After watching Terry Real last night on a talk about relationships as a spiritual practise, I realised that what I thought to be a relationship killer is actually normal and a step towards maturity. There is a cycle of harmony, disharmony and repair that tests relationships and makes them move further in intimacy. According to Terry, our current culture has not prepared us to have long lasting relationships based on truth and love. We are still operating with the old model of relating that prioritises reproduction and power. As such, we were not equipped with active listening, compassion and the ability to understand which part of us is interacting with reality in any given moment: the adult or the child.
Childhood wounds are supposed to surface when you are in a relationship that is meant to make you grow. Terry says we end up marrying the one who is always biting our calves not because we are masochist but because that’s how we grow into intimacy and learn to be vulnerable. It’s all fun and games when you are with a partner who doesn’t complain and only gives you back your most beautiful reflection in the mirror. Who likes to look ugly, right? This kind of partner won’t, however, push you towards the best version of yourself. Your life might be easier, of course, but you won’t have the chance to develop your most important human skills.
Since we live in a transition period, relationship management is very tough right now. We want dedicated partners and lovers who can live and work together on goals and dreams. This requires a whole new level of intimacy, which we both crave and are afraid of. To build intimacy means being vulnerable and trusting, but also that you grow up beyond your own limitations, wounds and traumas. It’s not an easy task. In fact, it’s very draining. In these relationships, there are actually four people involved, if not more. There is your adult self and your inner child, and your partner’s adult self and inner child. Conflicts rise when one or both wounded children come out to play.
We are also not very good at spotting which part of us is coming forward and which part of our partner we’re talking to. Last week I thought I was being the adult who says enough is enough and now that I look back I see that it was my inner child defending herself because she was being ignored and last on someone else’s priority list. She didn’t feel loved and she felt betrayed again because in her head there had been a promise that she would be taken care of more often. I failed to see that I wasn’t probably dealing with an adult either. All there was were two children pretending to be adults, lacking compassion and relational mindfulness.
I felt relieved when I learned from Terry that you can go through the cycle of harmony, disharmony and repair seventeen times over one single dinner. I thought I was broken and a failure for feeling triggered and threatened so many times. I said it once and I will repeat it: we were spoon fed with happy ever after and we were never shown how to make it work after that. We can use good sense, sure, but how good sensical are we when we are in conflict mode? How am I supposed to be at my best behaviour when I’m juggling between having no job, no house, no privacy, no family of my own, I’m 44 pounds overweight and constantly feeling on a relationship red line?
It’s hard to keep your cool and a smile on. It’s hard to start climbing the mountain on a Monday morning and then be on your knees by evening because everything else is falling apart. When this is your reality week after week, month after month, it’s hard to think of anything else than just wanting to say fuck you all and get yourself in a space shuttle which is what I’m currently doing to have the peace and quietness required to apply for jobs and sort my health out. I have spent months and months misplacing my energy. Instead of raging against myself for coming last on other people’s priorities, I should have buckled up and have a straight look at my own list to see if I came first on it. Of course I haven’t.
There is a clever reason why the first safety rule on airplanes is to put your own oxygen mask first. The first and most important relationship you can have is the one you have with yourself. Selfish and selfless people are usually bad at this. Selfish people will always think of themselves first and don’t even think twice about how another person may feel or think. Selfless people will always think of themselves last and always worry about what other people are feeling and thinking. The selfish kind needs to learn that people are not assets nor utilities. They are not more important than anyone else. The selfless kind needs to learn that giving their time and resources is great but receiving is also part of the deal. They are not less important. You are supposed to put your oxygen mask first and then assist others. You are not supposed to have your mask and then care less about other people’s lives. In the same fashion, you are not supposed to go without a mask and be on a marathon to save as many lives as possible by sacrificing your own.
Life is about balance and that’s why relationship is a spiritual practise. The quality of the relationship you have with yourself will be a reflection of the quality of the relationships you have with others and vice versa. The fact I have not done a great job at managing my own life by putting others first can’t be translated into harmonious relationships with others. Likewise, people who have solely focused on themselves by keeping other people’s needs at bay can’t expect to have harmonious relationships with others. We can’t run away from the nature’s universal law of compensation. In other words, you get what you give. If you put others first and disregard your own needs most of the time, others won’t put yourself first and will disregard your needs. If you put yourself first and disregard other people’s needs most of the time, others won’t put yourself first and won’t regard your needs.
It’s my fault that I haven’t put my oxygen mask first and that I have secretly wished other people would do the same for me. It’s my fault that I have put too much energy on dealing with other people’s problems and less with my own problems and struggles. It’s also my fault that I don’t know how to communicate boundaries with love as Terry calls it. We want 21st century relationships while using 20th century skills. We don’t know how to come across with love. We snap, we criticise, we yell, we lose our temper, we delay or act cold, but we don’t reach each other with love and in a respectful way. When we communicate with and through love, it’s harder to trigger the other person. When we act aloof and communicate mechanically, we are hurting others. We are sensing beings, not robots like many would like or assume to be as their safe operating system.