Who doesn’t love romantic comedies? Boy meets girl, they go through many ordeals, experience unfortunate events and in the end, they walk off into the sunset together. We assume that they lived happily ever after. Yet, in those 86 minutes of entertainment, no one tells us how to work through the painful, yet fertile kinks that come up in relationships. How do we learn to accept love? In what ways can we transform our emotional and behavioral patterns in order to receive the love we desire?
“Love is all you need” is a clichÃ© that makes us feel good when we hear it but but what kind of love are we talking about? If what we think love is has been based on what we learned in these movies, we are all in trouble!
The first reality we all have to face is this: romance is not love. It’s only a form of expression of love and it is mostly culturally-shaped. Love is a transcendent force that invites and begs for lower ego needs to be cast aside to accept and nurture the love we long for. Our ego personality is the part of us that has survived neglect, mistreatment, manipulation and in some cases abuse. It’s our adaptive self. It deserves respect for its ability to help us survive the pains of growing up as a human being. But it is not equipped to unravel its own inner-blocks and the defenses it has brilliantly adapted for us to become adults who function in society.
In order to accept, cherish and reciprocate deep love, we must witness and accept our own pain, share it within the frame of sacred intimacy and be humble enough to ask for our partner’s hand in building new emotional patterns. I might be wrong, but I don’t remember any of this covered in Hollywood movies.
This is why an intense relationship (a twin flame relationship) full of passion can wreak havoc in our lives. Our ego, with its survival limitations, has a hard time dropping its defenses to make that possible. We hide who we are because deep down we believe that we are not lovable as we are. It is very natural for our adaptive self (ego personality) to feel this way because it is still carrying the wounding of our childhood. The wounding it had to sweep under the carpet in order to finish school, get a job and pay the bills. This is what comes with being human.
Our pain also carries immense gifts that unlock our hearts and assist us in developing deep, meaningful connections with other humans. It creates a platform of compassion and understanding we can build on. For this to happen, we must see each other without the survival masks that hide our silent tears. We must be willing to stand naked in front of our partner and endure the terrifying discomfort of fear of rejection. That is the moment we are ready for true love.
Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t know who that person really is. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.” -Marianne Williamson (from ‘Illuminata’)
Her words summarize the purpose of love: to shine a light on all the unhealed parts in our psyche that cast a shadow on our true essence. To provide a container for us to recognize, accept, love and transform the pain of not having been loved right. Intimacy in relationships is about learning to find safety in order to put our ego masks and to share who we are with our wounding, fears, insecurities, paranoia, jealousy and the terror of standing naked in front of another soul whose love we desire more than anything. That is courage. That is the path to true healing. It is the path to love that does not lose its light in the darkness of our pain.
Intimacy challenges us to seek a higher level of participation than the limited thought forms of romantic delusion of false morality. It seeks authentic engagement before superficial agreements. It means that we will always try to show up for love. It’s an adult activity and at times a very difficult pursuit. It takes effort, perseverance and a tolerance for emotional pain, for it is a cutting through of the defenses we have built up over a lifetime”. -Marianne Williamson (from ‘Illuminata’)
So, this is the picture. This is the gift. It is very challenging yet transformative. The real question is, how do we navigate the rough waters of this inner transformation? How can we use this beautiful, intense, and perfectly challenging relationship towards spiritual awakening and fulfillment?
Here are a few tips that can help you weather the storms and build resilience while parts of your ego personality come crumbling down:
1) Get intimate with your own needs.
Most of us have learned that our needs are a burden to others. We might have been brought up by parents who unknowingly made us feel that way. They were overworked and overburdened by their own pain they didn’t know what to do with. So, we stuff our needs down. But when they are not met in the relationship, we react from our pain. We may push away, punish, manipulate, blame, yell, withdraw and use a myriad of defensive strategies to show our distress.
If you have been disconnected from your needs for a long time, how can you identify what they are, let alone communicate them? Here is a handy strategy: replay your interactions with your partner in your mind. Make a note of which defensive behaviors you turn to and search for the need underneath them. Unless you can identify what the needs are and in which dysfunctional ways you respond when those needs are unmet, you will keep recycling the same patterns- which will prevent you from achieving intimacy and deep love.
2) Know your boundaries and practice communicating them with grace.
For instance, if you feel triggered by your partner’s long phone conversations with his mother, especially when you two had made plans, you can ask him to try to have them at times outside of the time frame you have made plans. In order for this boundary-asking to be successful, it is best to state the need first. You can say something like, “I am so glad that you have a loving relationship with your mother. But I feel left out when the conversation goes on for over 30 minutes when we are getting ready to go out. It brings back pain of my childhood of my dad ignoring me while his sister was in town. Is it too much to ask you to talk to her before or after we get together?”. This way, you achieve 3 things: respecting his needs (to nurture a relationship with his mother), respecting and honoring your own need (his undivided attention while you are together), sharing your own wound and asking him for his help in healing it.
Sometimes love is demonstrated in boundaries. This is different than care-taking, it’s about making it safe for you to do your own processing. As long as you don’t make your partner solely responsible for taking your pain away and it is a consensual boundary they are setting on your behalf or for you, then it’s a healthy relational pattern. In that case, it will bring you closer and increase your chances of healing an emotional wound.
3) Don’t lose sight of love.
Remember that your partner is playing a role in your ‘drama’ for you to face old patterns and to replace them with positive new memories. If your mother neglected you by playing poker with ‘the girls’ every weekend instead of spending time with you, your partner will have similar inclinations, habits or personality traits. For instance, he may be someone who likes to go sailing on the weekends to unwind and catch up with his soul. If you didn’t have the original wounding from your childhood, you would not take his sailing hobby personally and it would not bring up so much pain. But it does.
Recognize that it’s supposed to and try not to chastise your partner for the ‘role’ he is playing. Don’t lose sight of the love when the wounding resurfaces for it to be worked through. The ability to hold the pain and the love together comes with practice and emotional maturity. It can be learned.
4) Appreciate them when they make a genuine effort.
Appreciation goes a long way. Remember that your partner is new at this game just as you are. If he or she is making progress in learning new ways to relate to you, to hold space for what you are working on and takes your feedback and works with it, they deserve acknowledgment and appreciation from you. It will only encourage them to do better. I will elevate the intimacy and trust to a new level. Appreciation is catnip to our ears and hearts – as long as it is genuine and not used as a manipulation tool.
5) Work on taking back your projections.
We all have a shadow side. There are parts of us that we have learned to reject because they were unacceptable by society or by our caregivers. If we were given the message that being loud and boisterous or dressing provocatively could lead to rejection and loss of love, we shove them down in order to not to lose the love.
Your partner will have habits, attributes and behaviors that are an exaggerated version of what you have in your psyche (and vice versa). Maybe he is lazy or she is critical. This only means that there is a critical part of you that you have not owned or you procrastinate and look for shortcuts but aren’t aware of it. Our partners hold our shadow and our light. The purpose of a relationship is to be able to build enough trust and intimacy in order to take back these projections and love our partner through the process of taking their own back.
When projections stay in your judgments about your partner for a long time, they will erode your perception of them and the relationship faster than anything. Growth in a relationship is a very powerful aphrodisiac. “This is what I learned about myself through this experience” is lubricant for a lover’s heart. Lubricate as often as you can. You will be glad you did.
6) Be their friend.
This may seem counter-intuitive when we have a romantic and sexual attraction towards someone. We may fear that being their friend would take away from those aspects of the relationship. Yet, the opposite is true. Friendship we are talking about here is not Facebook friendship but one where you would eat raw chicken in order to protect your friend. The kind of friendship that prevents you from flirting with their ex or the guy she likes even though it’s fun because it would mean hurting them. Friendship is under-rated in our individualistic society. Yet, it is one of the pillars that keep a relationship strong.
7) Own your part.
I know that this is easier said than done. Our egos have a hard time with admitting what isn’t ‘perfect’ about us. If you get scared, fear abandonment and call your partner six times in a row because you couldn’t get a hold of them after the first call, own it. It’s perfectly OK and admirable to say, “I get clingy sometimes. There is a fear in me that you will leave me out of the blue” or “I was overcome by the fear of losing you. I didn’t mean to call six times in a row”. More than likely, what you will hear is, “It’s OK. I get like that, too” or “I understand. I am glad you reached out. I am sorry I was caught up on the other line with a client”. Being open and honest about our own issues and vulnerabilities creates the opposite effect our ego fears: it brings the couple closer.
8) Never be afraid to say you are sorry.
Yes, there might be plenty of experiences where you will have to bite the bullet and apologize for hurting them with your emotional reactions. Please know that this is natural. Your partner’s job is to bring out some of these raw aspects of your emotional world and as you build the strength to develop emotional resiliency. You will have slip ups. You will say and do things that feel unfair or hurtful to your partner. What’s more important is how you make up. If saying sorry verbally is difficult, write them an email that explains your side, show vulnerability and ask for forgiveness. In the same token, when they apologize, accept it. Empathize with them and understand that they too are healing and learning new ways of interacting in a romantic relationship.
9) Focus on their good qualities.
What we focus on expands. This is a universal law (like gravity). We all have positive qualities and parts of us that are still green. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. If you make it a practice to recognize what is good, uplifting, fun, joyful, respectable, nurturing, etc about your partner, you will see them as that person. If you do the opposite and always bring up their shortcomings and more importantly, think about them actively and consistently, love will fall into the background. Ultimately, the relationship you have with your partner in physical form will be the one you have with them in your mind. Your thoughts will bleed into your words and behaviors.
10) Be their playmate.
This goes along with friendship. There is something very special about laughing together. It is a bonding agent and it makes everything better- including sex. Lovers who laugh together stay together. I have experienced this first hand. Whenever I had fun and shared laughter with my partner, the rough patches seemed to go easier and we were able to bounce back from them faster than the times when we forgot to be each others’ playmate. This is extremely important.
These are the top ten attitudes and relational habits I have found to be most useful in surviving and thriving in an emotionally intense relationship. It may not be possible to have these aligned all of the time. But if you can pick one or two, actively and consciously work on making them present in your relationship, they will bring incredible joys and gifts to both you and your partner.
Great relationships don’t just happen. They are built brick by brick with the sacrifice and gentle care of both individuals. Share this list with your partner and hold their hand as they are practicing. That will only enhance your happiness as a couple. It is not always easy but it is definitely worth it!