I have often heard people say, "If you have to work hard at a relationship, then it's not the right relationship for you." I completely disagree.
This might be true if:
- You were brought up with two parents who role-modeled taking 100 percent personal responsibility for their own feelings -- neither of them turning to addictions to avoid their feelings.
- Both of your parents were open to learning with each other when conflict arose. Neither of them got angry or withdrew in conflict. Neither of them gave themselves up to avoid conflict.
- Your parents were openly affectionate with each other.
- Your parents laughed and played with each other, obviously delighting in each other.
- Your parents supported each other in their highest good.
- Both of your parents were loving and available with you, supporting you in being all you can be. You felt valued by them and important to them.
- Your partner had the same experience with his or her parents.
If this describes both you and your partner, then you likely have an easy relationship because this is what you learned in your households. But most people did not have this experience. You might have been brought up in a single-parent household so you didn't see a loving relationship role-modeled. Or, if you had two parents or caregivers, you may have seen them:
- Blame each other or you for their painful feelings -- not being there for themselves, abandoning themselves.
- Turn to various addictions, such as food, alcohol, drugs, TV, work, spending, anger and so on, to avoid feeling and taking responsibility for their feelings.
- Use anger, withdrawal, resistance and/or giving themselves up to control each other or avoid conflict.
- Not knowing how to lovingly resolve conflict due to being closed to learning with each other.
- Not being there for each other emotionally. Not supporting each other's highest good.
- Not laughing, playing or showing much affection with each other or with you.
- Not being there to love and support you in your highest good. Instead, you might have felt rejected and/or overly controlled by them.
If this describes you and/or your partner, or if even one or two of the above is what you experienced growing up, then you come into a relationship with some baggage. You might be treating yourself the way your parents or caregivers treated themselves and/or you, and therefore you are abandoning yourself as they abandoned you or themselves. You might have a fear of intimacy, stemming from fears of rejection and/or of engulfment stemming from your parents or caregivers being rejecting and/or overly controlling with you. You might get immediately triggered into anger, withdrawal, compliance or resistance when conflict arises, creating a situation where conflict doesn't get resolved.
Your relationship can be a valuable arena to learn to move from the second list to the first list -- if you and your partner are willing to do your inner work to heal. But if you have the expectation that your relationship should be easy, then you might move on if it is hard, only to discover that the next one and the one after that, and so on, are also hard.
One of my clients told me that his father gave him wonderful advice on the day of his wedding. "My father said to me, 'Relationships are easy -- after the first 30 years of marriage. Until then, they are a lot of work.'"
If you have an easy relationship that has maintained passion, aliveness, connection, joy, fun and play, you are very fortunate. Some people have an easy relationship because they settle for far less than connection, passion and aliveness. They avoid conflict and settle for peace and companionship, which is fine -- if this is what both people want. But if you want a relationship that maintains deep emotional and physical connection, a relationship where you rarely feel lonely with each other, a relationship that is always evolving and growing toward deeper intimacy, then you likely have to be willing to work at it by healing your own issues.
Instead of seeing this as a problem, why not see it as a wonderful journey toward wholeness and the deep sharing of love?
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Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" -- the first two weeks are free!