The quality of all our relationships is a direct function of our relationship to ourselves.
From our very beginning we search to find or connect with our deepest self. Our human journey is one of finding out who we are. We cannot do this alone. An infant looks into the parent’s eyes to see what is reflected there. If we are loved, we experience ourselves as loveable and we carry this experience deep within to last when life goes wrong. We can still tell ourselves we are loved even through the harshest of experiences. If we do not find ourselves accurately reflected back or even worse, we are feared or hated our deepest experience of ourselves will be one of confusion and shame, along with self-doubt and self-rejection.
Relationship, it seems informs us. It changes and melds us through our friendships, love, arguments, and compromises. It is via all the myriad of simple and complicated interactions that we work out who or what sort of a person or being we are. Some of these we are conscious of and a vast array of these operate unconsciously.
Our closest relationships can become the most painful of all. But there is often hope in our suffering. For difficulties and pain with our closest partners, can also be a call to become whole and find the unevolved or unexpressed parts of ourselves. It follows then that the best gift we give to others is to know ourselves better, both the conscious and unconscious aspects of our make-up, so that we can start to relate to one another from a more rounded place.
Often, we fall in love with someone who appears to have something we deeply wish for. You know, the confident, warm and wise person, who seems to take charge in social and family situations and to whom others seem to gravitate naturally. This person seems perfect to the person who is introvert perhaps a little awkward, quieter and seems to doubt themselves. Like positive and negative electrical charge, there is an instant attraction between these two. If we accept that a whole human being has all of life’s attributes, latent within, then surely our life’s journey is to discover all of ourselves the good and the bad, and to integrate and synthesise these parts.
All human beings do this – in our families and schools and friendship groups, we learned along the way that some parts of ourselves were useful to express, whilst others had to be pushed underground, so that we could be acceptable and liked or loved, or get what we need from life. We are all in part ‘survival machines’, and we survive better when we belong to a family, a group.
So, to return to the couple. Each of them learned a way to be in the world that got them what they needed to survive – superficially they may be opposites. Unconsciously they have agreed between them to ‘hold’ a part of the other. But if the part they need to be completely whole is ‘held’ by the other, each individual will never truly feel ‘well-rounded’ and whole. Over time of course our projections onto the other partner, (‘projective identifications’), both positive and negative, are gradually withdrawn and what was once seen as positive in the other partner can become hated. This may be the chance, the opportunity to discover the lost part of oneself and to then truly be in relationship from a more complete sense of oneself and the other.
Sometimes there are outer behaviours that demonstrate these stresses in the relationship. Depression, addictions, affairs, boredom and withdrawal are the languages through which disillusion with one another can be expressed.
This is when couples in crisis often seek help. If they are brave this can be the opportunity for any couple to look closer at themselves through the hurt and profound disappointment and start to discover ‘what is it’ they are each being invited to change in themselves. This is not to minimise the deep wounds that we inflict on one another but to see these wounds as a pathway to discovering more about oneself. When we do this, we bring ALL of ourselves back to the relationship and this has the potential to take the intimacy to another more profound level of relating. This is hard work indeed, as it is much easier to blame ourselves or others, or to go ‘back to sleep’ in a relationship, than to view the crisis as a way back to who we are ultimately being called to be! Going home to oneself is the best we can offer each other.
Questions to ask of oneself when faced with relationship crises:
Where am I dependent in my relationships?
What am I asking my partner to do for me that I need to do for myself?
How am I constricted by my history and conditioning?
How am I taking responsibility emotionally or otherwise for my partner’s journey in life at the expense of my own?
Am I living life so that I will be happy with the consequences of my choices?
What fears or lack of my own permission block me from living my life?
In what ways do I avoid suffering?
What is my unlived life? What am I not expressing or being in my life?
Where am I stuck? At what stage in life have I settled at?
Where do I lack permission to be myself?
How do I define and express meaning, purpose and value in my life?