According to Terry Real, relationships can and should be treated as a spiritual practice. Terry believes there is a natural harmony, disharmony, and repair cycle within relationships. Conflicts can be an adaptive step towards greater relational maturity. Yet, contemporary culture does not prepare us for long-lasting relationships based on truth and love. We keep operating based on reproduction and power rather than empathic skills. These skills include active listening, compassion, and awareness. Altogether, these allow us to understand which part of us – the adult or the child – is interacting with reality, at any given moment.
When you find yourself in a relationship that supports your growth, childhood wounds tend to surface. Terry says we end up marrying the one who is always biting our calves. Not because we are masochists, but because that’s how we grow into intimacy and learn to be vulnerable. When your partner doesn’t complain and only reflects your most beautiful side, you feel great. Such a partner won’t, however, push you towards the best version of yourself. Sure, your life might be easier, of course, but you won’t have the chance to develop yourself to the fullest.
In this current period of transition, relationship management is especially tough. We desire dedicated partners, who can live and work on shared goals and dreams. This requires a whole new level of intimacy which, although craved, is also feared. It requires us to be vulnerable, trusting, and that we grow up beyond our limitations, wounds, and traumas. This is not an easy task. It’s rather draining and energy-consuming. In such relationships, there are at least four people involved, if not more. There is your adult self, your inner child, and your partner’s adult self and inner child. Conflicts arise when one or both wounded children come out to play.
Amidst the conflict, we are not very good at spotting which part of us is coming forward and which part of our partner we’re talking to. Terry affirms you can go through the cycle seventeen times over one single dinner. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your cool and a smile on. It’s hard work and you must make sure your cup is full by making self-care a top priority. There is a clever reason why the first safety rule on airplanes is to put your oxygen mask first. The first and most important relationship you can have is the one you have with yourself. The quality of the relationship with yourself determines the quality of the relationship you have with others.
Life is about finding the right balance. That’s why a relationship can and should be a spiritual practice. If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t enjoy harmonious relationships with others. If you keep other people’s needs at bay, you can’t expect harmonious relationships with others either. In sum, we can’t run away from nature’s universal law of compensation: you get what you give. If you put others first and often disregard your own needs, others will mimic that. If you more often than not disregard other people’s needs, others will reflect that too. You need to find the right balance.