6th September 2014
By Jack Adam Weber L.Ac., Dipl. C.H.
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
A recent social media post read something to the effect of, “Relationships aren’t supposed to make us happy. They teach us what we need to learn”. While such posts are not comprehensive, many readers take them at face value without using critical thinking to consider the exceptions. I therefore find it worthwhile to use such generalized quotes for inquiry and discussion. In this light, the following essay is a sequel of sorts to my essay from a few weeks ago – Relationships: The Costs of Staying When We Should Leave.
I think relationships can make us happier, and we should get into them to become more than what we can be alone — not only happier, but also more of every emotion. Good relationships generally should bring us more alive and engaged in all areas of our lives. Yet, it seems that many become more shut-down and numbed in relationships, which I think happens because most of us don’t know how to navigate the emotional challenges relationship stirs in us, and we go into relationship to retreat from ourselves and the world, rather than to become more engaged.
As far as relationships teaching us what we need to learn, this is true — if we are willing to learn! However, I also find it troubling to view relationships primarily this way. Why? Because I think it’s excessively selfish. Our partner is not just there to help us grow. They are there to be honored, loved, regarded, made happier, and celebrated for who they are. In honoring our partners unconditionally and conditionally, we also grow, but not because we have gained something from them, per se, or used them to dredge up our shadow side, but because we have benefitted from sharing some of our own hard-won grace and beauty with them.
What does it take to regard and celebrate our partner, to be interested in giving something to them, rather than just receiving? It takes maturity, the kind of maturity cultivated through finding our own self-love, forgiveness, and regard. This self-love and regard come in good part from revisiting, working with, and thereby moving on from our childhood traumas that keep us emotionally stuck in the past. And this brings me to the next point: we should try to do as much growth work as we can on our own before considering a serious relationship (or another one). This way, we come to relationship more healed from our childhood love deficits, and therefore more loving, honest, less needy and reactive, and able to honor more our partner, and ourselves of course. We are more aware of our core wounds, which we have grieved and self-loved ourselves through. We are more aware of our limiting and blaming beliefs, which we have examined and re-educated ourselves about, and learned to live with and beyond. We are more aware of our unique needs, those particular to us as the specific ways that we feel loved. We have found compassionate, skillful ways to vulnerably ask for what we want, and to partner with someone capable of hearing and meeting our needs, and to have these needs met not only from our partners but from ourselves and trusted others. Author and psychologist Dave Richo recommends getting 25% of our needs met from our romantic partner. It has taken me decades to realize the wisdom in this.
When we learn about ourselves in all these ways, we are more able to choose partners with whom we can live deeply, productively, lovingly, supportively, and harmoniously. We are not out there blindly falling in love, basing our interest primarily on sexual attraction and other superficial values. The nest of wounds in our hearts erupts sooner or later, and the earlier we are conscious of what hurts, needs, core wounds, fears, and limitations reside in our unconscious body-mind, the more skillfully and lovingly we can navigate relationships, especially when push comes to shove.
The Selfish Ego
Viewing relationships primarily as encounters for our own growth can prevent us from noticing and honoring the other person, and might cause us to bail from a relationship simply because we think we are done growing there. Of course, the neurotic ego likes to have control of what it thinks is its growth. Most real growth happens when our neurotic ego is kicking and screaming. This is when our core fears and wounds are triggered, which need our attention and love, not our leave. But with the plethora of denial-fostering New Age slogans such as “Fear is a liar” and other recommendations to get rid of fear, our neurotic ego is justified in ignoring our core wounds, just when we could have been on the verge of true ground-breaking healing and transformation. This is why without shadow work, emotional healing and cultivating a grounded spirituality are severely handicapped.
What about the personal growth option to stay, as a service for the other person to grow? Everyone has weaknesses, and maybe our partner needs a little time and practice? Do we love and honor them enough, and are we secure and fulfilled enough in ourselves, to be patient for this . . . without being codependent, but doing it from a strong and authentic place? The view that relationships are not to make us happy but to grow from also can lead us to objectify our partner, so that the relationship becomes “all about me.” This is not really a relationship anyway, but the belief that relationships are there for our growth lends itself to such narcissism. So, I say, do your growth work on your own, as much as you can. This saves you and another person a lot of grief you might not have to go through.
With all this said, our emotional healing work is never done. We never fully recover all of our person from past hurts and traumas. It is a lifelong work. Yet, we develop capacities and gifts that we might never have mustered had we not been hurt. So, the final tally is a mixed bag. We discover our wounds and triggers, our fears and blocks, from past hurts and we acquire new faculties and psycho-emotional resources as a result of being triggered and pressed to grow and having our needs for companionship, regard, fun, support, and love met in choosing better relationships. If we are doing deep emotional work in earnest, as we get older life and relationships can become more rewarding, fulfilling, harmonious, happier, and more supportive of our service to the world.
Every relationship has its timing, often beyond our control. Personally, I have found that the best way to navigate the challenges of relationship is to fiercely work on myself. This does not mean that I ignore and excuse blatant abuses and misconduct on the part of the other, but that I understand my perception of these qualities in my partner is also biased by my own wounds, triggers, and attendant limiting beliefs. Indeed, I arrive into any relationship as much for my own blindness and shortcomings as those that I perceive in my partner. How could it be otherwise? Becoming humble and gut-wrenchingly self-honest helps us to see our own shortcomings, ones we often only see in our partner. So by working on myself I a) take responsibility for getting into the relationship and my difficult feelings (as well as call out and do not tolerate abuse and neglect) b) engage in the self-healing to make myself a better, more whole and integrated person, especially by working through my childhood wounds that I have repeated in my relationship and c) honor the relationship and my partner by bringing the best, most integrated person I can be to the relationship, which also includes humor, silliness, adventure, and foolishness.
When I can sense that my core wounds are being triggered, I do two things. I address the issue with my partner and ask for what would help me feel safer and better, and I use the trigger to trace back to my core love wounds from childhood, as well as past relationships. I eventually try to own them so completely—by feeling them in my body—that they become less and less about my partner. Eventually, I reckon with the issue to the point that it is no longer an issue in the relationship, while I share what remains with my partner and ask for my needs. If she (or he) is not able to meet my needs, I try to meet that need through my own self-love, creativity, as well as from friends, family, and the natural world. I might also protect myself in whatever ways I see fit, if I feel violated. In abusive relationships, we often have to move away from the abuse in order to heal.
Just because a past wound might be triggered by a current event, the issue still needs to be addressed and resolved with my partner in the present because injury and violence in the present, just like in the past, is not okay. It’s just that when I can see the influence of my past in the present, I am more able to respond appropriately in the present, commensurate to the present injury, thereby preventing myself from unloading past hurt where it does not belong. In other words, when I can own and embody the weight of my past wounds, then I am less likely to inject all my past hurt into a current difficulty. Therefore, when I can be self-honest and recognize—by humbly feeling and noticing—that I am triggered and infusing past hurt into the present, I can also step back from engaging with my partner and go into my own process work so as to more fully own my personal, historical pain. When we do this stepping back work before seeking out a relationship, we stand to be less reactive and more able to navigate interpersonal difficulties in the relationship. We stand a better chance to make the relationship work. This capacity hinges on our ability to recognize, own, and lovingly work through our own emotional baggage.
The more insight and felt-sense experience I have in my body and its memory of past wounding, the more successful I can be at discovering the parts of myself that my relationship is revealing to me. This is a great gift of becoming conscious of one’s core wounds—what amounts to the love we did not get in childhood—and which likely has been compounded since then. Working on myself means that I grieve the love I did not receive, as I simultaneously love and provide for myself and find loving support and nourishment from trusted others. I take responsibility for my own deficits and discover that grieving these losses is the way to clear the pain and stuckness inside and replace it with love and goodness. This love and goodness I demonstrate towards myself by unconditionally showing up for myself as I work through painful past feelings in the present.
This emotional clearing and re-building process also can be understood neurobiologically, as we experience and thereby re-code our nervous systems with new learning, thereby overriding (via reconsolidating new, positive emotional experience) and even extinguishing painful past emotional learning. This is also why it is very helpful to do this kind of grief work in the presence of a caring therapist who can hold an unconditionally loving space as we encounter and let go our pain. With a therapist’s help we receive a healthy reflection of self-love, which we can learn and build upon so as to show up more and more for ourselves—loving ourselves more fully in the face of encountering the painful places inside us.
Additionally, this kind of grief and re-loving work is best done, in my experience, from a body-centered place, which means that we feel our feelings in our body and rely on our bodies to inform our process about what is personally true and not true (via what I call “Body-Truth”). This is both an intellectual, sensorial, and a deeply intuitive experience. It is also the subject of an educational audio guide I am working on for deep, body-centered self-healing, which uses as its foundation a process I developed called The Nourish Practice. Series 1 of this practice, available here, is called “Breathed by the Breath”. Through stress reducing activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, it establishes deep body-centered awareness from which we can then encounter and work with our emotional wounds.
Is This Box Too Small?
Sometimes we find ourselves not wanting to grow beyond the acceptable, and usually unspoken, “rules” of a relationship, so as not to rock the boat. Part of us knows that if we came into authenticity, our relationship could suffer or end. So we stay small to avoid the change. This is especially true in a relationship we entered unconscious of our own needs and growth trajectory. If we discover our true needs and growth potential while in a relationship we chose when we were unaware of these, this can be scary. We realize our partner might not want to grow and become conscious in the ways that we do. This often spells doom for a relationship, unless our partner experiences a genuine desire to meet us in a new level of self-awareness and integration. This scenario can also fool us with false promise because our partner might say they want to work on themselves and on the relationship, but only because they are afraid of losing it. Their intent might not be authentic enough to actually show up for it. This can cause great sadness, as we realize the relationship might not work out. Yet can we also feel the part of us that is relieved to be moving on?
Because emotional and spiritual growth is a primary thrust and core need, it is not in our best interest to sacrifice or stymie this process to an unreasonable extent. What constitutes “unreasonable” is personal discretion. Yet, if a relationship cannot accommodate our deep desires and need to explore the frontiers of our callings, the relationship might have to dissolve. At the same time, we can exercise every bit of patience and selflessness we can reasonably muster in order to honor our partners and the potential for the relationship, as long as our other callings are not excessively sacrificed. This depends on the unique circumstances of each relationship. All this also demonstrates the importance of having a good sense of what our growth capacity and trajectory are, as well as other core needs, prior to getting into a relationship.
Indeed, when we have done our own self-work prior to getting into an intimate relationship, we have honored both ourselves and the partner we are yet to join. This way we stand to bring more happiness to both parties, which does not mean that there will not also be difficulties to encounter. It just means that we likely will be more equipped to deal with relationship conflict, as well as better partnered with someone we can actually go the distance with—if we have chosen wisely, which requires knowing to a significant degree what our short-term and long-term needs are. Choosing wisely hinges on the degree to which we have grieved, reclaimed, and healed ourselves, which is often commensurate with the amount of pain and disappointment we have encountered and used to unearth and heal our pasts.
So, if you are single and even a bit lonely, rejoice! Loneliness must be felt and experienced in order to fill it from our as of yet manifest fullness, which does not get summoned into our psyche unless pressured to do so a la “necessity is the mother of discovery.” So, do your inner work now: first or yourself so that you can be full and passionate and live with greater meaning, and secondarily to attract the more mature, loving partner that you deserve. And if they don’t show up for a while, guess what? Through your own healing work you will likely discover and recover parts of yourself that were immobilized and frozen in pain, and which now add to the sum (algorithm, actually) of who you are. These activated talents and passions contribute to your newfound creativity, calling, and purpose—qualities that usually emerge as a result of good old-fashioned hard work in the trenches of the soul.
If you are in a relationship that does not meet enough of your needs (as all relationships succeed at to some degree), do your inner work anyway. You will either grow into seeing and experiencing the relationship differently, or grow in confidence and love to make you that much more able to be patient and supportive of your partner catching up to speed (but only if they genuinely want to), or to move on with less fear and more confidence and certainty that you are making the right choice.
In sum, self-work is where it’s at, whether we are in a relationship or not. It is what brings true fulfillment, joy, and more love to our lives, even if it brings temporary pain by pushing us out of our comfort zones in the name of embracing more life and vitality. So yes, relationships are meant to make us happier, either by the gifts we bring to the relationship of by showing us the pain we can let go of. And we can find more happiness in relationship especially when we are first responsible for and responsible to ourselves by first working on becoming joyful and fulfilled without a romantic relationship.
So do celebrate, even in your daunting sadness. There is almost always a way out of emotional difficulty; you just have to dig for it, then go through it. This process is stimulated by the circumstances that encourage us to find solutions—“soul-pressure” I call it. Soul pressure is the environment of healing, which we deny when we shut-out that growth-inducing, fulfillment-promising pressure by never letting ourselves feel pain, loneliness, and angst. All this also segues into bittersweet beauty of heartbreak and the necessity of shadow work.
Without tough times and the soul-pressure to heal, we wouldn’t grow as much. Growing your awareness through and down into the recesses of your body is like the roots of a plant: the deeper and wider the roots go into the Earth, the more nutrients and more grounded, prolific, and beautiful the whole plant becomes. The blessed loneliness we need to grow can be felt in or out of partnership. Happy growing down in order to grow up!
The Nourish Practice
Jack Adam Weber’s “The Nourish Practice” is an easy, guided meditation-Qi Gong practice in radical gratitude and self-love. It is an Earth-based, body-centered practice — at once physiological and mythological — that is deeply relaxing and replenishing, especially for modern-day burn-out syndrome, and requires little physical effort.
The Nourish Practice “resets your nervous system” and fosters a rich inner life. You can purchase The Nourish Practice as a CD or Digital Download here.
Previous articles by Jack Adam Weber:
- Relationships: The Costs of Staying When We Should Leave
- Emotional Work
- Choosing a Partner – How to Avoid Relationship Suicide
- Re-Thinking Love: Why Our Hearts Must Also Be Minded
- Spirituality – Reality Check
- 11 Crucial Tips for Better Digestive Health
- Shadow Work: Becoming a Sustainable Light Worker (Part 1)
- Oneness in Action: The GMO Eradication Movement
- After the Hurricane: Lessons from the Heart of Nature
- Relationships: How They Can Make Us Happier
- Heartbreak – Loving Ourselves Through Difficult Times
About the author:
Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac. is a Chinese medicine physician, author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for body-centered spirituality. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his website PoeticHealing.com. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation. Weber is available by phone for medical consultations and life-coaching.