"I'm lonely and I want to be in a relationship, but relationships are too hard. I feel like I don't want to work that hard," Karen told me in a phone session.
I replied, "Are you ready to fully accept the loneliness of never being in a relationship?"
"No, that sounds too sad and awful. But why do relationships have to be so hard? I've worked on myself for years, yet even relationships with close friends are hard. It shouldn't be that way," she stated in exasperation.
"Karen, they are hard because most of us come from families where we did not see our parents or other caregivers being open to learning with each other, especially during conflict. We saw them get angry, give in, withdraw, resist and turn to various addictions. So, this is what most of us learned to do. Relationships challenge us to give up trying to control each other and instead open to learning with each other. When two people are open to learning, relationships are not hard. What's hard is reaching the point where we are open to learning in the face of conflict.
But why is this such a problem for you? Why don't you want to do the deeper level of learning that relationships offer?"
"I don't want to get hurt," said Karen.
"Of course you don't. But doesn't loneliness hurt?"
"Yes, it hurts a lot. But I'm so afraid of feeling even more hurt—of feeling heartbroken in a relationship. I can hardly stand it when a friend pulls away or gets angry. How could I manage it if a partner pulled away or got angry?"
I have shared the following quote in a previous article, "Taking the Risk of Loving," but I'm going to use it again here since it is so applicable:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. "
—The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis
Yes, I explained to Karen, most relationships are very challenging. But the truth is that we can't have it both ways - we can't avoid the hell of not sharing love—of being endlessly lonely—without accepting the challenge of relationships.
Perhaps it would help you to see the 'work' of relationships in a different light. I see relationships as incredible opportunities to learn many things, such as:
• Learning to define your own worth, rather than making a partner responsible for that
• Learning to take responsibility for your own feelings in the face of a partner's rejection, withdrawal, anger, blame or resistance
• Learning to not take a partner's behavior personally
• Learning to accept what you cannot control and what you can control (them vs. yourself)
• Learning the great joy of shared love, laughter, growth, play and creativity
• Learning the difference between caring and caretaking
• Learning to speak your truth without blame or judgment
• Learning to open to learning in conflict
• Learning to lovingly disengage when that is what is loving to you
• Learning to give from the heart, with no agenda
• Learning to be vulnerable enough to love with your whole heart and soul, and to be able to see the true beauty in a loved one
• Learning to make your feelings as important as your partner's, and your partner's feelings as important as yours
• Learning to know your true essence, through loving yourself and your partner in many different situations
• Learning to connect with your source of guidance, to enable you to keep your heart open in the face of relationship challenges
I'm sure there are more that I'm not thinking of at the moment. For me, this wealth of potential learning is absolutely worth the risk of heartbreak.
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