Warning: f-bombs ahead.
Once in a workshop, a woman asked us if her longing to be in deep and intimate relationships was co-dependent.
I answered that there is never a problem with longing; our longing to be in a deep, intimate, sustained sharing with someone is natural and healthy. The problem is that the longing often lacks consciousness.
Most often, we enter our relationships full of fantasies and naiveté, like adolescents. And often, the beginning of a relationship is a wonderful time. But it is also a dream state. Sooner or later, problems arise and when they do, we naturally think that the problem lies with ourselves, with the other person, or with the relationship. Then we may move on, or become depressed and give up on the possibility of love. Or perhaps even worse, we remain in the relationship, even for years as the love dies and the energy goes flat or turns nasty.
We may not realize that love takes deep work and awareness of ourselves. It takes awareness that relating deeply with another person will bring up deep unconscious issues. We are not born knowing how to love. We are born knowing how to have sex and how to be spontaneous and alive. But turning aliveness and attraction into love is a totally different story.
There are four major areas where more understanding can make the difference between disaster or deepening love.
The first involves an understanding that initially we relate to the world and to others much like a child with dreams and expectations. That child consciousness needs to be transformed into mature consciousness.
The second involves a more profound understanding for the nature of attraction, and how and why dramas develop the longer we are with someone in any form of intimate relationship.
The third involves understanding how and why our sexuality changes as we go deeper in a love relationship.
The fourth involves understanding the roles that nearly always develop between lovers (and friends) as time goes on.
Most of us naturally have ideas how people should behave and how the world should be. We hope and even expect that we will be treated in a certain way, especially when we open and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. This is the entitled child inside of us. When someone close to us does not treat us in a way which feels respectful, loving, attentive and generous, we feel betrayed and our trust with that person gets frayed. Relationship, any deep relationship, is going to challenge us to drop our entitled child and come to terms with how people and life really are.
In a relationship, there are going to be times when we feel abandoned, disrespected, ignored, not considered, not listened to, pressured and perhaps even abused. These are times when we have important lessons to learn about life; lessons which empower us and help us to grow up.
For instance, there are times when we have to accept the other person the way he or she is and feel the pain of that. Other times, we have to set clear limits and express our hurt or anger if we feel treated in a way which is disrespectful. Other times, we have to follow our life energy even if it causes discomfort or fear in the other person rather than compromise for harmony. Learning acceptance, setting limits, finding the courage to live our life is empowering. Staying in the entitled child trait, hoping that the other person changes and becoming resentful when they are not as we want them to be, is depressing and stressful.
When two people go deeply into a relationship, it is guaranteed that at a certain point, they will trigger each other’s deepest wounds and sore points.
This is actually the sign of a good relationship, a real relationship. One person’s behavior will push the other person’s deepest buttons and vice versa. But at that point, each person sees the other as a “monster” who cannot be trusted, who has to be guarded against, who is abusive or insensitive or inconsiderate or selfish, and who needs to change in order for the relationship to work.
The wound which the other person is provoking, always has its origin in some deep primal wound. And even if we are aware and have worked on this wound, when our loved one provokes it, we no longer see the other person. What we see unconsciously is an abusive or unresponsive or inattentive parent or authority figure from our past. We cannot understand how the other person can be so blind as not to see and understand our pain and sensitivity in this area. What follows in these moments is drama, conflict, hurt, misunderstandings, endless discussion, anger and then deeper mistrust and alienation.
When we understand that this is the true nature of attraction, we can be prepared for conflict or discomfort. We can even welcome it, even when it hurts. But we also need a way to work through these situations.
Our experience is that if each person becomes aware of his or her own particular sore points and can recognize when the other person triggers them, we can begin to share more consciously. For instance, if we have had a controlling or overbearing parent, we can know that most likely, we are going to get triggered by a strong mate or friend. We are going to get triggered when we feel controlled, supervised, criticized or patronized. The other person becomes a monster and we become angry, shocked or some combination of both.
On the other side, we may have had a parent who was irresponsible and collapsed. We may find ourselves in a relationship with someone who has a tendency to go into shock, space out and even “fuck up” when he or she feels stressed. But whenever we feel the other person is not being responsible or present, we feel betrayed and abandoned.
Once we know our source wound—in other words, once we know the root of these emotions—we have the awareness to do the necessary inner work and take the energy away from drama and reaction. Our work is to feel and express (when possible) our fear or pain without trying to change the other person. With this understanding, love flows. When we see the other person as the problem and focus our efforts at convincing him or her how dysfunctional they are, love dies.
Many of us long for sexuality which is alive, spontaneous, deep, sensitive and frequent. And often when two persons come together, it starts out that way. The energy is strong, the bodies are alive and open and both people feel as though they are in heaven. But with time, things change. We may become critical or mistrustful of each other, or feel inhibited or simply less interested.
When change sets in, we may even try different techniques to try to bring things back to what they were—holidays, sexual rituals, drugs, porn, or whatever. Nothing wrong with any of that but, in our experience, it misses the basic point.
As two people go deeper in intimacy and vulnerability, long buried fears and insecurities usually arise. When this happens, our sexuality also changes, which is what we call “second level sexuality.”
“First level sexuality”—what we may have enjoyed in the beginning is high energy, orgasm focused, passionate and often contains some degree of compensation for shame, inadequacies, and insecurities. It may mask fears connected to our sense of self, our sexuality and also offers some degree of cover for feelings of deep inner loneliness.
In “second level sex,” our shame and fear is surfacing and we can no longer hide it or run away from it.
Moving from level one to level two is healthy and growth inducing, because it invites us to know ourselves in a deeper way. It is the road to deeper intimacy. But we may miss the uncomplicated sexual high of level one. And we may also not understand or know how to communicate when fears and insecurities arise in love making. Often, we may not even be aware that we are afraid or in shame, but our body knows and will fail to respond or function the way we would like. Men may come fast or can’t get an erection; women may have difficulties with orgasm or other problems.
If we know that this stage is most likely going to happen, if we decide to be more open with someone and treat it as an opportunity to deepen our love, we can use this development in a positive way. But it is a challenge because to recognize and to share our fears and shame around sex is difficult. For this to happen, we have to be willing to let go of our addiction to level one sex. That is also not easy.
Sex can be one of the most favored ways of avoiding deep inner spaces. It can be just like a drug and when fears and insecurities arise, we can easily get frustrated and blame the other person or ourselves for the loss of energy.
In our experience, in any relationship, both people mirror each other’s state of fear, shame and dysfunction. It usually shows itself in different ways and also one person may be more successful in his or her compensations, but deep down, the wounds are equal in strength.
When we can begin to accept and even share our fears and insecurities in this area, trust grows. As trust grows and as we become more comfortable at accepting and sharing our fears and shame, we enter into what we call “third level sex.”
In this level, the emphasis is clearly on connection rather than on the sexual high. There is a foundation of deep love and trust and there is space to handle whatever comes up in sex. At this point, orgasm and high energy can happen or not, or the sexuality can be more silent and non-active, dysfunction can happen or not, it doesn’t matter. It is the love and connection that matters and there is a willingness to go through whatever it takes to deepen that.
A final area of understanding that adds consciousness to longing is in the area of the different roles people get into, the longer they are in relationship. It happens very often that one person takes on the role as the caretaking parent, while the other person becomes a regressed child.
As a caretaking parent, we can either be giving or rejecting depending on our nature and our mood.
As a child, we can alternate between being obedient and well behaved or rebellious, again depending on our mood and nature.
This situation usually happens totally unconsciously and automatically. But unless these roles are brought to consciousness, they can destroy a relationship.
Many of us long to get the love and caring that we missed as a child and when we enter into relationship as an adult, we carry this longing with us.
It can show itself by our becoming self-centered, demanding, lazy, spoiled, pouting, moody or irresponsible. All of this behavior is a cover for deep inner feelings of shame, loneliness and fear which need to be felt. When we play the role of the parent, we are also using that role to cover our shame and fear. It may give us some ego fulfillment because we feel needed and useful, but it is essentially an avoidance and breeds resentment and suffering.
This kind of bonding, as it is called, can be a love killer.
It is exhausting to be responsible for another person and it is demeaning and humiliating to feel and behave like a child. In our experience, most relationships become bonded to some extent because we have these tendencies inside of us. But if we can notice them as they arise and begin to watch and feel as we play these roles, it makes all the difference.
With this kind of awareness, we develop the power to choose not to play into them. And when we know that the survival of our love depends on being conscious of these roles, we are motivated to confront them.
There are other aspects of our learning how to love, but these are four of the most important ones. Relationship is a constant challenge to learn to know and love ourselves. It is an arena where we can grow because our longing to have and share love is so strong.
To bring love into our lives, we need to deepen our consciousness. To find and sustain love, we have constant work to do, understandings to acquire and feelings to move through. It’s our experience that when two people want to keep their love alive, there are continual challenges. There is much to learn about ourselves and there is no better place to learn it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Cami Krueger / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Balachandar Dev/Pixoto