I think in these days of speed and trauma and a lot of us living in the Internet, I think we’ve learned maladaptive patterns of what it is to be in a healthy relationship. If we’ve grown up with a dysfunctional family, we may not even know what that is. Oftentimes love is just a series of manipulations and games, based on our brokenness and our unhealed wounding. We’re so afraid of getting hurt that we wind up withdrawing and hurting the other person first. Love can be just become a sad strategic game of power and control. Psychological and emotional abuse can be some of the only ways that people know how to relate. Unhealthy dynamics of narcissism and codependency, where you have a push me-pull you based on our co/core brokenness can become the norm.
I have the good fortune of being married for 20 years and have a healthy family and daughter, but it was hard forged. I came from a dysfunctional family and had myriads of abusive relationships before meeting my husband in my late 20s. Before him, I was even attacked a few times, once it was sadly close to deadly. I wasn’t able to see the red flags and from my naïveté and lack of experience, I didn’t know what types of men to stay away from and what types to accept. Thankfully, I did learn and I chose a very stable, grounded and clear person that has said that he would stay with me for my entire life.
However, no marriage is perfect and no person is perfect. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, personality flaws and capacities. The greatest danger in a long-term marriage is you can stop listening to each other, take each other for granted and you stop learning and growing. It happens all too often that the relationship over many years begins to flatline. I believe at this point, that marriages can fail. I think we’re hardwired two want to learn, to grow, to better ourselves and evolve through honest self reflection and introspection. I think it’s important for us to examine what real healthy love looks like versus unhealthy patterns.
I have always felt that relationship *is* the path, so the quality of love and how we are with those close to us, is our spiritual teacher, is everything. I’ve heard time and time again, from people on their deathbed, that the only thing that they say really mattered to them was the people that they love and any regrets that they have for anyone that they’ve hurt. Even people who have great devotion in some faith very rarely talk about the afterlife or their religious beliefs, it always comes down to the people who we treasured and who love us.
The first step I find in being able to be in healthy relationship is to be in a healthy relationship with myself. Do I talk to myself with a sense of gratitude, appreciation, forgiveness and kindness? Do I do the things that involve self-care like eating well, exercise, meditating and living my life’s calling as best as I can? Our romantic relationships will be a reflection of how we love, talk to and treat ourselves. From there, I think we naturally choose people that are capable of loving in a healthy way, are able to problem solve if difficulties arise and most importantly, people who can apologize and make personal change if they happen to make a mistake.
This is the single most key that differentiates a person with solid, closed, defensive narcissistic tendencies, from someone that is on some type of spiritual path of self awakening. This list above is a very simple and good guideline for us to examine the difference between genuine healthy love and love that is codependent based on our wounding and our trauma. I always say just like Jung’s image of the shadow, the moment you shine a light on a shadow, it disappears. I believe the no matter what happen to us in this life, no matter how much pain we are in, no matter how much trauma, all of us with some effort, deserve to love well and to be loved well. I don’t think any of us are cursed to be doomed to live a life of lonely solitude because of the things that happen to us. Once again, looking at how we can create the greatest love within and without is to me, the essence of the entire, truly brave, spiritual path.