Beyond Superficial Relationship Advice

If you want Deeper Intimacy, Dare to go Beneath the Surface.

Couple touch foreheads and gaze at each other lovingly.Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

‘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.

The Relationship Advice you Want to Hear

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:

  1. In the past: I invested relationally because more than anything I longed to be loved. That was because I’d been so unloved growing up, and I felt this unlove profoundly like an ever-aching wound (I wasn’t so conscious about this. My stated motivation would have been because “there’s nothing more worth doing” or “it will make me happy” or “everything else is flavour-less”). I offered others ‘love’, and learned how to be a ‘very loving and giving person’ but I did it with the secret agenda of earning their love.

  2. In the present: I invest because the challenges of intimacy mirror back to me all the ways I’m closed to Love (big L Love, meaning the Love that I am deep inside, at core. The Love that is always accessible to me, regardless of relationship status). The support of the other and the warmth of their love help me open my love-wounds and heal them. Our love helps me face very hard truths about myself that I want to run away from. It helps me open like a flower, and grow personally – especially my heart. It helps me connect more with Life, and awaken spiritually (which means becoming more conscious and ‘online to reality’ … much like Neo waking up in the hit sci-fi movie, The Matrix).

    Plus it is so much joy to experience ‘the other’, a unique person so different from me (yet the same), so beautiful, and vulnerably human. I naturally want to take joy in them, and to walk supportively alongside them as they unfold-their-soul.

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!

1) You’re in Relationship to Get the Love you Lack

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:

  • Those who feel unloved (and unlovable) strongly. Out of this desperate inner state they act out drama to try to get and keep love. If you’re into Psychology’s Attachment Theory (I’ve found it hugely useful in my relational self-development) these include people coming from Anxious-preoccupied attachment and Fearful-avoidant (also called Disorganised) attachment  - the latter is me.

  • Those who don’t much feel the need for love, and easily see the flaws and B.S. in other people … while being woefully unaware of their own flaws, and their internal B.S. around denying their need for love. This includes people coming from Dismissive-avoidant attachment.

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.

Relationship Advice for Getting Love

The Old Strategies Don’t Work

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:

  • Anxious-preoccupied attachment: You’ll likely come on very strong toward cold and distant people who look down on you and your ‘neediness’. You’ll feel compulsively drawn to them (and they’ll be warm and charming in the beginning and win you over). You’ll think it’s the energy of true love. It’s not, it’s the energy of old pain. But it can lead you to true love because this person is a mirror of all the ways you feel most unloved.

    They will consistently not be there for you, and shame you for your emotions. They will create distance unpredictably (but actually predictably – they’ll do it whenever you get too close for their comfort). They may leave you unexpectedly, face-to-face with your soul-crushing pain (which is the past being triggered in the present … that’s why it’s so big).

    None of this behaviour will be their fault per-se (it’s unconscious) just as your often-crazy behaviour as you desperately try to get them to respond to you (if you are able to be brutally honest with yourself) is not your fault (it’s unconscious). You’ll both do better and learn better when you’re finally able to face yourselves, and your deep pain.

  • Dismissive-avoidant attachment: You’ll likely feel magnetically drawn to a vivacious and life-filled person who seems warm in every place you’re cold. You’ll likely warn them at the beginning of the liaison that you’re bad news and can never give them the love they seem to crave. You feel absolved of hurting them, because you ‘gave them fair warning’. Deep down you feel like a bastard/bitch, and you wonder if you’re better off alone. You know you often prefer to be alone, and can feel a desperate craving for it.

    When people get too close to you there’s an itching-burning sensation inside. Something is very scared and screams at you to flee (you’re quite far along your healing journey if you’re able to notice this. You’ll start out pretty numb inside, and easily able to access logic and rationality – and probably proud of this, and seeing yourself as superior to ‘overly emotional’ people). You’re often in love with the chase, and make grand gestures to win your love object. But when they get too close … everything goes to shit. You can’t wait to get away (whether that’s leaving or creating emotional distance). They just feel so much like a bloodsucking vampire out to drain you dry. You’re painfully aware of how invasive of your boundaries they are (but unaware of how overly rigid and self-protective of your boundaries are).

  • Fearful-avoidant attachment: You’ll vacillate unpredictably between the above two strategies, somewhat dependent on the strategy of your partner. Sometimes you’ll freeze completely into shutdown. You may not even remember these periods. Life will seem very confusing and chaotic to you (because it’s so confusing and chaotic inside of you, and was probably that way in your traumatic childhood environment). Love will seem like an impossible dream that you hunger for … but you are forever outside in the cold. And then it will seem like a nightmare that you can’t wait to wake up from. Your relationships are likely to be very short, and often re-traumatising.

Mysterious aliens driving a car at dusk. The way your insecurely attached relationship might feel!

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Unsplash

If it’s Broke Fix It

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.

2) You’re in Relationship to Be & Become Love

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.

A Wound around Touch: Being Held Hurt

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.

Mother holding little child tenderly to her chest.

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.

Relationships are Innately Intelligent

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.

Want more relationship advice? Try: