For any individual actively engaged in personal development, relationships are the most challenging, and possibly the most rewarding venue for psychological growth and spiritual awakening. My own awakening to the mystery and purpose of life, and in the same time, my greatest challenges ever, emerged with the beginning of my relationship with my husband, Jeff. This caused me to embark on a long and sustained learning path of discovery, and it may have something to do with awakening to my passion as healer, therapist and guide. The pain which surfaced had me on my knees, in tears, gasping for air; and yet the growth that this relationship has catalysed has brought me more wisdom, compassion and strength than I ever knew existed before.
Statistics show that men feel happier when married, regardless of how functional their marriage is, while women are happier alone than in dysfunctional marriages. For the unattached professional female who is financially independent and is not a single mom with small children on a limited budget, life is indeed easier than her married counterpart who holds a job or business, plus the unpaid, and often unacknowledged task of running a household. Pursuing personal well-being and growth is easier for the single individual, either male or female, who can close his or her eyes to meditate, open the heart, cultivate self-love and breathe love unto the world at any time at home, undisturbed.
But self-love pales in comparison with the consuming flame of Eros arising with the attraction between two individuals, and romantic passion is a stormy flood that bursts open all gateways to the ultimate, all-embracing flame of Divine love, Agape. Being in love with another expands the individual from a “me” to a “we”, causing the couple to come alive in each other’s mind and heart, making sex a feast of awakened senses which may start with a phone call or text message and culminates with an embrace so incandescent and hot, that it dissolves Self and Other into the ultimate I Am-ness of Being.
And the Great Spirit is that space between two lovers, the We-Space which becomes the earthly sacred garden for Love’s wild expression. Divine Love fulfils itself and expresses itself as romantic passion.
Then, as Jack Cornfield says in his book with the same title: “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”: when the tornado of infatuation has quieted down, something the other says, or does, or doesn't say, or doesn't do, triggers a pain so great and so intense, that it reduces one to tears. And from here, two scenarios are possible. But let me take you one step back first.
The fact that this world is imperfect is not a secret; unlike the paradisical myth “Once we were good but we messed things up and got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and now our job is to return to goodness”, the reality in the world of form is growth into goodness, which leads to the basic assumption that nothing is wrong with us, that we are just fine the way we are, and, in the same time, there is room for us to grow. We grow because we can become even more: even more compassionate and kind, even wiser, even stronger. And we grow in relationships, because that’s where we get both challenge and support.
In Judaic mysticism they say that the world of form is created in three steps: “Tzimtzum, shvirat keilim, and tikkun”. Tzimtzum is the Hebrew for “contraction” – where the Infinite, Eternal Being contracts himself/herself/itself into finite form; Shvirat Keilim means “breaking of the vessels”, where “God-the-One” becomes “the many”, thus creating separation among the finite form expressions; Tikkun literally means “repair” (Hebrew), which refers to the efforts of restoring wholeness and reversing separation and contraction, both at individual level, through “Tikkun Nefesh” (healing of the Soul) and “Tikkun Olam” (healing of the world), or service.
Interpersonal relationships exist thanks to the separation – the separate egos (it takes two “me”s to form a “we”), and the separation itself becomes the ground and opportunity for Tikkun through the intimacy which dissolves the boundaries between two individuals who connect and commune. The separation gives way to ascending Eros, the tremendous drive that seeks to transcend the Self in order to become part of something greater (a “We”), and it lures individuals into relationships through irresistible intensities of desire. Desire, by definition needs distance (you don’t desire something you already have), and paradoxically, creates the pain which arises when the drive for autonomy (separation) creates tension with the drive for intimacy (communion). We need another to feel separate from, and desiring of; and we need a greater-than-self identity to experience a greater, all-embracing love. Thus, relationship becomes the ground for both ascension and descension, both distance and closeness, desire and intimacy, Eros and Agape.
And if these dichotomies are not enough, relationships are formed as the “repair clinic” of previous relationships, where something, sometime, went wrong. The greater the attraction, the greater the opportunity for repair, which individuals know, unconsciously, to such extent, that the match from heaven becomes the match from hell, and we irresistibly desire and attract the embodiment of Mom and Dad’s negative traits, unconsciously reconstruct the family patterns of our childhood, and thus head either towards disaster, pain and divorce, or towards healing – our Tikkun.
A therapy client comes to see me with a complaint of lingering pneumonia symptoms. After having taken antibiotics, she still has an annoying amount of phlegm that irritates her to the point of coughing.
“When did the symptoms start? I ask
“Last month” she replies
“What happened around that time?"
“My husband’s sister paid us a visit, and when they are together, they tend to say things that put me down”
I guide her through some somatic awareness and breathing activity, then I ask her to go further back in time to the first time she experienced the same kind of sensations and feelings, and in just a few moments, images arise in her mind of a time in her childhood when an adult caretaker said something to put her down. I guide my client through some healing activities which trigger a body-felt shift inside her, followed by some more guided activity towards re-learning another way of being. At home, her husband seems to have changed his attitude towards her and behaves in a way that indicates to her “consideration”, which is what she had lacked within her family of origin. Unknowingly, her husband performs “tikkun”: he makes amends to what had been done to his spouse; the woman’s pneumonia convalescence symptoms disappear.
If I had worked with this woman’s husband as well, it may have surfaced that his wife reminds him of his parents, in some ways which are annoying or upsetting, and his wife’s shift may bring a positive change in his own family-related patterns.
When an individual in a couple relationship is triggered by his partner, and his emotional reaction is disproportionately high relative to the trigger, this always points towards an old pattern of an unfinished business from the past, very often as far back as his childhood. The intense emotional reaction is unconscious, the individual instantaneously regressing emotionally to the age when the trauma or injury first occurred, or to a significant time when the trauma or injury found expression in his life. The regressed individual is in a trance and cannot be argued with, his emotional reaction being the one of a child; and it takes awareness, genuine care and skill to guide such and entranced individual out of the trance and back to the psychological age that corresponds with his biological age.
From here, most couples escalate into conflict, triggering each other, and ending up with two wounded children unconsciously projecting their hurt on the other, entranced, using the same coping tactics they used when the hurt first arose, while further alienating themselves from each other and, in time, eroding any chance to intimacy that can hold the relationship safely and lovingly together.
The conscious (and lucky) couples, however, neither avoid nor project the emerging pains, but –often with the help of a good therapist’s guidance – they shed light on the pain, bringing it from the unconscious shadow of the mind to the light of conscious awareness which can identify the pattern, remember the original hurt, and request and offer amends. When both partners share the same world-views and values, and especially conscious presence with themselves and others, as well as compassionate care for each other, they can help each other out of a trance, and into an awareness choice of showing up for the other in a greater, healthier, more loving way that the primary caregivers showed up for the child who their partner was years ago. Therapy brings to the table the synergy of wisdom, care and skill, and the therapist becomes the guide who guides an individual or a couple out of the dark shadows of unresolved past hurts and into a kind of passionate intimacy that becomes medicine and nourishment for the Soul.
Remaining single offers the advantages of carefree living, of not having to re-visit the emotional pain we once repressed or suppressed; this makes a convenient lifestyle where the emotional pendulum goes back and forth just a tiny bit between pain and pleasure, while unresolved emotions are stacked aside in the unconscious shadow of our minds, keeping our live force energy tied up in knots we can’t undo because we cannot see, holding us back from living our full potential and into mere numb survival.
Relationship is where we touch upon untouched hurts and, with enough awareness, care and skill, we come alive full swing as sentient beings, our minds, hearts and senses open to embrace life from its darkest pain to its most blissful pleasure, free to live to the edge of our potential.