‘Relationship Advice’ is a popularly searched for topic on the web and I get why. We’re all in relationships of some kind, and it’s been said that everything in life boils downs to relating. Those of us who enter into intimate relationships experience that the deeper we dare venture into intimacy, the more shit gets stirred up!
This is why many people stay on the surface in relationships. Or they
love once, get heartbroken, and swear off love. I understand this and
have compassion for these choices. Once they were my choices, and I
didn’t even know I was making them (they just seemed like good sense,
and the only path worth taking).
This article is about intimate relationships, and advice that is worth a damn when navigating (falling?) down that rabbit hole. Before you go into that darkness let me share some of the pitfalls and treasures awaiting, based on my experiences and learnings.
Before you open to relationship advice you need to consider what your relational motivations are. What’s the reason you’re investing (often huge) amounts of time, energy, and personal resources into relating? What’s your desired destination?
People often give advice that’s actually to justify their own decisions (which may or may not have worked out for them). Their relationship advice is intended to get toward their desired relational destination. They may not know where that is (and it may not be what they say it is).
You yourself will only be open to advice that matches what you’re looking for (which may be unknown to you, especially if you’re on life-auto-pilot).
I’m letting you know upfront (like I do these days in my intimate relationships) what my motivations and end goals are:
Because I’ve been in both places, I’m going to give advice to both groups of people. Note that going sincerely and fully into place 1 organically (over time) led me into place 2. I didn’t know it would lead there … but I’m overjoyed that it did!
There is nothing wrong with this motivation. I see it as a perfect starting point – it got me to where I am today, and that’s a wondrous place, filled with more love and belonging than I knew was possible. The important thing is to get conscious about this motivation, to own it. It’s essential not to B.S. yourself or others. As long as you lie, you’re stuck in endless cycles (they may look different initially, but eventually you realise you’re a rat on a wheel). When you’re real about your motivations and goals, your life starts to move into newness.
There are (generally speaking) two broad categories of unloved humans:
I have a lot of respect and compassion for all people coming from Insecure Attachment backgrounds. This means people who don’t feel naturally secure in love relationships, and question their fundamental lovability (or that of others). People with Secure Attachment are generally trusting of others’ good intentions, and bring these out. They believe (without even thinking about it) in their own capability to relate skilfully, and do so.
Securely attached people generally have happy relationships with relative ease, and mostly come from backgrounds where this was modelled for them. Not to fear though, because Earned Secure Attachment is something that anyone can learn, though the journey may be challenging. I speak as someone making the audacious journey from Fearful-avoidant attachment (which experiences the extremes of both Anxious and Dismissive polarities).
Just like with any life challenge or disadvantage, there are hidden gifts to starting from an Insecure Attachment. It’s a bit like the joy of coming into a warm home and toasting by the fireside … after being outside in the freezing dark and cold. You profoundly feel and know and appreciate that fireside … you know love so much more for all the moments of unlove.
If you continue to use the natural strategies learned in development of Insecure Attachment, you’ll continue to recreate the past. Your relationships will be dynamics of unlove. I’ll outline likely scenarios:
Photo by Miriam Espacio on Unsplash
But this is easier said than done. So here’s something easier (but still challenging): Dare to notice and admit that your relating wiring is faulty. This doesn’t mean you’re faulty … you are fundamentally good and lovable (though your faulty relating wiring will tell you differently).
You could either keep your faulty wiring and keep co-creating doomed rollercoaster relationships of drama and pain. Or you could face the truth, and start to feel-and-heal the pain. That’s beyond the scope of this article but you can find out more on my website, and/or seek out relationship professionals to support your re-wiring. This is a good place to mention one of my favourite books for rewiring (based on Attachment Theory, Mindfulness Meditation, and Interpersonal Neurobiology), Rewire Your Brain for Love by Marsha Lucas, PhD (Amazon affiliate link). It’s very practical, offering mindfulness exercises to rewire attachment injuries based around the findings of Interpersonal Neurobiology.
This is a completely different place to start a relationship from, one that is more aligned with the way intimacy works when you congruently enter into it. Rather than fearing and avoiding deep intimacy (which Insecure Attachment strategies are built around, even for the types who crave love) you admit you fear it, and go toward it anyway (because you want love more than you fear it, and are choosing to find you way to it).
You understand that fearing intimacy isn’t a signal and justification to runaway, it’s a spotlight on a wound to heal. Shining the spotlight can hurt, and the healing process itself can hurt, but then the healed area works properly and feels amazing. It’s like having lived your whole life walking on a broken leg, and now you’re walking on a healthy leg. That’s an astounding contrast, and it feels SO good. Legs were made for walking on … but walking only feels good when they’re whole.
Let me get more concrete. One of my specific love wounds was being held. Now you might think arms are for holding, but they’re also for hurting. I experienced hurting and pushing-away as a child, and as an adult I had the strange experience of simultaneously longing to be held but fearing it, and being unable to initiate holding or to ask for it.
When a partner held me lovingly an agonising sensation arose inside: I felt simultaneously drawn to them and repulsed. It was like a giant magnet was sucking me into their arms, and also that the opposite pole of this magnet was demanding I run for cover. I felt like I was about to be hit by a truck and I needed to flee (or I would die). There was no truck … but I still sensed it in my body and emotions … the ghost of a truck, from a crash of yesteryear.
It hurt so much to be held. I wanted it and I hated it. Letting myself stay there meant feeling terrible emotional pain. A part of me froze in confusion because the push-pull messages cancelled each other out, and felt overwhelming.
I was made to be held (just like you are). As a lovable little baby I came into this world ready and waiting to be held and loved, just for me being alive. I didn’t have that experience with my Mum (I did with my Dad, and I feel for people who have it with nobody), and I learned that being held was dangerous, and that I was ‘bad for wanting it’. This was true as a child (at least when approaching my Mum). But it isn’t universally true, and it isn’t true now.
Yet to get to the experience where feeling held felt warm and good and like coming-home to me (as it does now), I had to mindfully be with the agony that came up for me when intimate partners held me. I had to admit to myself how it felt for me, and then share this with them, without running away from that knowledge, or blaming it on them (or on ‘my fucked-up-ness’). I had to stay with it all those times it felt painful and/or mixed. I had to sit through waves of burning shame. I had to learn to cry, and then I had to sob out my grief, and roar out my anger. I had to dare to be vulnerable with myself, and with safe others (counsellors, partners, friends).
Now it feels wonderful to be held; it’s one of my favourite things; I ask for it often (and I love offering holding to others). The ‘holding love energy’ is freed-up in me, and the pain of yesterday is processed and healed. I still have a scar, which gives me this story to share with you. I’m grateful for the contrast in my relational experiences – I never take holding for granted. I go into it with mindful attention, enjoying the experience of holding or being held, fully.
These days lots of opportunities naturally come into my life for experiencing holding with others, no longer just intimate others (even sometimes strangers). I’ve become so comfortable and natural at this, and the communities of people around me have changed to include many more people who love holding or want to stretch into it. I can remember back to when there were no hugs, let alone holding, available in my life. I felt (understandably) very sad … and sorry for myself, and helpless to change the situation.
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
I would never have guessed that ‘sitting mindfully with agony’ would lead to ‘this feels SO good … I want more of this holding’. I use this knowledge to help me bravely go into other wounds of unlove, as they come up in my day-to-day life. I know that I can transform … I have repeated experiential evidence. And I’ve witnessed it repeatedly in others who take courage, and go toward the love they seek.
Intimate relating helped me heal this wound of unlove. I only noticed I had this wound when a partner held me lovingly (they were a mirror for me). And when other partners said no to repeated requests for holding I noticed the tearing pain inside, out of proportion to the situation (they were a mirror for me). My holding wound was created in relationship, and it came up again in relationship, and it was eventually healed in relationship.
This is the mysteriously intelligent inner-working of relationship. It’s always available in our intimate connections if we open our eyes and look. It comes up in repeating patterns, in cycles of conflict, in the very things that draw us to fall in love with others or into hate. It comes up in our favourite gossip topics, the areas we judge our partner for the most, and the areas we work so hard to be seen / validated / praised in.
Relationships are innately intelligent. The relationship itself can give you advice about what your next step is for opening into Love (ie healing your love wounds around giving and receiving love with others).
It takes opening your (outer and inner) eyes and ears, and admitting hard truths to yourself. It takes staying with pain when it comes, and staying with joy when it comes. It requires mindfully waking up into experiencing each moment, in fullness.
It’s a process, and it takes place one second at a time, one tiny faltering step at a time. So it’s doable for all of us, and we’re all at our perfect starting point, right now.
My ultimate piece of relationship advice to give you (and myself) is to learn how to listen to the relationship. What is it asking for right now? What is it teaching you? What truth are you running away from or repeatedly shutting down? What pattern is playing out, yet again?
Your very own intimate relationships can become your best teachers-in-love (I include romantic/sexual relationships but also any particularly close relationship such as family, parents, children, close friends … and perhaps more importantly, whatever relationship in your life is the closest one that you’ve allowed in right now. This might be yourself. It might be your dog. It might be collectibles, a computer game, a book character, a movie star, knowledge, science, a fantasy relationship, a deity or procrastination).
If you’re interested in deepening into intimacy, and having closer more loving relationships I recommend you open to the relationship advice at your fingertips. Turn toward the relational mirrors already available to you, and start looking and listening mindfully. Open to your reality, whatever it is right now. Open to your own heart, even if it’s just a crack.
Begin, now … the only place to begin. ‘What is happening now’ is the door that is always open to you, just waiting for you to walk through.
Everyone is welcome through this door. Nobody is barred, no matter how unlovable you may feel, and no matter what has happened before.
The next step is up to you.
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