The challenging gift of romantic relationships

I think we all agree that most relationships begin with a kind of spell, their own magic. We are fascinated by the other person and we create a promising vision of a common future where our lifelong dreams will finally come true.

With time passing by the pink glasses turn grey and the flipsides of the initially so enchanting parts of the partner become visible. But we stick to our vision and intensify our efforts to reach our goal. And all too often this is the beginning of the end – the end of the spell, of the vision and finally of the relationship.

But why? Why can something be doomed to failure when we give our best and try so much?

The truth is that – whether we want to acknowledge it or not – romantic relationships activate in both partners unresolved things from the family of origin and painful childhood situations. And the more painful these situations were, the more we are in need of a loving and caring partner who does not disappoint us.

As crazy as it may seem, we virtually re-stage childhood experiences with the current partner out of an unconscious desire of making a better experience today and finally feeling loved and accepted. We ultimately create possibilities to heal old wounds and painful experiences. The drama is – we are not aware of it.

The major part of our relationships (and not only the romantic ones) we live on an unconscious level. As we repeat conflicting patterns from our relationship with our parents, so does our partner. And not being aware of this in a conflictual situation, we both might feel personally disappointed, not valued, hurt, offended and desperate – two helpless children facing each other without finding a way out. Behind our anger or our sadness about trivial things lies the anger of our inner child, who is not sufficiently noticed and seen.

The tricky thing is that, as being under a magic spell we take on the behaviour of our mothers or fathers that once hurt us (or still does) and treat our partner the same way and – if that wasn’t enough – we continue to follow the internalized messages ourselves.

We still try to accomplish our tasks as perfectly as possible in order to receive love and confirmation and this many times includes having a perfect relationship. As a consequence we try to change our partners until he/she is finally perfect.

Or we still try to be a good girl or a good boy to get the love we need. We reach out for harmony and are ready to sacrifice ourselves for it, means we don’t dare to honestly say what we want to say and to live our own dreams and wishes.

So ultimately in most romantic relationships we do not see our partner, but we see ourselves reliving all those frustrating and hurtful episodes of our childhood. We believe that the partner finally will be the one to save us, to give us what we need, to complete what we are missing. And we forget that he or she is going through the same dilemma and longing for the same things to happen. I think we are all aware of the fact that this is practically impossible.

So where is the way out? Does this mean that a successful romantic relationship is out of reach for us human beings?

Well, this would really be sad, especially when we assume that for most people, one of the deepest experiences of a meaning in their life is to accomplish a successful romantic relationship.

The good news is that, as human beings we are 3-dimensional. We have a body, a soul and a spirit. And this spiritual dimension enables us to take a position and to make decisions – independently from the limitations of our body or the damages of our soul.

A romantic relationship is always about the two people involved. It is not about loving something about the person, what he or she does to make us feel unique. It is about the uniqueness of this very human being. Am I able to see his/her uniqueness or am I just looking for what makes me feel unique?

If we are still looking for something that makes us unique, we fall into a trap. Or we will be abusing the other person for our own necessities, our own longing of being needed, important, seen, etc. Or we will abuse/undermine ourselves in trying to fit in whatever gives us the impression of being loved.

Going back to the spiritual dimension of the human being and our ability to take a position and to make decisions, we can easily understand that children have no chance to unfold their potentials in this dimension. They would risk losing the attention, acceptance and maybe the love of their parents.

Since – as said before, in most relationship issues there are two helpless (grown-up) children facing each other, it is easily understood that we do not dare to take a position and make our own decisions. We are still convinced that if we did, we would lose the acceptance and the love of our loved one.

And you might say – but the issues arise because someone takes a position and makes own decisions. And I say – no! Though it might seem so, these “positions” or “decisions” are not real mature actions. They are reactions of helpless children trying to be seen, understood and loved.

It has been observed that 90% of the relational problems have to do with the biography of the partners, of what they have experienced as children, and all beliefs/unresolved issues inherited from their family system – only 10% with the actual relationship.

So imagine the relief when one realizes that the partner is not the problem, but the partner has a problem and I myself have a problem and it is no one’s fault. This understanding opens up a space of compassion for ourselves, for the partner and for what we/he/she have gone through.

“The wound of the unloved is the oldest of all wounds, the wound of being human” says psychoanalyst Peter Schellenbaum. And when we are aware of this and at the same time aware of that we are not helpless children any more, but grown-ups who are no longer dependent on their parents but responsible for themselves then we are able to take a stand and to make our own decisions. This is when we can recognize possibilities of actions to heal our wound, when we can get in contact with our own abilities and resources, with our own values and goals.

So the solution to relationship issues is not trying “to fix” the relationship – which will never ever work. The solution lies in exploring ourselves, our own needs and dreams, our wounds and disappointments, parental messages and internalized beliefs.

The decision to encounter ourselves is not an easy one, because – at least for a short time – it can mean to face old stuff that we have blocked out or pushed to the back of our mind. And yes, it can be uncomfortable and hurt – but at least it is something we really can work on, independently from others, independently from our partner. We can take action, we can take responsibility and we can change our life to the better.

Not every relationship can heal and find a new start, but every relationship issue is a precious gift of life that invites us to grow and develop personally.

No matter what will happen – one way or the other – we will be more conscious of ourselves, stronger, more autonomous and be able to love and respect ourselves more.

If the relationship breaks still we would have changed in the process, which means that we will not live the same hurtful patterns over and over again, and would thus not fall into the same emotional traps in a new relationship that will certainly happen one day. Maybe it will require some time for us to realize the benefits of what we went through – but believe me, this time will come.

If the relationship bears the test it will surely change to the better because it will no longer be based on reciprocal needs or adaption but on reciprocal respect and freedom. Our partner will no longer be someone who has to be “fixed” to be the perfect one and we will no longer live with the urge to constantly adjust to what the other one might need or to fight against it.

When we are able to see our own singularity and uniqueness – we will be able to see our partner’s singularity and uniqueness, too. Then – and only then the encounter between two human beings will turn into a real love relationship – which might be totally different from what we expect or from what mainstream media put in our minds, i.e. from the Hollywood image of living happily ever after.

May you all discover your own and your partner’s uniqueness and live your own unique loving relationships.

Ursula Maria Bell