A colleague, Wendy Strgar, has written a book -- really more a collection of short essays -- called Love That Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy. While it's a soulful, thoughtful and very worthwhile work, I'm not mentioning it here to plug it so much as to note the delightful double meaning of the subtitle: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy. As in, how to make intimacy last, and how to tolerate all that pain!
Wendy's right: relationships ain't easy. Even if you've got Mr. or Ms. Right there in the bed beside you, all kinds of challenges will arise, and indeed many relationship experts will tell you that if you don't have those challenges, then he or she is an avoidance strategy and not Right at all.
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One of the problems with suffering is that it tends to produce thoughts that make the suffering worse. My partner does that thing again, and off goes my brain on its not-so-merry rounds. "Geez, can't he ever learn?" "If I'd only known about who he really is, I'd never have made that commitment!" "What's wrong with me, that I keep tolerating this?" "Maybe I'll leave eventually and find a partner who's right for me." "That UPS guy's really cute!" And off we go, malcontents on the road to adultery, or at least to fantasizing about it.
One has to believe there's a better way to "endure intimacy," and in fact there is. Vexation and anger are inevitable in intimate relationships. The question we need to be asking is: How do we manage these emotions? How do we "hold" them?
Typically we inhabit them. They take us over and drive us until the feelings dissipate and we emerge into a happier place. Time, not our effort or intention, does this.
That's not our only option, though. We can also view these negative emotions as a creative challenge. Instead of succumbing to them, we can ask ourselves this question: In what ways can I hold my partner's behavior so that it's less painful to me?
Let's say I'm annoyed because my partner dresses like a slob. That could turn into "Thank you for being more focused on inner truths than outer appearances!" Or: "Thank you for making me look good compared to you!" And then living into that thought so that it feels emotionally valid to you.
Basically, this re-framing process makes a game of love, not in the negative (and potentially abusive) sense of treating love with casual disregard, but in the sense of converting feelings of entrapment into feelings of opportunity. Instead of feeling stuck in negativity, we open ourselves to possibility. Energetically we convert "heavy" into "light."
This is the Zen of intimate relationships. Every moment is a learning opportunity. Each encounter offers us an opportunity to detach from painful conditioned responses and become more generous and compassionate. And happier.
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From this perspective, Mr. or Ms. Right is a partner we can do this work with, in a healthy mix of good and bad times. And the painful moments are the richest moments, because unlike the easy times they can yield the gold of growth.