Perhaps the most salient recognition that we can make about our relationships is that we have no real control over what someone else receives from us, and moreover, often we are not even aware of how our love is transmitted to someone else. This explains the strange yet common phenomenon of long-term relationship’s endings and the surprising conversations, which demonstrate this very fact. Two people who inhabit a single relationship are often in two very different relationships.
Our communication is the only real currency we have to know whether we have really connected or not. Yet often even our best communication skills don’t entirely resolve this dilemma because deficits of emotional intelligence and expressing our deeper selves can, by itself, cut us off from what we are giving or trying to receive. Hence, my repeated advice to couples who are struggling sexually to stop talking with words and to engage instead in a physical conversation where their bodies can sense authentically and where they can experience love viscerally.
Many couples never get there.
This truth of the difficulties inherent in giving and receiving accurately are portrayed in all of our intimate relationships with our parents, children and closest friends. I am still grappling with a very old friendship, which ended abruptly and am trying to figure out how my love for her never quite translated into her being able to reciprocate that. As I reflect on why I worked so hard to get this relationship to function, I realized the many ways that these dynamics mirrored those that plagued the one with my mother. This friend called me a “force of love” more than once in our 25-year long friendship, but somehow never was able to internalize that love. Instead, in the dance of her pulling back and me moving forward, I think all she internalized was the force part.
It is mysterious, the ways in which other people take in the love we are trying to offer and equally mysterious in how, in its rejection or misinterpretation, our love gets cloaked in need, making it harder to receive. The only solution to correcting this destructive downward cycle in anyone comes from the Buddhist tradition, called cultivating Bodichitta. In many ways, receiving requires one’s heart to be cracked open, a space where we choose our vulnerability as sacred and release the fear associated with our broken hearts.
It is right behind our courage to bear witness to our broken heart that we can witness and open to being filled with someone else’s love for us. At least this is what I have long argued for both this old friend of mine, as well as my mother. Still, for all my insisting, neither one has ever been able to truly receive the love that I had for them. I see now, because I needed them to so badly. This is one of the biggest confusions that silently kills love- where our giving is more need-based than loving.
It isn’t that need doesn’t come into love, it’s just that it can’t be the leader. I have always believed that the only time we really lose is when we quit; because usually the epiphany that we most need is waiting around the corner, and we never get to it if we quit. And yet, staying in a dynamic that won’t shift is also not worth our time.