You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels
free.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
What I have learned the hard way is that a robust love between two people stands the best chance of materializing when it unfolds between those who have begun to ripen, to self-reflect... essentially, to mature. It is always a work in progress. Learning how to love is never complete. Just as life is continuously moving and re- shaping itself, our experience of love does too. In the early stages of my marriage, to “love in such a way that the person you love feels free” was a simple principal that haunted and often eluded me.
When I began to look at myself, I became very cognizant of dependent tendencies I would never have expected, given my outer persona of independence, a wide range of friends and associates, and more than enough commitments to keep me going without a break for days on end. But all too often, loneliness, feelings of abandonment and distrust would come knocking on my door during the frequent weekends that my husband had to leave, traveling for work.
When feelings of loneliness, abandonment and mistrust arise, our first response typically might be to go to the victim side – to resent, blame, or to feel sorry for ourselves. Little did I realize that they were subtle wake up calls, parts of me who were asking to be nurtured. Lost in the delusion of my unquestioned beliefs, I accused my husband of being selfish, insensitive and indulgent – proclaiming that he was causing me to feel hurt and miserable. I spent several years like this, blaming him without looking at myself, until I finally gained the courage to own up to my emotional turmoil.
I came to recognize my emotions as messengers who were conveying valuable guidance.
Loneliness called to me, showing me that I wasn’t creating a fulfilling life for myself, yet I was expending useless psychological energy feeling bad for myself.
Abandonment was an old childhood wound, a 13 year-old girl who didn’t feel she fit in with her peers and didn’t receive the approval she wanted from her mother. Abandonment needed my loving attention and my sincere validation. She was asking to be loved, held and celebrated – and it didn’t need to happen from my husband! These days I engage in an extra measure of lovingkindness toward myself whenever abandonment shows up.
The gift of Mistrust became clear as I foraged deeply into my real motivations, unwilling
to let fear keep me from finding the truth about myself. I discovered that mistrust was there to help me to work through the pitfalls of the ego. The ego, or “smaller self”, wants to control everyone and all outcomes. My endless questioning and my ruminating about my husband’s whereabouts filled me with fear around his love for me, his fidelity and his commitment. It was all self-created insanity.
I willed myself to let go of believing that I could know if my husband was being faithful, or more importantly, that I surrendered the illusion that I could control anything at all. I let go of the mistrustful, paranoid narrative and substituted it with focusing on myself, my free will and my power. I conscientiously held myself accountable to choose self-affirming thoughts. Almost immediately after embracing this attitude shift I found the freedom and relief I was seeking.
Our partners serve as mirrors; they are constantly reflecting back our good – as well as our destructive personality traits. This is why the romantic relationship is such a deep source of both maximum pleasure and maximum pain.
Pain can be transformed if we recognize it as our entry into our next learning curve. As our
relationships bring up patterns that we need to heal, address, release and/or transform within our lives, the door for taking ownership of the real root cause of our emotional turmoil is offered.
Waiting for the other person to change so we can feel better is a recipe for purgatory – an endless hell of waiting, stagnating and eventually eroding, With this new reframe I can step into being the healer of my own misery. Not only is this a gift to myself – offering freedom, safety, wellbeing and reassurance to myself – but it is also a teaching opportunity: we offer others our own example. No longer waiting for my husband to show up as “I WANT HIM TO BE”, I empowered that way of being through my own words, deeds, and life choices.
In romantic partnerships, we need to practice being the love we wish to see in the world (Ghandi), and that requires a deeply rooted sense of reverence and respect for ourselves, our intimate others, and the wonderfully complex, exquisitely vulnerable, flawed humanity we share. It requires making mistakes, making amends, and trying to manage matters with an increasing degree of skill and intelligence.
Forgiveness, then, becomes the next looming chapter that demands unfolding.
As Rumi so succinctly put it:
And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth “You owe me.”
Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky. Help fulfill each other’s needs but don’t have a reliance on the other person to do this for you. Practice forgiveness. Recognize your shared fallibility. Honor that you are both a work in progress. Practice understanding and compassion.
Care for one another in a way that doesn’t deplete you or your partner. Be the love you want to see in the relationship. And most importantly, remember to place the relationship first - of course right after your relationship with yourself! Make a note for those tough decisions ahead: If anything comes between you, it’s not for you.
These principles preserved and nourished the love I so humbly and gratefully experience in my relationship. 2017 marks 9 years of sharing a life together. Walking alongside my love, my teacher, my student and best friend has been a joy-filled and magnificent, enriching journey – filled with maximum pleasure and maximum pain. As we ring in our 10-year anniversary, we celebrate our love and look forward to continue growing wiser (and more ripe!!) together.