The real relationship happened last night. I had been struggling,
feeling stuck, pushing myself in ways that were leaving me frustrated, angry,
and sad. My husband was mad at me for this. He pulled away and let me struggle.
Finally, I said, “Why aren’t you helping me? Why have you left me alone in
“I cannot help you with the project you are working on,” he said. “I
don’t mean that,” I said. “Why aren’t you helping me emotionally — don’t you
see I am stuck? I am confused. I don’t know how to get out of this state of
being.” We talked. We argued. We hashed it out. He said, “You remind me of my
mother when she was stuck, and it hurts too much. I feel helpless and upset,
and I don’t know how to help you. So, I get angry and pull away.”
Why couldn’t you have just said that? I think to myself. But I know the
doesn’t know how. He doesn’t even know what he is feeling until we talk it out.
I get caught in my struggle — fighting myself, fighting my life,
instead of knowing how to be, how to let go, how to flow. He sees me, and he
gets caught in his battle of what to do with someone who is momentarily lost.
“I need support,” I insist. “I need someone to help me break through my panic,
my frustration, confusion — my craziness. I need you to help me.” “Okay,” he
says. “Okay. I didn’t know.”
We have connected again. We feel close again.
I don’t feel abandoned, and my husband doesn’t feel helpless. But
there is no way to learn to reach towards each other, without the ‘fall’ from
grace into the hell of conflict and hurt feelings, followed by the hashing it
out and then the move back into connection. That is the only way. Learning
to reconnect is iterative. We do it over and over again. This
process is part of building a connected relationship.
The real relationship isn’t necessarily happening when we are on cruise
control, but when the events of our lives force us to tackle something. It
happens when we struggle; when we are forced to look at ourselves and the
emotional issues that we need to address to bridge the gap between us.
This process is how we learn about ourselves and each other and how to
be there for each other. This is how we repair old wounds, heal, and grow.
One more knot has been smoothed in each of us, and between us. This is how it is. This is how we learn to love. Working it out is the real relationship.
This story is about love. It comes out of my realizing
how I am changing. It comes out of my desire for a new world. It is about my
belief that we are all beings of love and healing includes a journey into the
darker parts of ourselves to exhume, tend and ultimately to heal and transform
How did your family of origin
influence your ability to love?
In my family, love was hidden
under other agendas. It just wasn’t the focus. My father was obsessed with his
artistic vision. He struggled with depression and rage. My mother was
emotionally cut off. Her focus was on the practical. Had we cleaned our rooms?
Were our chores completed? Affirmation was rare. Although my father could be
playful, both parents were often stressed and were critical of others. Between
these two people, there were four children. I was one of those children, and my
childhood impacted my ability to love.
Learning how to truly love
(both self and others) has been a life path for me. I survived my childhood
because I found love with the animals that surrounded me. They accepted me.
They had time for me. I felt safe with them. They expressed love towards me and
I towards them. I also knew there were realities other than the one I felt
trapped in because I read. I read voraciously. I read to escape my life and be
in another place. I read to find comfort. I read to find a place in which I
Over the years, living from the
guidelines my parents indoctrinated in me, I learned that my focus on
productivity often shortchanged my ability to love, to be loving, to honor my
partner. Luckily, life created some relational disasters for me and caused me
to begin to look at myself, to start the task of sorting through the aspects of
myself that simply did not work for all of me.
Untangling as a growth choice
I have been on a growth path
for many years, I am slowly correcting my deficits and growing my positive
qualities. Real love is one of the true joys of this world. If we do not learn
to create it, we shall have robbed ourselves and those we are blessed to share
our lives with. Each moment is precious. In each moment there is always a
choice. The choice is usually between what is life-affirming and what is not.
Sometimes we choose the less life-affirming path. That is important because we
get to experience what does not work, what does not fill us with joy. And in
the next moment, we again have another choice. At any point, our choices may
change. What and how we choose becomes our path. Sometimes we are caught. We
don’t know which way to go, what to choose, or even how to choose. That is when
working on ‘untangling’ becomes the most productive choice. This has been my
destiny and my path, and doing so has become a massive force in my life.
I want a world of beauty, where
people are not afraid of their emotions, or of connecting. Where we don’t have
to put others down to feel okay about ourselves. Where we don’t have to deny
others because we only feel okay if we have more or because we are scared that
there isn’t enough. Because of the kind of world that I want, I must look at
every part of myself that is not that. For those parts need support and love if
they are to transform.
We innately resonate with that which is beautiful
by Jennifer Lehr
I believe that we are more than the material realm, more
than matter. We are more than the horrors we see on the news and in our lives.
We are more than the greed that impacts us every day. We resonate with
qualities that are beautiful. We resonate with the experience of truth and
love. We resonate with peace and appreciation.
I once worked with a young teenager
who came from a family of gang members and was part of that gang culture
himself. As a child, he had seen his father murder a member of another gang.
His brother was in jail. That was what he knew. But one day walking to the
therapy office with me, he stopped in front of a poster of trees. He said that
he liked how it made him feel. He said he wished he could be there, in those
trees, in that sense of peace.
Looking more deeply
I believe that we are all part
of the divine, on a journey to allow that which is divine to fully manifest,
for ourselves and for all others with whom we relate — and if we are all free and
honored, with whom we can dance. Our journey into the light is equally a
journey down into the depths. If you position yourself as a being of love,
meaning a part of the divine spark of life, then you have to look at the
components of yourself that are not about love. This cannot be done by pushing
away the dark parts of yourself.
I refuse to allow myself to not
be a part of the flow of consciousness that is about increasing love and
decreasing suffering on this planet. I refuse to accept that suffering that is
created by ignorance or heartlessness is okay.
For me, the journey starts
inside myself. It starts with learning how to honor myself and others. And it
includes trusting that I can work with what I have been given and make it
meaningful and purposeful.
As we open into painful
feelings, we begin a process of remembering ourselves. It is as if we live out
of one part of ourselves, and have put the others, the parts that hold
complicated feelings, away. These aspects sometimes jump out unbidden, but we
do not really know them. We live out of a fragment of ourselves instead of a
cohesive whole. We are a segregated being. And as the microcosm, so is the
macrocosm. We contribute to a world where certain things are not accepted or
are pushed away, whether it is a feeling or somebody else’s rights.
I have an advantage here. I am
naturally a digger and a burrower. I instinctively root out and explore the
dark parts of myself. I cannot imagine doing otherwise. I am grateful for this
ability. I am thankful for the gifts this talent has given me. For those of you
who avoid stepping into and looking at your more tormented parts, you may find
this idea uncomfortable. And yet, if you can stick with it, you will learn that
these feelings are temporary and transformable.
How does one do this without
overwhelm? Or being repulsed and pushing away? I think of a couple who I had
worked with. As the male partner began to allow himself more vulnerability
(which was necessary), the female partner began to feel disgusted. Although she
wanted him more attuned to her, to feelings, to connection, she could not
tolerate the very ingredient that would get him there. Her work would be to
look at her fear of a ‘soft’ man. She would need to unpack many experiences she
had around her father and around her ideas of being protected by the masculine
element and let down by softness. Deep issues will not heal on their own. But
beginning the journey of looking more deeply at ourselves can be overwhelming
and confusing. We often don’t know where to start.
Help is available
The task of looking at and
sorting through our profound and often overwhelming issues can be helped by
looking at the myth of Psyche and Eros and Psyche’s interactions with
Aphrodite. Psyche was a beautiful woman. The Goddess Aphrodite was jealous of
Psyche and gave her many impossible tasks. The first was for Psyche to sort
through a vast granary filled with many different kinds of seeds. Psyche was
instructed to sort through them by sundown. Psyche was beside herself, crying
and completely overwhelmed. As she cries, an army of ants arrives, and they
began to sort the seeds. By nightfall, the task was complete. Psyche was not
able to sort the seeds herself. She needed assistance, and because she had a
clear intention with integrity, help arrived.
There is help for relationships and personal development. One only need to pick a path to follow or several. Some include:
12-step programs Therapy A relational, educational process like WeConcile® Workshops Youtubes by various teachers, gurus, and healers
As we become more integrated and step more fully into the process of reclaiming our whole selves, we begin to be lighter. We begin to be more whole. What is dead comes to life and has an opportunity to engage consciously. A dialogue ensues. We become happier. We begin to love all of ourselves. The quality of our connections become filled with more love. Our life and life itself becomes fuller.
How does having a significant illness relate to being in a relationship that doesn’t work? How do we take that understanding and apply it to improve our relationships?
In 2016, when I was struggling with Lyme disease, in desperation, I went to an alternative treatment center. The treatments included shots, IV’s and fevers which could get out of control, body temperatures moving to unsafe levels. The needles pushing through tender skin, hurting despite the icing of the area previously. The weight of the IV needle in the vein hindering easy movement. There was no way to escape the discomfort of the treatments that went on from morning into the night for several months or the exhaustion from both the illness and the remedy. I found the treatment to be stressful, traumatic and at times painful. But I knew I needed to get better and I was willing to suffer to find my health again.
You might ask how this situation relates to being in a relationship that isn’t as good as it could be, or where a couple is struggling. These two journeys are somewhat different, but parallels exist. In both cases, we are in a state of dis-ease and we are looking for healing or wholeness.
When I was at that clinic, I created a mantra, which I used to focus my intentions and attitudes.
Please help me find
Please help me be
Please help me have
Please help me hear the
guidance of my higher self.
I silently repeated this mantra over and over. When I was getting a painful shot or sitting in a bathtub full of ice and ice water in an attempt to keep my fever from getting dangerously high, I would say this mantra to myself. I used it to ground myself. I used it to keep my focus clear. I used it to reassure and soothe myself.
A person in a failing relationship can easily get
overwhelmed with distress, with feeling unsafe emotionally, with not knowing if
they can get through the difficulties, with lacking clarity and not knowing
which way to turn or how to navigate through the disruptions between themselves
and their partner. Like my Lyme journey, a relational journey also requires
courage, reassurance, guidance, safety and the desire for the relationship to
return to health or wholeness.
I was lucky to have mostly kind staff and nurses, and the
patients were silly and playful with each other. We created the support we
needed amongst ourselves. Connection is another part of what gets us through
difficult times. In a relationship that works, we have connection that supports
us through life’s challenges. But in a relationship that doesn’t work, often we
do not have that safe connection with our partner.
It is painful when we fight, when we don’t know if our
relationship will survive. It is painful to feel confused and not know which
way to turn, or how to get an argument to turn into a more productive
Yet our desires for a better relationship are achievable. We can learn how to create healthy emotional and relational selves. We can create safety in our relationship. We can find our courage if we have guidance. And we can learn to ‘hear’ the right way to go.
But without new information coming into our ‘system’ we
often don’t know how to proceed.
WeConcile is a do-it-yourself online relationship course designed to teach you how to change your relationship, how to make it safe and healthy. You can find your courage and become a full team with your partner. You will learn new ways of being that will open up new connections in your relationship. And unlike dealing with a major illness, you can enjoy the process of gaining more contact with, and understanding of your partner.
Recovering from Lyme disease is a long journey. Some of the people I went to that clinic with have passed. They were not able to defeat the disease. Others are still struggling. Some, like myself, are more or less, better. I never gave up. I sought to recover, to find new knowledge, new tools. It took many treatments, a clear focus on what I wanted, and continued courage and persistence. I was one of the lucky ones who found what I needed.
You are on your own journey. But a journey is just that –
moving through terrain, from one location to another. Your journey can lead you
to a place where you have the love you have always desired. Don’t give up on
your dreams. It is completely doable to create a nourishing and peaceful
relationship and the process of doing so is no longer a mystery. A science of
love exists with the tools you need. You only need to choose to begin the
journey of healing your relationship.
Almost everyone wants love in his or her life. It is a vital ingredient of our humanness. We are born through the bodies of our mothers, most likely have nursed on her breasts, were held, touched and attended to. We develop in connection to others. Our survival depends on our relationships. We are not designed to be without relationship. We cannot exist without them.
When relationships stop working, there is often a wound that needs to be attended to. Many of us grew up in homes with various kinds of disconnection occurring. Whether our caretakers were preoccupied, angry, needy or impatient, we may at times have felt uncared about. We may have lost someone we loved, or have been completely disregarded or abused. As children, we had to survive this pain. We may have learned to push our feelings out of our awareness. Ultimately, we developed ways to tolerate and survive these disconnects. These are the survival techniques that we have brought into our current relationships. And they often don’t work.
Connection and safety are intricately bound. Our relationships trigger primal survival needs and feelings, and when threatened, the primal fears of an infant emerge. Survival is at the root of our relationships. It is difficult to play or be vulnerable when you do not feel safe. When our relationships are threatened or we are insecure, we become afraid of abandonment or of being overwhelmed or trapped. Those feelings emerge as rage, fear, longing and grief, and cause us to react rather than respond reasonably. We often do not see where these feelings are coming from. We have no way to link them to an actual past events. All we know is that something feels awful and we are in a struggle to be seen, heard, and understood. The emotional dance that emerges is not logical, but born of deep longings for safety and connection. Feeling safe, asking for what we need and being responsive to the other is paramount to our health and happiness. Safety must exist for both intimacy and play to be present in a committed relationship. While we do not necessarily have to delve into the past to change things, it usually helps. And we do have to start looking at and improving our current relational skills.
Do you accept too little in a relationship ? – If you accept too little, it is time to decide that you deserve more and figure out what is stopping you.
Are you too demanding? – If it always has to be your way, you will need to trust you can get enough of what you need without misusing your power. The cost of powering your way through a relationship is too high.
Can you ask for what you need? – Do you believe that you have impact, that you are worth listening to and being responded to? Why not?
What are the ways that you disconnect? – Are you willing to re-engage?
Do you feel safe and loved in your relationship, safe enough to both be vulnerable and to play? – What do you need to help you feel safer and more connected?
Are you responsive to your partner? – This will help your partner feel safe with you.
We are imperfect beings, who love and are loved by other imperfect beings. While disagreements and differences are part of life and growth, conflict can make us feel vulnerable and react to these differences. Deep down, we are afraid of losing or not getting what we need, of not being loved. Are you secure enough to have your feelings, yet also listen to your partner’s feelings, without making them wrong? Sustaining a connected relationship (with the right person) requires a number of skills. Mostly, we have to be solid enough to tolerate differences and still stay in responsive and loving contact even when we are uncomfortable.
Originally published here, also published on GoodTherapy.org
Making love last is a concern for anybody with a relationship history that has included disappointment, pain and loss. How do we do it differently the next time around?
What starts for so many as a blissful connected loving state often turns into sadness riddled with problematic behavior and seemingly un-resolvable conflicts. How can we learn to have lasting, productive and satisfying relationships? While innate chemistry and compatibility are important, creating fulfilling relationships that last, is far more complex than that. Is it possible to learn to create connections in which love can flourish? Not only is it possible, it is necessary.
It is necessary to look at successful relationships as a developmental milestone and life skill. Just as other tasks in life require knowledge and practice, learning to create the context for a successful relationship also requires the development of specific abilities, awarenesses and skills. (Assuming that you have a committed partner you can work with.)
How we know somebody else is related to how we know ourselves; how we construct our own reality. We live in stories; we carry our unconscious stories as roadmaps that most of us are not fully aware of. We live not just in current “reality” but also through acts of imagination and meaning making. When we experience the unweaving and understanding of our own stories and how we identify ourselves, we become capable of re-envisioning ourselves and allowing for new stories to emerge. For example, if someone were always attracted to “sad” women, because he was re-enacting (unaware) the story that his “sad” mother needed his help, as he becomes aware (often through therapy) of that story and its impact on his romantic choices, he can change his story to one that serves him better. The importance of self-reflection becomes clear. It allows us to understand our role in repetitive self-defeating choice patterns in our romantic relationships.
Relationship patterns also are influenced by our fears around connection and safety. We live in bodily and emotional connection to others. We are born through wombs and are nourished at breasts as infants. We experience love through emotional connection and touch. When our attachment needs are threatened, we move into fear and behaviors which attempt to help us to maintain safety and connection. Many of these behaviors however, sabotage the very connection we seek.
Instead of responding out of fear, we can look at our actions. Are we building bridges, or burning them? Are we caught in loops of behavior that we cannot control? Love cannot flourish when we behave in ways that break connection. Being disappointed with our partner is not the problem; it is the dialogue we have, both with our partner and ourselves that matters. The choices of behaving and thinking that we learn to make in the context of our pain and disappointment can allow us to create a satisfying love.
Making love last also requires curiosity, both about our own reactions and the reactions of our partner. Love cannot flourish if we blame, criticize, or do not take responsibility for our own responses. Love cannot flourish when we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable or behave in a way that the other cannot be vulnerable with us. Because of this, habitual patterns of behavior that create safety and routine, but reduce risk and openness, while necessary for aspects of our lives and our relationships, can diminish connection.
A relationship is a living breathing entity created by two individuals. Creating a relationship is a commitment to the process of that relationship, thus it must continually be nourished. Nourishing a relationship requires the courage to take risks, to be vulnerable and curious rather than defensive. It includes the ability to tolerate and share uncomfortable feelings and experience ambiguity. Making love last includes a willingness to witness oneself and one’s partner with both compassion and openness.