A colleague recently told me about attending a high school reunion. He was really surprised when an old friend told him that his wife had just left him after 30 years. It seems that the man’s wife had also attended her high school reunion and reconnected with her high school sweetheart. She decided to leave her husband and marry the first love of her life. Who hasn’t had some sort of fantasy like that?
Do you ever think back to your own fond memories of a sweetheart and long for that feeling again? Helen Fisher, noted anthropologist and expert on romantic love tells us that there are three major drives in our brain with regard to love: the sex drive, the romantic love drive and the attachment drive. While there are many reasons we evolved this way, it seems that the romantic love drive is extremely strong… even stronger than any addiction. Think about the strength of that love. You were probably willing to go to the ends of the earth for that person. You wrote his/her name down hundreds of times. You talked for hours on the phone. No wonder we daydream about lost loves and spend time wondering if perhaps that old love was the “real” thing after all. That romantic love drive is so strong sometimes it can mask the real work of building a mature lasting love. Even if that romantic drive happened with your long term partner, often we wonder if perhaps there is something wrong not to have those feeling anymore.
When I was a young intern, my best friend also a graduate student, had a terrible time managing her feelings for one of her clients. We all wanted to help her so we were full of advice about how she should get counseling herself, meditate, perhaps even transfer her client to another counselor. Nothing seemed to help. She worried about it all the time and felt so guilty. Finally, she spoke about it to her supervisor. He listened to her for a long time as she poured out all her angst and guilt. As she told it to us, hearing enough, in his wise way, he turned to her and simply said “Why don’t you just enjoy it?
I was shocked to say the least. However, as I fully grasped the advice and realized how relieved my friend was, I understood deeply what freedom he had given her. She could have her feelings. She didn’t need to be afraid of them. She didn’t need to do anything. It seemed too simple. However, no denying the way that simple idea made the world right again for my friend. In Buddhist terms this is called being present with what is. As we relax and accept whatever feelings we are having, they become less powerful and compelling. We can be a witness to the workings of our own heart and mind. We can respond in a wise way to whatever feelings arise and not react out of them.
When that old love of yours finds you on Facebook or gives you a call or when those old feelings come knocking at your heart again “Why don’t you just enjoy it?”
Each relationship is made up of three people. The two human beings who commit to be together and the third being or living covenant they create by their intention. This being, like all of us must be nourished in order to thrive.
This covenant must be held as a sacred bond in the relationship and it needs a place to be safe and grow as the relationship grows. A safe place in a relationship is sometimes called a container, one can also think of this place as a vessel such as a chalice which would hold sacred wine. Creating a strong vessel is the key to strong relationships. Think of the relationships that you respect and admire. What is most true about them is the care they take to keep their bond, their container strong. In coming posts, I will discuss ways to nurture and create a healthy vessel for your relationship. For now please read a most wonderful story from Richard Seltzer, surgeon at Yale Medical School who tells of a couple with a very strong container in his book Doctor Stories (Amazon.com)
“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies her face post operative her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of facial nerve the one connected to her mouth has been severed. She will be this way from now on. The surgeon has followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamp light apart from me, private. Who are they? This wry mouth that I have made? Who gaze at, and and touch each other so generously.
The woman speaks…”Will my mouth always be like this, she asks? Yes, I say it will. It is because the nerve was cut. She nods, is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it, he says, it’s kind of cute.”
All at once, I now who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God. Unaware of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I, so close, can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers. To show her that their kiss still works.
And I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals. And I hold my breath and let the wonder in.”
Did you ever wonder why we blame other people for things that happen in our own lives? Did you ever wonder why it seems so effortless to blame our partner for our own unhappiness?
Did you know that understanding the roots of blaming is the key to healing your relationship? Behind every blaming statement there is an unmet need that you have. If your partner is blaming you for something, he or she has an unmet need wanting to be heard.
For instance Carrie was furious with David because he was always online and never seemed to be engaged with her in the evenings. She blamed him for their lack of closeness. Even though there was an element of truth in her complaint, her anger drove him further and further away. Her unmet need was for safety because of her deep fear of abandonment. Through counseling she learned to be aware and acknowledge her deep need for connection and the way she was blaming David out of her fear. Expressing this need to him in a loving and non blaming way brought them closer. This “softening” allows them to begin to heal and repair their interactions. It also allowed David to admit to his fear of her anger and his need to protect himself by distancing from her.
These are two very basic strategies that couples use to deal with the fear that arises when there is not a safe connection in relationship. The first is to be caught in fear of abandonment and demand responsiveness by blaming. As with Carrie and David this often backfires and pushes the other away. The second tactic is to numb out feelings and needs and to avoid engagement with the other by withdrawing.
It takes real courage to turn to your partner and ask for what you need. This takes incredible strength. As noted marriage researcher, Sue Johnson says, You ask for the emotional support and reassurance you need. Each time you can do this and your partner can respond you are building a safe haven relationship that no amount of outside stress can destroy. We know that when partners can do this they are stronger and more confident as individuals and they create stronger more loving bonds
We need it now. Some soothing, some comfort, some grace from a world that seems at times to have gone mad. The killing of innocent children, politicians who can’t come together, natural disasters like hurricane Sandy and the oil spill, Syria , a senseless shooting of innocent people by a disgruntled employee, all of this reminds us that we must take care of each other and nourish our relationships, the innocent animals and beings who depend on us and our fragile planet.
Kathleen Dean Moore has written an incredible book called Wild Comfort. After experiencing a year of despair, sorrow and loss she turned to the rhythms of nature in order to make sense of that loss. In her travels to the desert, forests and oceans, she observed the life around her – the birdsong, the beetles, the cry of a loon, a feather brushed by the breeze – and she wrote. The result is a book of essays which are full of grace and filled with wisdom; a book of meditation about the seasons and cycles of the earth and the living creatures who inhabit it. Such a title, such grace. After reading it today, I left everything on my desk just as it was. I made my way outside almost as if I was answering a prayer. Sitting on my front porch here deep in the woods on the Cape, I was comforted beyond measure. The birds were out in droves, butterflies too. Is there anything more innocent than a bird, a little chickadee, deciding to honor me with its presence here on my front porch. Bella my chihuahua, sits on my lap, leaning into me with her small warmth. All of us drinking in the holiness of this present moment, this place.
In some way this very personal, intimate book is able to connect our emotions with the wonder of the natural world. Jane Hirschfield says about this book: “In its grounded wisdoms, humility, curiosity, and in the kaleidoscope beauty of its descriptions, Wild Comfort reminds how to see, how to sing; how to welcome, with equal gravity and grace, whatever asks entrance into our lives. It is destined to become a classic.”
I am overcome by gratitude for this book, a reminder of the comfort and refuge there is in wild natural places. Like the grace of the moon sliding out from the clouds on a dark night.
You must read it.