I remember, during a group intensive, being asked by our facilitator in front of the group why I would want to be in an intimate relationship. I blurted out what then seemed to me like the obvious answer, the reason I assumed everyone would be in a relationship: the need to really be seen and understood.
And I got pummeled.
“Why in the world would you think you need someone to see and understand you?”, came the blunt retort. Umm...WHY??? To question this “fact” had never occurred to me—obviously I needed to be seen and understood because…well…wasn’t that the point of relationships? The response from our wise facilitator stunned me into silence. No, she clarified, the sole legit reason for being in a relationship is because we love to be.
It’s been years since that group experience, years of processing that moment, and I finally get it.
As independent adults, when we perceive we need anything from a relationship, it’s fundamentally flawed.
I know this sounds nuts to most people—but give me a few minutes here and this might just be the breakthrough for you that it was for me, the one that allowed me to finally enter a relationship that is one of THE most fun, fascinating and rewarding (which does not mean always easy) experiences of my entire life. And the only “why” that I’m in it? Yep, because I love to be.
While we all prefer certain things in relationships, what we’re “looking for” and think we need from our partners in an intimate relationship is a giant red arrow and a key to our own fulfillment. Why? Because it’s what we want, in our heart of hearts, not only for, but more critically, from ourselves. Let me just say that again: what we think we need from our partners is the very thing we actually need from ourselves. Human beings are master projectors, in the psychological sense. I project onto you what’s going on in me. I think you are the cause of my pain, when ALWAYS, my pain originates from me. From my perceptions. And when my perceptions are that you owe me anything, such as being seen and understood in a relationship, well…there’s going to be pain there for me, no doubt about it. But not getting what I want in a relationship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me; it showed me what I needed from myself. Had I gotten everything, all the time, that I thought I needed from someone else (which is impossible), I would still be asleep to the fact that the partner I need is me.
No matter how incredibly loving, caring, sensitive or intuitive your partner is, they do not share your entire personal past (and thus do not and cannot always understand the idiosyncratic meanings you’ve ascribed—usually unconsciously—to particular events or actions) or live inside of your head and simply cannot “be there” for you in the way that you want them to be all of the time. Whether that’s because they can’t physically be there, or whether they don’t see life in exactly the same way you do and don’t anticipate or maybe even fathom that you have a particular perceived need, or whether they dedicate time to fulfilling their own hearts’ desires (and hopefully they do or you’re in for a yawn of a relationship!), there will be times when your perceived requirements of them cannot/will not be met.
The same wise facilitator I mentioned above recently quipped to a friend of mine something to this effect: “I’d hate to be on the other end of you in a relationship; you want your partner to use a script instead of just loving them for themselves and letting them love you in their way.” Ouch. But I had to admit, that applied to my perceptions (if I was completely and brutally honest with myself), at least at times, of my own views in a relationship. How many of us have ever felt disappointed, let down or betrayed by a partner? Those perceptions only occur when we have expectations of how the other should act; when we’ve scripted how things should be.
*Let’s do a little garden-pathing here, just for a moment.*
If we have no “script”, no expectations, does that mean we just accept anything our partners do or say? Yes. But accept doesn’t mean we approve, “just take it” or smash down our own feelings and desires. It means we acknowledge what’s happened (because it happened), including our own feelings (and own them, not blaming the other person for triggering our personal stuff), determine where there are discrepancies with our preferences and possibly redefine the agreements we have with each other.
We all have agreements with each other in every relationship. The trick is not to confuse them with expectations. (Seriously, if this still sounds strange to you, read this blog I wrote about that very topic here). When agreements are spoken and clearly laid out, as in a marriage or a business contract, both parties understand and, ostensibly, agree. When agreements are underlying, or unspoken and simply assumed—prepare for a giant mess at some point.
Most of us prefer obvious things when we’re in a relationship: to be treated respectfully, for instance. But what happens when that doesn’t happen, in our opinion (keep in mind the other person may not interpret their behavior as disrespectful in the slightest)? We communicate. My nuanced definitions of anything will most likely not exactly match yours in every situation. We find these things out within our relationships. Not everything can be prepared for, pre-discussed or decided. So when we come upon apparent mismatches in ascribed meanings or preferences, we discuss them. We come to an agreement. When I’m angry, taking a walk cools me down and I am more likely to come back to you from love, remembering who I am. So our agreement might be that when I say, “I’m taking a walk now”, you let me go and just notice your tendency to interpret my walk as an abandonment, for instance, knowing that this is only your interpretation of my actions and that my actions (to ME) mean that I love you and want to disperse the tension, feel my emotions and continue our discussion from a calm place of love and mutual respect. When we understand what others mean by their words and actions, we can more accurately discern what’s actually going on and we’re less likely to project our own fears and emotions onto our partners.
But what happens when we talk with our partner and find out that what they truly prefer in a relationship is multiple sexual partners, for example, and that’s not what we prefer? Well, we may need a new agreement, possibly one in which we agree that we just don’t prefer the same things and that going forward from love and respect for each other, our choices do not include being each other’s significant other anymore.
But here’s my real point in all of this…
What we’re craving from the other person, whether that be to be seen or heard, to be acknowledged, to be taken seriously, to feel free etc., is our X-marks-the-spot on the treasure map of our life; it’s our cue that we aren’t giving this to ourselves.
And then the journey begins for real. This is where we can meet ourselves. This is where the work starts.
Look carefully—what is it you really desire from your partner???
Spoiler alert: What it comes down to for most of us is the desire to experience feeling loved unconditionally.
The good news? Every one of us can have that. The trick is knowing that this can only come from ourselves. Here’s the thing: every one of us IS unconditional love. It’s not something we do, it’s something we are. It’s what we’re made of. It’s true that we are also wisps of flesh and blood and hair on the level of form, sure. But the real deal is that we are inherently and cannot ever be anything but Love. Our egos, however, may not be aware of that at all.
I recently came across this meme:
And there’s the misunderstanding, right there in black and white, that causes us so much pain.
The actual best thing in life is to realize that we are unconditional love and acceptance; then, we stop looking for it on the outside. This, my friends, is true freedom. This is the golden ticket to engaging in an intimate relationship truly based on unconditional love and where unconditional love begins to be mirrored back to us through our partners.
But this is where it starts, with recognizing we desire to feel unconditionally loved and then discovering where we aren’t doing that in our own lives, with ourselves.
Most of us have memories of our own thoughts or actions that when recalled, make us cringe. How could I have done that? That was a huge mistake. That’s not like me at all! That’s not ME! Recognizing that as human beings, when given the right (or rather, wrong) set of circumstances, that we are sometimes capable of almost anything, is a great start to this whole unconditional love business—for ourselves and then for others. I know, for example, that when I’m perceiving I’m stressed, hungry, exhausted or overworked, it’s very easy for me to forget what I usually remember but haven’t quite internalized yet on an experiential level, disconnect from the moment, lash out and cause pain to myself and others. I know this because I’ve watched myself do it over and over and over and over again.
The more practice we allow ourselves in acknowledging the circumstances that tend to put us into an unconscious state, the more we can support ourselves to remain in a more conscious awareness, yes (get enough rest, eat well etc.). That’s true and an important tool. But more importantly, when we can simply recognize and acknowledge that in some instances our perception is way off, that we sometimes suck, that we can act in ways that we ourselves judge as mean, insufferable, whiny, needy, hurtful and disgusting just because we’re human beings, we can start to actually experience real love for ourselves and others.
The more we try to reject parts of our experience and avoid looking at ourselves in an honest way in an attempt to hold on to unrealistic opinions of ourselves (identities such as I’m always kind and loving, I would never do A, B or C, I have perfect skin, I’m always a loyal, honest and well-meaning person), we avoid meeting ourselves as we are, and we avoid, in our everyday lives, recognizing the unconditional love that is what we are. And so, our perception is that we are not unconditionally loved and we perceive that we need to find this outside of ourselves. However, when we can be aware enough to simply acknowledge all of the things that are hard to admit about ourselves when they come up and just be there with them, just being there with the resistance to what we’ve felt, said or done, with the fear, the shame and the wanting-to-be-different, a floodlight highlighting the very awfulness of the human-ness we’d like to ignore (Alan Watts calls this the “Quaking Mess”), we show ourselves unconditional love.
To clarify, we don’t have to actively LOVE that we sometimes get jealous, find ourselves at our wits end with our children or lash out in anger. We can simply recognize that sometimes that happens. Not only does this often grant us a space to take a step back and take a breath and create a space of awareness for a shift in these qualities or habits, but it eventually transforms us into people who experience and express unconditional love to everyone and everything.
But, patience. This is our journey here. To be Here with What Is and to remember who we are: Love. And that’s the end-game, or at least the place of stepping off the mountain and returning as bodhisattva. But we start with what is. We start with recognizing and accepting our own flaws and misunderstandings, our tendencies to take things personally, to misinterpret behavior and to blame others. We start with realizing that what we’ve always wanted, what we’re dying to experience from others, can only come from US. Because our most intimate relationships are those that mirror to us our deepest desires, we can use these observations for our own deepening experience of truth.
Recognizing our deep desires for our partner’s attitudes, words and behavior towards us is a giant opportunity for our own expansion of awareness, and not only that, but a giant opportunity for us to live the life of our dreams, no matter what the external circumstances.
Will we choose to ignore this opportunity when we aren’t getting what we think we want and blame our partner? Will we stay asleep? Or will we wake up, be with what’s there in ourselves, accept the challenge and become our own knights in shining armor, our own best friends, our own true loves and finally, Truth? From there, we enter and maintain all our relationships not from perceived need, but simply because we love to. And in intimate relationships, what freedom and a gift that partner is—someone who’s with you simply because they love to be. Ah…now this is the life! LiveLove&BU, dears, unconditionally.
Image credit theodysseyonline