The way to get better at our relationships, is to get better at dealing with pain.
Yes, you heard me right.
Our negative and damaging connotations associated with pain are one of the reasons we struggle so much in relationships.
If we are in pain, we have failed somehow.
If we cause other people pain, we are a bad person.
Pain is something we need to avoid at all costs (which is impossible).
Our unrealistic concept of what pain is in our lives causes us, well, pain.
What if pain were just pain?
Just an unpleasant experience that has come into our lives and then will go at some point. A wave of displeasure crashing in on the sandy beach of our soul.
The working definition of suffering that I go by is, suffering is wanting things to be different than they are.
This is where pain can really eat away at us. We don’t want it to be there; hence we suffer.
This is the hard part about relationships. People we care about are going to suffer and be in pain; this is inevitable. Relationships are going to hurt our feelings and make us questions who we are. Relationships are going to hurt.
And this is only a problem if we aren’t good at managing and working with the hurt and pain.
Pain is an impermanent experience.
Just think of something from the past that really hurt your body or feelings at the time, which now doesn’t bother you at all.
There are so many ways we try to avoid the reality of pain in relationships. We judge. We criticize. We give advice. We overstep our bounds. We don’t say no. We dodge around the pain of the situation.
Perhaps many of the problems we have with the people we love is due to trying to avoid pain.
But is anyone actually avoiding the pain?
We are numbing it with drugs, alcohol. food, gambling, sex and more. This we are doing well.
The good news is that this hating the pain is a learned pattern, and the great thing about learned patterns is that we can unlearn them.
This takes patience, diligence and most importantly self-awareness with a whole dump truck load of compassion and self-love thrown on top.
If we can accept that pain is inevitable (yes, the first noble truth), then we don’t have to fight so much.
Instead we can just feel.
We can feel the myriad painful emotions and memories that flood through us each and every day. We can build up our strength and tolerance for the discomfort through intentional practice and self-awareness.
This is spiritual warriorship.
This is what looks different when we accept and embrace the pain.
Someone we love is hurting and struggling and our body and mind stay neutral instead of flying into a habitual reactive response. We don’t go into a heightened emotional state of there being a problem; instead, we are able to just approach the situation as we would empty the dishwasher or feed the dog. We just do it.
We just hold the crying child, or listen to the spouse tell us about their latest pet peeve.
We just visit the sick person in the hospital without fretting that there is a huge problem.
We approach pain and suffering as a normal part of our day.
A predictable part.
A part of our lives that we are willing to show up for.
This means we are willing to bring our best selves to the pain and suffering embedded in our everyday lives.
Without being scared of the pain, we are able to bring our most loving, available, cognizant selves to all our relationships and the hurtful situations they include, because we aren’t trying to run away, and we aren’t blaming ourselves and attacking the other person for causing the pain.
We are accepting the pain, making ourselves available to be present with whatever honesty and authenticity the relationship requires of us.
Our relationships are the most fulfilling aspects of our lives. They are where we have connection, have pleasure, have fun and are able to contribute and make a difference.
When we can accept that we are going to have pain, cause pain and experience pain due to other people’s actions, and that this isn’t the end of the world, but instead an opportunity to increase our love and compassion through real-live hands-on experiences, our relationships become can become more tender and real.
Just what our hearts need.
Author: Ruth Lera
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Jonathan Pendleton/Unsplash