Imagine a couple who fell in love, and stayed in love, for decades. But that feeling of being in love would be interrupted, to their deep dismay, by a pattern that kept repeating itself, for at least two of those decades, until the wife changed one thing she was doing, and then they never fell out of love again. True story.
Might you have a similar problem, in your romantic relationship, that is keeping you from being “in love” all the time?
My own experience has proven to me that a relationship roadblock usually consists of one of two things:
- One person is keeping something from the other person.
- One person is unable to recognize something within.
Let’s look at how these play out, and then talk about what you can do about them.
One person is keeping something from the other person.
When you watch movies where two people are trying to make a relationship work, quite often the script is written so that we, the audience, know that there is a secret that one of the characters is keeping from the other character. All sorts of problems start to crop up, as the secret remains untold. We keep watching, mentally shaking our heads and thinking, Why don’t you just tell the truth???
Finally, usually at the very end, the truth comes out, all is resolved, and they kiss and supposedly live happily ever after. It should be noted, though, that there is also a scene just prior to the kissing and making up, where, when the truth does come out, the other person says, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” The answer usually has something to do with fear. “I was afraid you’d [be disappointed in me; flip out; think I’d lost my mind; etc.].”
Now, of course, there are less-well-meaning people who keep things from another person in order to deceive, control, or manipulate the other person. This is not the kind of person you will want to fall in love with, as the rest of your life will be tainted by a world of hurt. There are people who have no conscience, and can do terrible things without thinking twice about it. I was in love with just such a person before I got together with my wonderful husband; that conscience-less boyfriend ended up in prison some years later, for life, for killing his beautiful wife.
So again, keep an eye out for these types. Male or female, their most telling characteristic is that they have no hesitation to lie to, flatter, or control another person to get what they want. When you’re in love, these traits are hard to uncover, but it’s a good idea to pay close attention during the early stages of the relationship. Do they lie to others? Do they shrug off something that did harm to someone else? Do they seem to be in a self-absorbed fog most of the time? Do they treat people they consider “lower” than they are differently from those they consider “higher”? Do they behave one way in front of someone, and differently behind the person’s back?
If you really are with a well-meaning person, and that person is afraid to tell you something, after you find out, you need to decide what the two of you can do so that the person doesn’t fear telling you the truth next time. The result of this conversation should be that, next time, they tell you early on, when they first start to wrestle with the problem.
First ask your partner if there is anything that you do that makes it more difficult for them to tell you about this type of issue.
- Do you tend to become defensive, jealous, or disappointed, even before the whole story is out? Then you need to learn how to be a patient, calm, loving listener. It’s not easy, but it’s one of the most powerful habits you can develop in your life, helpful in all situations—work, parenting, loving.
- When you listen to your partner, are you distracted? Worse, are you dismissive? Muttering “Uh-huh” while staring at your phone is not listening. Interrupting the person partway through and saying, “Well, that always happens to you, doesn’t it? Why am I not surprised?” is a great way to drive the person away from you, someday for good.
- While they are talking, do you start thinking about what went on at work that day, or what you want to make for dinner? Again, your partner can tell just how interested you are. Figuring out how much another person is interested in us is one of the first things we learn as infants. It’s one of those survival lessons.
We learn to tell the difference: “This person cares about me, and will be able to help if something goes wrong,” versus “This person is really not interested in me, and will be no help at all if something goes wrong.”
When you first fall in love with each other, you pay very close attention. You literally hang on each other’s every word. You are both trying to make sure that this person is genuine, and worthy of your love. You’ve been burned before, and you don’t want to be burned again. Plus, the new relationship feels great, and you want to enjoy it. You want to be fully present.
After you’re together for a while, daily life starts to seep into the relationship, you start to get used to each other, and you also start to notice little irritating habits your partner has that you didn’t notice before. Some part of you starts to distance yourself from your partner. You don’t know it at the time, but this is actually the beginning of the end.
The solution, again, is to be a fully active, calm, and loving listener. If you learn how to do this, your partner won’t ever be tempted to leave you for someone who does a better job of listening. It will be a pleasure to come home from work or some other “away” time and fill you in on all the details. You will laugh together and enjoy the conversation.
This is what it’s like when you are as much in love on your 45th anniversary as you were in the first week, and it makes for a truly wonderful life. In fact, as you continue to be in love for many years, there’s even more to laugh about, more shared jokes that only need the twitch of an eyebrow before you both break out laughing again, as you both remember a shared experience. Life gets richer as the years go by.
If your partner is hesitating to tell you simply because he or she has told others similar things in the past and they reacted negatively, you will need to agree that you are not those other people, that you are your partner’s “safe space,” and he or she has nothing to fear.
Your job then is to make sure that safe space stays safe, and that your partner can trust you to keep it that way.
One person is unable to recognize something within.
Everything I’ve mentioned above can be a real challenge to pull off; it takes dedication and patience. But it’s even more difficult if the problem is that you (or your partner) are failing to recognize, face, and fix something about yourself that keeps your relationship from fulfilling its full potential.
These hidden truths usually start in childhood. It could have been an abusive family member, a death in the family, or an accident or illness that affected your life. These negative, painful experiences stick in our minds so vividly that they become an integral part of our identity. A time in our lives when we are so disappointed and even repulsed that we make vows to ourselves.
A child of three whose father dies vows never to be hurt like that again, to the point where she lives a life trying to control every aspect of her life. A child whose stepfather started abusing her as a child feels dirty and totally unsafe, even in her own home, and grows up unable to trust anyone in authority. A child who grew up with a cold, narcissistic mother will never feel good enough, and will search for approval from others in unhealthy ways. A boy whose father is distant and rigid will rebel and engage in self-destructive behavior long after he has left home.
These behavior patterns become so ingrained that we don’t even know they’re there. Our vows might have been helpful when we were very young, but at some point we all have to leave the nest, to stop living as if we are still living at home, and to make a new life for ourselves. We literally have to walk away from those old vows and patterns, and replace them with new ones.
I often say that there are no vacuums in the spiritual world. There is no such thing as “nothing” when it comes to the spirit. We are either filled with negativity and hate, or filled with positivity and love. The more we are filled with love, the more loving we are, and the more loved we are. Love breeds love; hate breeds hate. Love is the only thing that can replace hate.
First we have to realize what we are hating. Obviously, the person who disappointed or abused us is the target of our hate; but there could be a much deeper hate that we aren’t even aware of.
We might hate ourselves for letting that person harm us. This is quite common in situations involving abuse.
What we don’t realize, as adults, is that as children we are not equipped to stop the abuse. We can’t just move out; we aren’t ready to take care of ourselves. We can’t just tell the authorities, because what if they don’t believe us, or side with our parents, or our parents convince the authorities that nothing is wrong? And where would they take you, anyway? The known terrible situation is definitely preferable to an unknown terrible situation, in a child’s mind. Besides, one can get into big trouble if one tells on one’s parents. That abusive situation can get much worse.
So we suffer through it, purposefully making ourselves numb. “It doesn’t matter,” we tell ourselves. “Someday we will be out of here, and they won’t be able to hurt us ever again.”
If only it were that easy. Someday comes, and we leave, but the hurt—and the choice to be numb to the abuse—has lodged itself firmly in our consciousness, and has become a dominant part of our personality.
The only real cure for this pain is forgiveness. And not just once, but over and over until the pain is gone. If you believe in God, which I do, it helps to give it to Him. There is power in the divine, power beyond what you possess, that will help you gain perspective and peace. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced a positive transformation in myself and others when I let God get involved.
It also helps to realize that we don’t have to take our pain with us. Yes, it was a part of our lives, but we do move on to have other experiences, and if we bring that pain into those experiences, they, too, will be painful.
Your love relationships—with spouse, parents, and children—will be most affected by your ability to release the pain. The areas of your soul that are festered with fear and hate will heal, and love will flow through you and over you every single day. Life will open up to you, laughter will come more easily, and those frown lines between your eyebrows will start to clear. Forgiveness and love are botox for the soul.
Others often see in us what we cannot see in ourselves. Our loved ones, in particular, can see our pain, but often don’t know why it’s there or what to do about it. Their attempts to help will not interest us if we can’t see it ourselves (or don’t want to see it ourselves).
If you are brave enough, you will ask someone close to you if they think you are hiding something from yourself; that you are unable to see something about yourself that they can see.
Your ability to listen calmly and lovingly will really come in handy here. Don’t be afraid of it, because the truth definitely does set us free. And the result—a loving, happy life filled with wonderful relationships—will surely be worth it.