This Valentine’s day I thought I would write about LOVE.
Romantic love in particular, can be the source of our highest highs and lowest lows as a human being. The culture tells us, all we have to do is find the ONE, that perfect being that is meant just for us, and then we will live happily ever after.
And we buy it. We meet someone special and for a while they do seem perfect. We’re on cloud nine for a few months and we know this time, it’s going to be different…it’s going to work.
But after some time we all know what happens….the magical love bubble bursts and we realise we are not with a flawless demi-god or goddess, but a fallible and imperfect human being…and here lies the fork in the road. If we can understand and accept this fact, then we have the opportunity to grow spiritually and know true, unconditional love. If we can’t, the search for that mythical perfect relationship – along with a lot of pain and disappointment – continues.
The fundamental mistake we make in relationships, thanks to this cultural conditioning, is that we expect relationships to make us happy. Or perhaps more succinctly, we expect the other person to make us happy. We have a whole lot of conscious and unconscious expectations, needs and wants that we expect the other to fulfil, and we don’t feel so loving towards our beloved when they no longer meet them, do we?
But what if we looked at our relationships as spiritual practice? As a way to examine and root out all the ways we “love” selfishly and falsely from our egos instead of our hearts? To quote Eckhart Tolle, “relationships make you conscious, not happy”.
I am not saying that all relationships must be stayed in or worked at forever. But I am saying, if there is difficulty or disappointment in your love life, look within first. Because we all have egoic tendencies and hidden mental habits that sabotage true love.
Here are 7 of the most common:
1. Desire & Possessiveness
As the Buddha taught, all suffering comes from the notion of ‘I, me and & mine.’ A lot of tension in relationships arises as we begin to see our beloved less and less as a sovereign being and more and more as something that belongs to us. “My” husband. “My” girlfriend. And so what we do with things that belong to us? We believe we have the right to control them – this can be subtle or overt, depending on the individual. The ego loves to control, and it can show up as criticism, judgement, worry, jealousy, lying, blame, ultimatums, manipulation and aggression.
When something doesn’t go our way our first reaction is to reject or turn away from what we don’t like. We resist what is occurring in the moment, unable to accept what is. And we do this with people too…as soon as they are not meeting our expectations we turn away from them, sometimes literally, sometimes in less obvious ways such as refusing to listen, hardening our hearts or making blanket judgements…almost certainly we are unable to be compassionate and open to another when we are in aversion.
We all have our own ideas of what is right and wrong…and of course we tend to think our views are the right views! When people or things do not live up to our notions of how they should be, we fall into judgement, closing both our minds and hearts. Non-judgement is remaining flexible and open in our thinking, and recognizing that there is more than one way to live and think.
The ego loves to compare, to always be checking, “who am I in reference to that?” Measuring ourselves against others, we conclude we are either worse than, better than or equal to another…but it’s a tenuous, constantly shifting sense of false status depending on who we are comparing ourselves to. Often, we do the same in our relationships, measuring our partner or our relationship against others or what society tells us is worthy or acceptable. Every person and every relationship is unique, and we will experience greater peace and happiness when we can accept that.
This is such a big one that we are often completely blind to. Projection is where we see qualities in another that we are unable to see in ourselves. Sometimes they can be positive or negative qualities, for example when we first fall in love and see our beloved as perfect, often we are projecting a lot of our own positive qualities that we find it difficult to recognize in ourselves onto the other person…at other times we do it with negative qualities that we are unable to accept in ourselves.
6. Self-righteousness and Defensiveness
How many fights have ensued over the need to be right? The ego, or false sense of self, is literally just a conglomeration of ideas, beliefs, imaginings and stories and it will do anything to uphold it’s sense of self by defending it’s opinions, likes and dislikes at any cost. In fact the ego loves nothing more than to sink it’s teeth into a juicy drama and take a side. When we do this in relationships, we no longer want to communicate and understand, we want to win. The next time you feel that familiar rising of righteous indignation and the urge to defend at all costs, notice how you stop listening and trying to understand at that point too.
Believe it or not, a lot of our relationship stress comes from worrying about another, wanting to help or fix them, and feeling guilty if we can’t. (This can be especially true for a lot of women, we seem to think it is our job to make other people happy.) It’s a double-edged sword, partly it may come from a very genuine place, seeing the potential in someone and wanting them to reach it, but on the shadow side, it is also a form of control. Worry can cause us to get too caught up in other people’s lives and to become naggers. We can’t figure out the future, and we can’t make choices for other people…. ultimately love is about accepting people as they are and respecting the choices they make for themselves.
In my upcoming 8 week program “The Calmer Mind Course”, the final module is all about bringing mindfulness and peace into our relationships and using them as a vehicle for spiritual growth. To find out more about the course or to get on the wait-list to be notified when it launches, click here.