Maybe it’s the Valentine’s season.
Lately, I’ve seen a number of couples experiencing powerful entanglement issues that leave them feeling hopelessly mired in relational turmoil. I learn so much from these encounters – sometimes through the humbling experience of finding my own interior dramas caught up in theirs.
We bring our wounded, unfinished selves to our primary relationships – hoping the relationship will offer the comfort, security, loving connection and validation we seek. Inevitably, at some point, the relationship will activate, and aggravate, those very sore spots we were hoping to soothe. And therein lies the healing potential of love’s entanglement. In our most intimate relationships, life invites us – gently, persistently and, eventually, insistently – to face ourselves and to take responsibility for our own healing.
Navigating love’s entanglement requires heart and mind to work together – in healing partnership.
First, we need to listen deeply to the wisdom and intelligence of the heart – the center of compassion within us that identifies and honors what we yearn for: safety, acceptance, peace, freedom, connection, love, being valued, known, appreciated and cherished. The heart points us toward which of these in particular we need most.
While the heart directs us toward what we need, the wisdom and intelligence of the mind shows us how to satisfy our heart’s desire. When I listen to my inner grown-up, it becomes absolutely clear that I have to assume full responsibility for the care of my wounded heart. I need to attend to it and offer it what it needs. No matter what anyone else does, it is my job to befriend me.
I am in charge of the love I give. I am in charge of my readiness to receive. I am in charge of my self-acceptance and my freedom to be. I can’t delegate these tasks to anyone else.
I am in control of what I give to me and what I give to you. I am not in control of what you offer me or how you treat yourself.
Loving connection flows from a sacred commitment to ourselves and from the recognition that we need relationship with others. Loving connection requires humility and self-affirmation, vulnerability and appropriate self-protection, assertion and a spirit of compromise. It requires knowing and being known. We listen to ourselves. We listen to each other. And while we are not in control of a relationship’s economy, we can learn wise ways of operating with each other that make it more likely that we will both get more of what we need.
In his book, The New Rules of Marriage, Terrence Real offers a cornucopia of savvy suggestions for mutual empowerment in relationship. For example, it’s usually much more effective to ask for what we want rather than complain later about what we didn’t get. He also endorses the win-win question: “What do you need from me so that I can help you give me what I want?” (p. 177)
Wisdom sometimes calls for direct communication and sometimes invites us toward more nuanced ways of relating. For example, if I want more playfulness or light heartedness in my relationship, it may work better to just start behaving that way – rather than initiating a serious conversation about how to be more playful.
When we become entangled, the instinctive move is to do more of the same, more of what’s familiar. With mindfulness, we open our eyes and notice what’s ineffective. We listen deeper. We see life’s invitation to stretch, to grow in skill and care. We unfold toward a more complete version of who we are. Then, interestingly enough, we begin to experience the happiness we’ve been seeking all along.
Life is kind. God has a sense of humor. Relationships are messy. Entanglement in love is inevitable. Let it teach us. Let it deepen us.