‘Man is a knot into which relationships are tied.’ ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Life is made of moments of unraveling. There are good reasons everyday that things come undone, but perhaps none so painful as the un-doing of our most intimate relationships. It is easy to understand how living with the difficult emotions of disappointment, embarrassment and the irritation and resentment associated with loving people up close, can bring out the least attractive parts of ourselves. And how in turn this most difficult emotional space can impact our ability to stay loving and present in the relationships we have chosen.
Attributing the places where life unravels to the people we are with is a natural response to dealing with the most disquieting and ugly places we hold. More often it is a reflection of the universal experience of not being good enough. The quiet doubt of self worth has a million faces and touches people from all walks of life, regardless of educational background, income level and even family history. We are all a broken somewhere and suffer the debilitating effects of not feeling worthy of love, our own or anyone else’s during some points in our life.
What we do with this experience, defines the course of our relationships with the people we love as well as our own ability to expand and grow into the people we want to become. Naked honesty about our own unraveling, the places where we cannot hold ourselves together is a terrible reason to leave the people you love and is the reason most disguised when it comes to affairs. New relationships have a shiny glow that makes you believe that the ugly parts of yourself vanish, which explains the remarkably low success rates of second and third marriages with a 90% fail rate.
The truth is that relationships are our best hope for learning to live with and love the weakest parts of our character. It is in the daily work of our relationships, back in the old days, that meant working to stay alive like tending fields and creating food from the rawest of ingredients. Sharing real work was intimacy enough. Roles were born of necessity and human tribes known as families passed down values and wealth to the next generation. Life is different now and so our expectations of what and how marriage and pairing function have been altered into a fantasy that few can uphold.
The modern version of intimate partnerships is increasingly tied to how we feel about ourselves and our partners. Knowing that we all struggle with internal emotional unraveling while we grow and develop should make it off limits in measuring the worth of a relationship. Yet often the pain of looking at ourselves is so intense and the lure to escape it so powerful that we run, not realizing that it is in the capacity to stay and stay and stay that the ugliness retreats and transforms itself into peaceable acceptance.
I am no stranger to this process, both in my intimate and work life. I am regularly called to find the courage to lean in and feel the discomfort of my perceived failures as a wife, mother and business woman. I have tried it and know from the slides I have experienced that to retreat, to give up on the work, only makes it harder to come back to. There is really no way out when it comes to the work of the heart, there is only through.