There is an incredible depth of feeling and love experienced in intimate relationships. As Bruce Perry’s book title highlights, we are born for love. We are all drawn to the experience of love. That is our natural state. That is who we are.
If this is true, why are intimate relationships hard for so many people?
Just because we are born for love on the psychological level and our essence is love on the spiritual level, it doesn’t mean we always feel love. Our personal experience can feel like the opposite of this at times and when it does we often believe that things are going terribly wrong and/or something is terribly wrong with us.
That is the myth. All of the Hollywood fairy tales about happily ever after and cultural conditioning about what intimacy should look like provide no real insight into what is healthy in relationships. Worse, they fuel fear and make us think we have a dark underbelly of humanness that needs to be hidden and improved upon. There is no room for all of our humanity in the pristine depictions of what we are told love should look like.
These depictions are never natural and when there are attempts made to maintain the fantasy, it is often at huge costs to the individuals in the relationship. The public facade requires constant maintenance and the stress usually shows up eventually, often in what is considered scandalous behavior that is in direct juxtaposition to the public image presented.
If you want to get close with someone it is going to get messy. If you want real intimacy there is no hiding.
Angus and I have the privilege of working with people intimately and seeing them — all of them. We hear their stories that are often shared from a place of shame and self-judgment as they reveal what is going on in their relationship: no sex, compulsive sex, affairs, kinky sex, begrudging sex, open relationships, change in sexual orientation, revelation of new sexual orientation or gender identity, anger, contempt, violence, tantrums, ultimatums, melting down, hatred, resentment, no communication, too much communication, painful neediness, rejection…
We used to joke that we hadn’t met a couple who could match the level of intensity and dysfunction that we experienced in our relationship previously. This may not be completely accurate now, but we are not fazed by any of what we are presented with. We understand that transparency and a lack of judgment on our part are required for the work we do.
I want to be clear, Angus and I do not condone hurtful behavior. But we do know that everyone is always doing the best they can based on their understanding at the time.
We are also not attached to couples staying together. We offer people the opportunity to go deep into the experience of intimacy with one another and find safety in the closeness, but we have no attachment to the outcome.
It is ironic that what makes room for humanness in relationships is an experience and understanding of the impersonal nature of who we are.
I used to be terrified of my intense emotional experience. I spent years keeping it under wraps, but then when it came to romantic relationships I would lose my mind. I would become possessive, jealous, demanding, unreasonable. I would feel insecure and fearful and show up tearful and needy. I would also behave in unkind, hurtful, and shrewish ways. This scared me to my core. I did not understand that I was simply destabilized and in my misguided attempts to stabilize myself, I was becoming more unstable. My behaviors reflected this. I didn’t realize my behavior, didn’t mean anything about me and who I am.
I was simply afraid of certain feelings. I was terrified by my experience of vulnerability. I liked feeling like I had everything together. I liked being on top of things. I liked feeling in control. But when it came to love, I felt completely out of control and behaved in out of control ways.
As I matured, I tried to pull myself together. I decided that there was something wrong with me. Clearly I was broken. I was damaged and if I wanted to be in a relationship that would last I needed to start by controlling myself and concurrently attempt to fix myself. This did nothing to address the fear I felt. It just put another layer of fear on top of it. I was trying to cover my crazy up while I tried to figure out how to fix it.
The way I went about that was to cover up my fear with arrogance and superiority. If I felt better than my partner maybe my experience wouldn’t be so scary. If I could be the responsible and mature one then I wouldn’t feel vulnerable. Of course, this doesn’t make for lasting relationships either.
Goodwill and rapport are only going to suffer if you behave like in an arrogant way. Maintaining superiority also requires the constant maintenance of noticing or looking for your partner’s faults and shortcomings. This is dehumanizing and leads to a loss of respect and compassion. All this to try and maintain a facade of impenetrability.
I was persistent though. So rather than set a new course I kept this up until the goodwill in my relationship with my husband was almost nonexistent, and it took an affair to wake me up to how unhappy I was and how awfully I had been showing up in the relationship.
Shame and humiliation are humbling. When I accepted my experience with an open mind and an open heart I actually got present. My understanding shifted, and I saw myself and my relationship more clearly. I realized how much I loved Angus, and I knew I wanted to be with him. I saw how I had not been honest with him or myself about what worked for me, and instead, had become extremely resentful of him and blaming him for my suffering. This clarity was enough to help me settle and find a deeper place of safety within myself.
I read The Relationship Handbook by George Pransky and then eight years later found out that the book was grounded in a direct path spiritual understanding originally shared by Sydney Banks. Through diving in more deeply to the heart of the understanding, I experienced even more inner freedom. It came forward in a way that was very surprising to me. I thought the understanding was going to show me how to feel better and improve my personality. But, instead, it helped me to see how my feelings are temporary manifestations and nothing to be afraid of and that my personality is just a made-up construct so what is the point of improving an illusion. I had no idea how freeing this would feel.
It was in this freedom that I took the pressure off myself to be better or improve, and rather than devolving into a horrible human being I actually, for the most part, show up kinder, nicer, and more gentle. My lack of self-management did also result in me being more transparent with my anger, but not in ways that were devastating, and I always find ways to repair the loss of rapport when it occurs. My imperfections may be more obvious for others to see, but my greater internal freedom is worth it.
And the impact on my relationship has been astonishing. I did not know I could change. I wanted to but had no clue. I thought I was doomed to being super sensitive, overly critical, and highly uncomfortable with my emotional experience. This wreaked havoc on my marriage. But then with just a small glimpse and experience of the deeper part of myself that shifted. Not in a way that I became superhuman or perfect, but just enough that my day to day experience became so much easier and my relationship more easy to navigate.
It allowed me to show up as myself and accept Angus showing up as himself. The intimacy deepened between us. We could tolerate each other’s humanness more because we took it less seriously. Knowing even in just a small way that we are not our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, allows our thoughts and feelings to shrink down to size so we see them with perspective. This naturally results in different behaviors.
Intimacy with another is no longer dangerous when we know who we are. There is the opportunity to enjoy the experience of diversity and separation, while also knowing the fundamental safety and wellbeing of our true nature. The best of both worlds.
With a knowing of our formless essence, we see how we can never actually be separate from it. We are living in the field of wellbeing no matter whether we feel it or not. Seeing this, the messiness of human interactions and personal psychology are nothing to be afraid of. We get to enjoy the depth of intimacy without unraveling in the face of our human vulnerability and insecurity. They still show up, but our relationship with them is different. They are observed rather than being all-consuming, and in the observation, they are not as threatening.
This is an invitation to accept the call of your wild. There is no need to hide it, sugar coat it or be afraid of it. There is such richness in the authenticity of you. The honesty of simply being with what is is liberating and the way forward reveals itself from there.
I spent years managing and trying to hide my humanness. Hopefully, you will see the opportunity to stop now. This happens from going within. It is the by-product of experiencing who you are. Look in that direction and relax. You will see there is no question of you being enough. There is just the being — that is the freedom.
Rohini Ross is passionate about helping people wake up to their full potential. She is a transformative coach, leadership consultant, a regular blogger for Thrive Global, and author of the short-read Marriage (The Soul-Centered Series Book 1) available on Amazon. You can get her free eBook Relationships here. Rohini has an international coaching and consulting practice based in Los Angeles helping individuals, couples, and professionals embrace all of who they are so they can experience greater levels of well-being, resiliency, and success. She is also the founder of The Soul-Centered Series: Psychology, Spirituality, and the Teachings of Sydney Banks. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and watch her Vlogs with her husband. To learn more about her work go to her website, rohiniross.com.