in life against other people, so we compare. But there is a problem with that. Life is largely about failure, because it is through failure that we learn, and we came to earth to learn.

Relationships are one of our greatest teachers because they reach deeply inside us and expose our most heartfelt fears. The hurt comes in relationship, but the healing is external. So, if you are having a difficult time, remember that you are involved in your learning process.

As a child, you didn’t learn to walk without falling down, and the same is true for relationships, and for that matter, life in general. You are not a failure. You just haven’t finished dealing with your fears and anxieties yet.

So let us paint a picture: You did the best you could. You shopped around for what you thought would be a good partner, settled in, and now things aren’t going well.

You have your friends, your career, your partner has theirs. You go through the motions, but the thrill is gone. Resentments crop up, the two of you are distant, you don’t really ever talk any more. Sex, when it happens, isn’t very exciting. Clearly, Elvis has left the building.

Where did things go wrong? Where did you go wrong? Is it repairable? How come you didn’t see this coming? How is it that another relationship has gone south? You read all the Cosmo dating advice, you’ve done therapy – maybe even gone to couples counseling, but it hasn’t helped. And leaving the relationship means feeling alone and starting in the awful dating routine again. And then there are the kids. . . .

Let’s face it, the odds were heavily stacked against you in the first place. Relationships have close to a 100% failure rate. Most people are far better at choosing cars than they are at choosing partners. And yet despite the terrible odds, people keep trying. When you see that sort of an anomaly in human behavior, you have to know that something far more significant is taking place.

Why don’t we see ahead more clearly? Has your partner really changed that much, or have things that were latent just come to the surface? Poets say that “Love is blind,” but that isn’t true. Love can see just fine. Codependency however, is blind as a bat, and that points to the biggest reason people mess up relationships.

The majority of people are just not ready for a real relationship. They have not addressed their own inner pain, and that leaves them unable to emotionally commit to the openness and intimacy that a real relationship requires. So instead, they make compromises.

The dating process becomes a negotiation where the couple agrees to limit the openness and commitment they expect from one another. It is never openly discussed, but becomes the dominant defining quality of the relationship.

And so they circle, neither being willing to fully step in, and each feeling cheated. In some relationships one partner capitulates their needs to those of the other in order to have the “relationship.”

In either case, things go fine for a while, but after the excitement wears off, friction sets in and the resentments build. This is a relationship headed for the ditch. And some people are so dedicated to not looking at their own issues that they continue to try and drive the car long after it’s hit the ditch!

Complicating matters is that many people operate under the fantasy that having a partner will make them feel good enough about themselves so that they can continue to ignore their gnawing feelings of inadequacy. After all, a new relationship feels pretty wonderful! But when the partner doesn’t make their own feelings of inadequacy go away and, the relationship starts to sour, they feel betrayed.

It’s a wonderful setup though, because they get to blame their partner for the failure and still avoid having to deal with what’s going on for them. They are free to leave indignantly and find someone else to repeat the process with. Hollywood, country and pop music do a wonderful job of reinforcing the myth that our happiness depends on “finding Mr. Right.”

Most people don’t know what real love is because they have never experienced it. They didn’t get unconditional love from their parents, weren’t encouraged to find their hearts as they grew up and were essentially brainwashed by movies, music, advertising and television.

The unfortunate consequence is of all this that they are reluctant to be as vulnerable as a real relationship requires, because it will expose their “inadequacies.” It is the inadequacy wound that drives most of our codependent behavior, by the way. We think we know what love is, but honestly, not many people do. Real love is an incredible thing, once you have experienced it!

So let’s start with a few basics. In the first place, a relationship is an artifice – it exists only so long as you and I commit to it. I can locate your feelings, I can locate my feelings, but there is no third entity named “our relationship” hanging out someplace in the cosmos. In the same way this thing we call love is really our “shared love,” and it can be a really wonderful thing, but it exists only within each of us in our feelings toward each other.

My love emanates from me and if you can relate to it, that’s wonderful! But it is mine, just as yours is yours. If you decide that you feel similarly toward me, that’s wonderful! We can begin a truly remarkable dance together.

And if you don’t decide to join me, that is unfortunate. I am not likely to hang out for long feeling that vulnerable, but my feelings are still my own. Kahlil Gibran wrote about relationship:

On Marriage

You were born together,
and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together
when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another,
but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea
between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup
but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread
but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow
not in each other’s shadow.

We have been taught that love can happen “across a crowded room,” but that’s attraction, it’s not love. There is a “flash attraction” that is a past life phenomenon bringing people together to work on unresolved past life issues – people speak of “soul mates.” Sometimes it leads to something more, sometimes not. 

But the biggest confusion about relationships is that people do not understand how relationships are used by The Universe to help us in our journey towards enlightenment.

Let’s assume that like most people, you feel a bit inadequate. You like yourself, but you don’t love yourself yet, either. Perhaps you still beat yourself up for your mistakes and blunders.

Faced with a request for real intimacy and fearing rejection, you will hold back. If you do step in, it will only be partway, but most likely you will reject the offer and find someone less likely to ask of you what you feel unprepared to freely give. This is not something we think about, it happens in a flash when the fear of intimacy arises.

A compromised relationship is destined for trouble, and from The Universe’s point of view, it is a wake-up call asking you to address the fears and beliefs that keep you from loving freely and openly. Until you address the fears and beliefs that reside in your shadow, you will keep making poor choices and suffer the inevitable consequences, or end up alone. And of course, the more you resist, the worse things are going to get.

Rather than address their inner issues, some people opt out and move into a solitary existence rather than deal with their fears. Unfortunately we carry our baggage with us, so the same issues are going to manifest, just differently in that context.

I want to be clear, I am speaking of people who choose to avoid their shadow issues. Some people find peace and contentment in being solitary, but they must be vigilant to not rationalize away something they are reluctant to address.

The good thing is that all your troubles will eventually force you to reconsider the beliefs you hold about yourself. I can guarantee you that the negative ones are not true. How can I know that? Think about it.

When you come to know the truth about yourself a whole new universe of possibilities opens before you. It will offer up the things that have been denied you by your fear. It is doing life the hard way, but that is the path most people choose, but that can change . . .

Here are a few comments that felt insightful:

 “We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems-the ones that make you truly who you are-that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person-someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.” 

I will find that special person who is wrong for me in just the right way.

Let our scars fall in love.”         

Galway Kinnell

“When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This can go on and on–series polygamy–until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.”      

Tom Robbins

 ”Why does anyone stay in an unhappy relationship? Because people do. They do it all the time. And the truth is, when you’re in it, when you’re up to your neck in the everyday part of life with another human being, sometimes you don’t exactly notice how bad things really are. It’s not always as apparent as it would seem. Unhappiness, when it involves another person, can be like that line from The Sun Also Rises about going bankrupt, how it happens two ways: gradually, and then suddenly.”           

Sarah Dunn

“Love is a commitment that will be tested in the most vulnerable areas of spirituality, a commitment that will force you to make some very difficult choices. It is a commitment that demands that you deal with your lust, your greed, your pride, your power, your desire to control, your temper, your patience, and every area of temptation that the Bible clearly talks about. It demands the quality of commitment that Jesus demonstrates in His relationship to us.”     

Ravi Zacharias

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