May

21

‘There is no force in the world but love.’

Rilke

At the core of all longing, striving and struggle languishes the bloodied, tender heart, with all movement either taking us further into the heart wound and the possibility of wholeness or into contraction: the recoil that cuts us off from life and love. The heart is either opening or closing.

In the first flush of romance the heart blossoms like a spring flower but, drawn to rekindle the wounds of childhood, the heart’s eye knows just the right partner to select: those who will frustrate and deny fulfilment just as mum or dad did way back when. Is this some cruel trick of fate that renders love powerless, or is it instead precisely this lighting of love’s flame in this particular person that offers an opportunity to transcend all that is loveless and unloving and return us to the most profound healing?

Relationship as spiritual path has a hard time of it nowadays and it is easy to give up on human love, but for some the journey of learning to love another and allowing oneself to be loved offers the ultimate redemption. Does it not make sense that if a man is wounded by mother and a woman by father then in loving and forgiving and being loved and forgiven by the beloved a person can experience a sense of homecoming like no other?

But why do so few find the healing balm they seek, instead foundering on the rocks that lay in the treacherous waters just outside the honeymoon isle? How can redemption be found when thrashing around for power? As Nietzche said, where there is the will to power then love is absent.

The key battle for most couples centres around the two-year-old self’s struggle for both attachment and autonomy. If you have not had sufficient attachment needs met at that and later developmental stages the psyche will keep seeking closeness and merging. If you’ve not been given sufficient autonomy and independence then the movement is away from relationship to satisfy that particular need.

Few of us had our early need for both attachment and autonomy handled well, setting up the later push-pull of adult connection. We want love, we fear being smothered. We could call this the love addict and the avoidant or the fuser and the isolater.

In truth, both poles are usually operating in both people, although one partner will invariably tend toward one position, polarizing the other partner. Yet the truth is both people have exactly the same need, to love and be loved, with both operating their individual set of defences to protect the wound of the heart.

What compounds the problem to the power of ten is the shame of not just having needs but of having those needs exposed. If someone disdainfully calls you needy you can bet your life they are needy and ashamed of that need.

The childhood need for love and affection is so powerful that when it is denied we contract against our own need like a circuit breaker. Some move so far away from that need they no longer know it is even there. Such people are truly lost and often cannot be reached. Throw in abuse and brutality and you get the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.

One of the most helpful things we can do is make friends with our own needs and neediness and do the same with our partners. It is probably wise to move away from those who act tough and needless and refuse to change and the current crop of seekers who are doing a spiritual bypass and residing in a need-free nirvana, having made a sudden evolutionary leap into A Course In Miracles.

But unfinished business does not just come from childhood, it comes from past-life connections with our partner too. I believe that most, if not all, of our more serious relationships are with those we know from other incarnations.

We are drawn towards those on our path on many different levels and will rehash the same old battles until we learn to love one another. I find current theory on relationships limited and primitive in one way or another and certainly using addiction models to treat relationship issues is a mixed blessing, healing some and reinforcing early experience of shaming and harshness in others.

The most complete and hopeful work comes from the pioneering psychiatrist Harville Hendrix who seems to have put all the component parts of relationship together and made sense of them.

In a nutshell: we are drawn to people who share positive and negative traits of our parents to win an old childhood struggle for love; to change brings up our fear of wholeness, which was not allowed as children; we are so fearful of our own wholeness we fear we are going to die if we change – hence most relationships fail during the power struggle; we have to confront and contain the life force (eros) within us that has been trapped since childhood; in finding a container for our feelings and needs with the help of our partners we begin to feel safe enough to heal and, most wonderfully; in dedicating ourselves to meeting our partner’s needs we restore ourselves to wholeness.

The last part is paradoxical but true. If the partner our heart’s eye selected contains all the qualities that we have repressed in ourselves, which we are first drawn to and later detest, then in loving them we are really loving parts of ourselves.
When partners become allies and not enemies dedicated to healing the childhood wounds in each other, with loving turning outward towards the beloved in reciprocity, a circle of love is formed which is deeply satisfying to both parties.

Love, always cleverer than the self-serving ego, only finds itself through acts of unconditional generosity and giving.

Finally, restored to wholeness not just through their partner’s love but critically through the act of loving itself, a couple can bring love and healing balm to all those around them.

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