Loving each other without losing ourselves is every couple’s task. The challenge is to cultivate the ability to love another while simultaneously honoring our own truth. Some find it easy to meet the needs of others, adept at giving love but have trouble receiving. Others are preoccupied with their desires. Those with opposite tendencies attract each other. It’s a piece of work to become proficient in both realms. Ken Keyes says the secret of life is “sticking with it.”
There is an old Buddhist story about a rich man who owned a lot of property who wanted to drink crystal clear water. One day he gathered his workers to set out for that part of his land where he thought it likely that there would be water. When they began to dig, sure enough, at ten feet they hit water. The man was overjoyed and he drank the water. In about three days, the well ran dry. So they went to another part of the land and dug another well. Sure enough they hit water again at ten feet down.
This well’s sulfur content caused an unpleasant odor. The man moved on to dig another. This time the water came in a trickle. And so the man continued through out his life going from place to place digging ten-foot wells, never really being nourished. He died unfulfilled. Ironically, the water that the man sought would have been available almost anywhere if only he had dug a hundred feet down. The man had only to continue digging to find the rich flowing stream that he craved.
We live in a time where many people’s concept of relationship is like the ten-foot wells. Because there are so many available alternatives, we may feel impatience in our desire to have it all. When a relationship gets difficult, we seek another one or distract ourselves. Our culture supports us in the notion that if things get too complex, we should move on to someone else. It is only through going more deeply into our relationships that we receive the waters that truly nourish.
Committing to loving each other without losing ourselves is every couple’s task. Balancing the commitment to self and other is one of the hardest things we do in a long-term partnership, requiring on-going calibration. The challenge is to cultivate the ability to love another while simultaneously honoring our own truth.
Considering Both Self and Other
Many of us find it easy to meet the needs of others, adept at giving love but have trouble receiving. Others are preoccupied with their own desires. Often those with opposite tendencies attract each other. Unable to effectively negotiate these differences, the initial promise of our relationship may deteriorate into despair or separation. This scenario is common, yet few of us possess the tools necessary to meet this challenge.
Everyone deserves a good relationship, and living in a relationship that is unfulfilling takes a terrible toll on one’s self-esteem. Over months of irritation, a person may start to wonder if there is something defective about him or her-self, and whether this is all they deserve. By digging deeper, we are choosing to believe that we have the power to improve the relationship.
What is required is to design a whole new scale of commitment.
Renewed commitment to the marriage must be coupled with a fierce commitment to ones own well-being or it won’t work. Consulting with a professional or friend can give us ideas of how to practice compassionate self-care. Regular fitness, cultivating mindfulness and making friends with people outside our "couple friends", gradually, over many months will begin to reestablish a sense of self.
The care of other can take many forms. Showing up in a more meaningful way with our partner, stretching into their world, showing more interest in their life, and learning how to love them in the way they want to be loved are examples of digging down to the sweet water that nourishes. With the practices of forgiveness, looking through the eyes of gratitude, and non-attachment, we became less reactive. By focusing on what our partner is rather than what (s)he isn’t, affection begins to seep back in.
With this rediscovered sense of self, and deeper appreciation of who our partner is, we may realize that we have been committed to the relationship all along. When both partners are engaged in this effort, we learn that so much more is available.
Learning from Successful Couples
Ken Keyes says the secret of life is “sticking with it.” Those who continued to stick with the process of co-creating their partnership into a nourishing process know that it is not possible without some struggle.
I have heard from so many successful couples how glad they are that they didn’t give up and leave the relationship. Many report that they were tempted to quit when serious breakdowns occurred. By continuing to dig deep, the journey of change and growth in consciousness, although rigorous at first, eventually became exhilarating, and fulfilling. They are so grateful to themselves for hanging in there, and for their partner who was willing to take the journey with them, the journey of sacred partnership.
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio. If you like what you read, click here to sign up Bloomwork’s monthly inspirational newsletter and receive our free e-book: Going For the Gold: Tools, practice, and wisdom for creating exemplary relationships. Follow Bloomwork on Facebook!