The Real Problem In Our Relationships

Recently, I was speaking with a friend who had been struggling with certain aspects of her husband’s behaviour. She was in a whirlwind of emotion when she started to explain to me that, whilst she loved her husband, he had habits that she could not tolerate anymore. She explained to me how she felt trapped and did not know what to do.

The conversation flowed for a while, and as I probed around she started telling me that she had just taken on another freelance job. She is tremendously gifted at what she does, but told me she wasn’t sure if she was going to get paid. Rather than talk to her about the relationship, it just occurred to me to ask why she thought that. She revealed to me that she has a fear that if she asks for money that people won’t want her help. She felt she needed to build her portfolio first before she could charge for her work, and yet it was clear she had been doing this for many years.

When she said this it suddenly hit me what the real block with her relationship was. She was seeking her own ‘wholeness’ by being in the relationship. Since she had all sorts of thinking that she wouldn’t be okay if she was on her own, that left her feeling incomplete and very disempowered. She tended to alternate between just putting up with things as they were, trying to control her husband’s behaviour, or threatening to leave him. It was clear that none of these strategies was giving her the peace of mind she was seeking. It was also clear that her husband did not take her threats that seriously, most likely because on some level he knew that she loved him and that she was afraid about supporting herself if she left. When I mentioned this to her, it clearly resonated. “Yes”, she said, “…this situation has been going on for many years”.

So my counsel to her was simple. Until she became grounded back in a state of wholeness and wellbeing, she would not be able to see with clarity how to navigate this relationship from her natural state of love. She needed to see all the fearful thinking that was causing her to hold back from doing what she knew to do for herself. Some of these thoughts included: “I won’t be ok unless I am with my husband”, “…people won’t pay me for my service” and: “I can’t earn what I need to, because I am not good enough”. The latter thought was particularly interesting because she had several sub-thoughts about it like: “There is no way I am going back to an office job”. I challenged this by asking her if she would still hold onto this thinking if she needed to eat and feed her kids, to which she answered: “No”.

Her task wasn’t particularly to change her thoughts though (if that is even possible). It was to simply be aware of the fact that holding on to them created pain and anxiety for her, and that actually stopped her from doing things, like getting a job, or charging for her service, because she was afraid of failure.  It also stopped her from being able to see what to do about the situation with her husband.

And my sense about what will happen to her relationship? Well, as she becomes aware of the illusion that she won’t be okay unless she is with her husband, there are a few possible options. She may decide to stay with him and love him as he is, because she is no longer looking to him to make her whole. Alternatively, she may still decide to leave him. Ultimately, whatever she does, the decision will now be guided from a place of love and wholeness in herself, and not a fear for her wellbeing. Additionally, as she transforms herself, it may also be enough to wake her husband up to his own destructive thinking and behavior so that he can heal it himself. Even if it doesn’t, though, she will be able to move forward with this situation without any sense of blame or anger towards him because, on some level, his behaviour has little to do with her.

You see the problems we experience in our intimate relationships are not caused by our partner. They are caused by the fact that often we are seeking our wholeness in them. That then leads us to believe that we ‘need’ our partners to be a certain way. When they comply with how we want them to be, we allow ourselves to feel whole and are loving towards them. When they don’t, we feel pain and our love becomes conditional. We then, mistakenly, feel compelled to control or change them (or even who we are in relationship with), because we then become afraid for own wellbeing if we don’t.

In some sense, though, no relationship is actually ‘bad’. Rather, a relationship acts as a mirror for how we relate to ourselves. For example, if we hold onto our thinking that we aren’t good enough, our relationship will tend to mirror that thinking in the conflicts we experience within it. The mirror gives us the opportunity to heal and become aware of how we have shut down from our wholeness so that we can become an even greater expression of ourselves. When we do this, what is left is love, peace and clarity in ourselves, and compassion for the person we are in relationship with. For me, this is always the best place to make a decision about how to be in relationship with something, whether another person or a situation:

“When I understand myself, I understand you, and out of that understanding comes love…” (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Where are you in conflict in your intimate relationships? What patterns do you find repeatedly occurring? What judgements do you have about your spouse? What do those conflicts, patterns and judgements tell you about how you might be seeking wholeness in your relationship? How might these conflicts, patterns and judgements actually be serving you to connect to a deeper and more complete expression of yourself? What might they be showing you about how you have shut down to your own inherent wholeness?

With love,

john.

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