Establishing Solid Foundations
Love is the most powerful force in the Universe, and expanding our capacity to love is for most of us a gradual and ongoing pursuit. Many of us harden our heart with years of self-protection to avoid pain. To love another person, however, we need to have some softness of heart, which involves being able to feel rather than cut off from our emotions. It's impossible for someone to have an intimate and meaningful relationship with us if we're rock-like. So, to be emotionally accessible, we need to let down our defenses and avoid shielding ourselves from hurt. If pain can't get in, love can't flow out. Whereas our life improves commensurately with our unfolding of this ability, we don't want to wait until we've reached the state of absolute love before we enjoy a satisfying relationship.
Love is extremely important to most people. When we're agreeably attached, a positive spin-off permeates many other areas of our life. We enjoy the intimate connection, and there's a mutual exchange of love, acceptance, understanding and encouragement. Contented relationship partners experience a sense of belonging and their life has stability, meaning and purpose. They delight in making love and being close, supportive and affectionate with each other. Conversely, when our relationships are troubled we tend to feel disenchanted with life in general. If you're in a relationship that's less than satisfactory, take heart! When our intimate connections are a source of heartache, we have the opportunity to stare truth in the face, and to expand our self by finding more constructive and rewarding ways of being.
There are many determinants of enduring relationships. Concepts like connection, cooperation, common values, commitment, compatibility, communication, clear conscience, caring, conflict management, compassion, companionship and closeness are important, but let's start by establishing a healthy foundation. In team sports like football, team members have to build their own skills to be able to contribute to the team. The same applies in relationships. Partners build their relationship stamina by having a well-developed self. When we develop ourself by regularly expanding our self-esteem we become emotionally mature. Being able to respect and accept of ourself and our unlimited potential leads us to be more open-hearted about respecting and accepting our partner and fostering her/his potential.
People with low emotional maturity tend to focus on their partner's faults and pressure him/her to change rather than taking self-responsibility, i.e. responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and actions. When problems arise, our relationship benefits when we reflect on what of our values, thoughts, emotions or behaviours elicit what we don't like in our partner. For example, if I'm judgmental my partner may become secretive rather than risk incurring my criticism. Even when you're very hurt by a transgression your partner has made, rather than blaming her/him, consider how you contributed to the situation. Clearly, the more partners are self-scrutinising and taking self-responsibility, the more loving and lovable they become.
When they're in relationships, people who are dedicated to self-development are more interesting to their partner because they don't stagnate. Starting their relationship from a solid base where they're aware of their strengths and limitations and have a general sense of self-acceptance, emotionally mature people know what they want and can communicate what they are and aren't willing to offer and accept. Self-esteem, a by-product of self-acceptance and self-responsibility, includes being generally self-sustaining, self-reliant and self-nourishing. For love to flourish, ideally we're able to give ourself approval and positive regard, such that we're less inclined to be unreasonably needy or demanding with a partner.
Integrity, another crucial element of a loving relationship that's related to self-esteem, develops through having the courage to deal with our self-deception, defenses, justifications and rationalisations. When we behave with integrity we derive a greater sense of self-worth. Integrity includes being honest, trustworthy, and faithful in word and action. It's about having the courage to be true to ourself, which means living responsibly from our passions rather than from our fears and inhibitions, so it involves a willingness to listen to our own heart. When we develop the practice of listening to our heart we become more receptive to the hearts of others. Our socialisation largely encourages us to conform to the norms and expectations of our society, culture, religion, parents, etc., which may not be true to the unique you. There is not just one right or valid way of being. We have the choice of living authentically, as opposed to living according to the standards of others.
If you want to take some action toward enhancing your emotional maturity and augmenting your ability to love, pause now and take stock of yourself. When you've honestly assessed yourself you will find both agreeable and disappointing elements – you wouldn't be human otherwise! Remember, though, that competence and abilities aren't an indication of our actual worth. An individual may be more competent in one or several areas than another but no one is better than, or less than, any other person. Actually, our worth is unquestionable and independent of our skills, personality variables, etc.
To sustain a loving relationship, although aiming generally to be self-accepting, it's valid to be dedicated to our continuous improvement. It's likely that many of your behaviours that aren't ideal can be changed under your own direction but you might benefit from counselling if your self-critique relates to challenges such as jealousy, disproportionate anger, irrational fear, sexual dysfunction, addictions, etc. Consider taking systematic action in terms of what you can change through perseverance. Pick an aspect of your behaviour where you fall short of your ideal and determine a goal you'd like to achieve that will result in you being closer to your ideal. Next, plan a step-by-step process that will result in you attaining your goal. Be careful that your goal is to be true to yourself rather than to dance to the rhythm of someone else's drum. When you've designed your action plan – this might seem obvious – but you actually have to follow through - repeatedly! Smart ideas and intentions are all well and good, but the Universe rewards action. Taking this sort of approach builds self-esteem and enhances your emotional maturity. Moreover, in doing so you're acting lovingly toward yourself. How can we act lovingly toward a partner if we avoid doing so for ourself?
First published "Free Spirited" Magazine February, 2004
Copyright – Elizabeth Ryan, December, 2003 – All Rights Reserved
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