The majority of relationships fail from our collective inability to make peace with each other. We watch our long-term investments of loving connection wither on the vine rather than take the courageous steps of seeking reconciliation. We are confounded by our egos into believing that being right makes us stronger than being loving. In actuality there is no more powerful exhibition of human capacity than that of forgiveness, which is why it has often been taught as the true action verb of loving.
It begins with our selves, this capacity for reconciliation. It is impossible to forgive other people’s trespasses against us when we hold ourselves hostage to our own past mistakes. In fact this endless source of self-recrimination is the fuel for our need to be right and vindicated in relationships. We demand that the world demonstrate a respect for us that we often don’t hold for ourselves and one that usually cannot even be fulfilled. Coming to terms with ourselves: our beauty, our confusion, our missteps and our best intentions is the ground of our thoughts. The degree to which we live in harmony with our own weaknesses and mistakes exists in direct proportion to our capacity to live with those of others.
Although we often end our relationships with a simple “we didn’t get along…” the truth of most break ups has more to do with our own personal growth rather than the obstacles that the couple is facing. We see evidence of this in the increased fail rate of each successive marriage or relationship…. By the third time, the fail rate is 90%. The thing that most people don’t understand about developing the heart to reconcile is that although it doesn’t change the past, it is the only route to enlarging the future. Reconciling is how we make compassion real in our relationships. It is love’s action verb because as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches it is an act that only demands that we understand both sides: “…to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.”
Reconciling doesn’t actually rely on coming to a consensus of what has occurred; in fact, this is where the discussion breaks down. But if you can stand in the other person’s shoes long enough to bear witness to their pain, realizing it is not so different from your own you have opened a window into a new place in yourself and an access to loving someone who loves differently. It is the mature response that can hold competing needs side by side, with a willingness to do what is best for all and not just for Self.
The sexual breakthrough that most couples are seeking is based in this practice. Differences in desire and the challenge of the initiation question are standard fare in all long-term relationships. Yet, because, for many of us, our sexuality is such a wounded and tender place, we allow our differing sexual needs and comfort levels to become the grounds for what David Schnarch calls “Normal Marital Sadism” where we fall to our lowest common denominator and our conversations become volleys of meanness and defense.
The path through these dark woods begins with our own capacity for reconciliation. By taking responsibility for our own sexual identity and naming our own sexual needs we are able to release the emotional gridlock and begin an honest communication, which encourages the truth in both partners. Reconciliation is the fertilizer that allows relationships to grow both the individuals and their collaboration.