I am not fond of clutter.
One of my favorite things to do (I’m really not kidding about this) is to go through all my stuff – books, magazines, CDs, clothing, shoes – and select items to donate. Reason being: I aspire to “travel light” – even when I’m not going anywhere.
Yet for some reason a particular issues of Spirituality & Health magazine has been in my magazine basket for years – 13 years, precisely. The title of the issue is: “What is This Thing Called Love?” I have read the whole edition several times and I’m still not sure I know what love is (although I am quite clear that I still have a ways to go to master it myself). So, in lieu of (and in hopes of) eventual mastery, I hang on to the magazine, year after year.
This morning I opened the issue up to an article called “Each Other’s Stuff” by Alison Rose Levy. The article is so old I couldn’t even find the e-version of it online! (wow.)
A particular line caught my eye: “There’s no reason in the world we should know how to have a conscious relationship with another person, because it’s never been done before” (quote by John Welwood, “Toward a Psychology of Awakening”.)
The article opens by describing a scene out of a play I’ve never heard of called “The Bald Soprano.” In the scene, two people sit next to one another at a dinner party. As their conversation progresses, the assumption that they are two strangers just getting to know each other leads to a level of intimate sharing which ultimately reveals they are already married.
The point, of course, is that many, many so-called “intimate relationships” are far from intimate, to the point where we can feel all alone even when surrounded by family, friends, and significant others.
Interestingly, the article’s author, Levy, points out that “marrying for love” is a relatively recent invention – so much so that our expectations for what a love partnership can and should offer at times tend to vary significantly from the reality of what we can ever expect to receive from another human being.
To that point, Welwood writes, “whether the battle is over how you raise the children or why you never cap the toothpaste, the underlying dynamic is the same: How successfully can you use the issues that arise in your relationships as an arena for your personal spiritual growth?”
I think this is a great question, especially because it dovetails perfectly with what my own mentor, Lynn, has been trying to teach me for more than a decade. The love relationship is not about what the other person gives me, but about how much I can learn to value myself and the other person in the context of sharing a journey of personal improvement and growth together.
So rather than complaining to my girlfriends that my partner doesn’t deliver on my expectations (which often remain unverbalized, further compounding the issue), I can ask myself what part of me is unwilling to offer those same things to myself or allow my partner to offer them to me. Am I scared? Stuck? Angry? Resentful? Am I battling an old belief or healing an old wound? Am I fearful of what I might have to offer up in return?
I once heard a great speaker refer to the love relationship as a conscious lifelong choice to stand in front of a full length reflective mirror, seeing whatever there is to be seen about ourselves in the process. He said that sometimes what we see in that mirror will be beautiful, divine. Other times what we see in that mirror will be painful, horrific. We can run away from the reflection or stay and learn and grow from what we see.
As the article concludes, Levy makes the point that a shift is needed from demanding that someone else – a partner or other – meet our needs to simply giving our own attention to our needs.
I think this is beautiful. When I contemplate this shift, I realize I feel relief on several levels.
No longer do I have to smolder in anger against another person for not meeting my needs. No longer do I have to wait in vain for my needs to be met, because I believe I have no other avenue to achieve this. I return responsibility to myself for identifying and addressing my needs, and free myself to value my partner for who he is, not what he gives. Then this also frees me to ask for what I need, knowing that even if his answer is “no,” I still can get my needs met in other ways.
In other words, when I shift from needing to appreciating, we both win.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you sometimes – or often – feel trapped in your relationship with your partner because of unmet needs? Do you feel resentful or frustrated, feeling like an unmet need is a red flag that s/he doesn’t really love you? Would it help to shift your perception away from making sure each need you have is met by the other person and towards simply appreciating who they are as a person (while seeking other ways to meet those needs for yourself)?
Reflection image available from Shutterstock.