We long for love, connection, and understanding, but oftentimes we don’t know how to create it.
Growing up in a goal-oriented society, we may develop a mindset that helps us succeed in business, but doesn’t do much to create safe and satisfying relationships. Pushing ourselves to work harder and promoting our viewpoints may increase sales figures or professional triumphs, but too much focus on success can be antithetical to love and intimacy.
Perhaps you’ve noticed how any hint of trying to control, persuade, or manipulate others pushes them away and creates distance. Inviting people toward us requires a different mindset and skillset. We create a fertile soil for connections by first connecting with ourselves. This means being mindful of what we’re experiencing from moment to moment.
Our perceptions of others may remain fixed, but our inner experience is constantly changing. One moment we may feel angry. Then, if we stay with that anger, we might notice deeper and truer feelings underlying it. Perhaps sadness or fear bubble up, along with a courageous willingness to soften into tithem–and hear what it might be trying to tell us.
As a marriage and family therapist for over 30 years, I often see couples directing their attention toward their partner. They analyze, tell stories that vilify their partner, and make a persuasive case that their partner is the problem.
It’s easier to see another’s flaws than to recognize our own blind spots. What’s often obscure to us — and the hidden key to resolution — is noticing and sharing what we’re actually experiencing inside. Relationship challenges are not like fixing a plumbing problem, where we need to focus on the external glitch. When it comes to relationships, we need to keep the focus on ourselves. That is, we need to notice or uncover what we’re genuinely feeling and wanting.
Conflicts are resolved and intimacy created not by bursting through the front door and pointing out others’ flaws, but by entering a more hidden side door that allows us entry into ourselves. We offer a gift to others by being courageously vulnerable and showing the more tender aspects of who we are.
For example, rather than burst in with a shaming, critical comment such as, “You’re so self-centered. You only think about yourself,” we might go inside and notice what we’re feeling about a situation.
Perhaps we’re sad that we’re not having enough time with our partner. Attending to our tender feelings and longings, we might say in a soulful way, “I’m feeling sad that we’re not having much time together lately. I’m missing you.” Revealing our authentic feelings and desires is more likely to elicit a positive response than a defensive reaction.
Attending to ourselves may seem like more work than pointing out our partner’s flaws. But we create more work and difficulty by perpetuating a cycle where we keep re-wounding each other, leaving us increasingly disconnected and hopeless. As we practice the simple act of noticing and gently revealing what we’re feeling, we’re doing our part to create a climate for love and connection to blossom.
Try this: The next time you encounter a difficult moment in a relationship, take a moment to pause, take a breath, and go inside yourself. Rather than reacting with hurtful words, criticism, or sarcasm, notice how you’re feeling in your body. Is there a tightness in your abdomen or constriction in your throat, or some other place? Are there any feelings you’re noticing? You might check in with yourself by asking, “What am I noticing inside right now? What am I really wanting?” Whatever comes, allow it to be as it is. Make space for your feelings without judging them or yourself. Most important, be gentle with yourself.
As you become more accepting of what you’re experiencing, you have an option to share what you have discovered if it feels right to do so. It may be wise to share a little bit at a time and notice how it feels to do so. If you feel heard, respected, and understood, perhaps it will feel right to share a little more.
As we walk a path of greater authenticity with ourselves and others, it’s important to keep noticing our motivation. If we’re trying to change or manipulate our partner rather than giving them space to be themselves and come toward us if they want to, then we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
We may enjoy a more fulfilling outcome if we share our authentic experience simply because it feels good to do so. We may discover a satisfying sense of integrity and satisfaction in expressing the truth of our experience no matter what response we receive. We cultivate a certain kind of healthy power by being true to ourselves and sharing our genuine inner experience.
Although it’s easier said than done, it can be a worthwhile practice not to get too attached to certain results, but instead keep our focus on being authentically present in our important relationships. This allows others the freedom to be themselves and move toward us if they feel safe and comfortable doing so.
Flickr photo by Alex Proimos