Growing Together Separately
The growth of an individual within a relationship can be tricky, at times even difficult or painful. How does one honor and follow their individual path while at the same time respecting their relationship? What happens when one partner is growing and the other remains stagnant? What if you feel alive and stimulated by your new passion and your partner feels it’s nonsense? What do you do? Many people fear they need to take an either/or position. They believe that either they have to give up their new passion in an attempt to keep the relationship together or leave the relationship in order to remain true to themselves. There are other choices. In this article we will explore both the questions and possible answers.
First, let’s look at the definition of growth. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, growth is defined as “progressive development” or “evolution.” We view growth as an invitation to reach beyond our normal way of perceiving the world and to broaden our perspective by remaining open to new ideas. In other words, growth is being willing to learn about ourselves, others, and the world. For example, if someone hands us a copy of The Celestine Prophecy and asks us to read it, do we toss it aside as `new age rhetoric’ or do we open our minds in an attempt to understand the author’s message? If our partner has just begun meditating and feels it is offering them a much needed sense of peace, do we put it down and say it’s a waste of time or do we try to support this strange new practice that takes them away from us? How much growth are we really open to in our lives?
Growth, by its very nature, can lead to problems within a relationship. One obvious problem is that there are two people in a relationship, each growing at different rates and having different priorities in life. For instance, one partner may want to achieve growth in the work place and for the other, spirituality may be their first priority. We see this quite commonly in our practice, one person may feel the spiritual path is most important in their life while the other partner concentrates on financially supporting or raising the family. Other problems that may arise include feelings of abandonment or of being held back. The partner who wants to follow a spiritual path may feel held back by the one who wants to continue with their normal life style. On the other hand, the person who is happy with their normal routine, may experience a loss when their partner takes up these strange new practices. What to do. . . . .
When we look at growth as “an opportunity to reach beyond our normal way of perceiving the world,” these seemingly incompatible choices provide a tremendous opportunity to grow. They give us a chance to love someone as they are, without judging or trying to change them. This in turn allows us to expand our capacity to give and receive love. It has been said that when choosing a partner, your mind will naturally seek the easiest person to be with while your heart, your inner self, will seek the person who can best help you in your search for truth. Also helpful is the ancient wisdom that the chemistry of love knows only equality, each soul having just as much to learn as the other has to teach.
Barry and Joyce Vissell in their book The Shared Heart tell us that growing in opposite directions seems to be one of the tests that people face as they journey on the spiritual path. According to the Vissell’s it is important to know that we are drawn to a partner because of spiritual balance. That partner will help us grow in every way, including areas that we need to develop. When we are faced with difficult times, we need to remember what attracted us to our partner in the first place, what stirred our soul. When we can do that, we will be deeply moved by the love we once felt. This helps us to reestablish our connection. It is easy to slip into the pattern of not really seeing our mate. Their spiritual or inner beauty is always there. One of the most important spiritual practices we can do right now is to focus on our partner’s spiritual self, thereby drawing it out with our love and attention. As we all know, aspects of a person which are positively reinforced tend to flourish. Also, as this process evolves, you will notice yourself changing into a more loving person. “Perhaps,” suggest the Vissell’s, “your partner right now is serving as your greatest spiritual teacher and your loving him unconditionally will take you over a step you might not be able to go alone.”
Marilyn:With this couple, the growth gap was just too big to overcome. Too many years had passed without communicating their true feelings and desires. They had stopped seeing the inner beauty of their mate and no longer want to try. When Jane and Tom came to therapy, Jane was in her third year of graduate school and had discovered a whole new world. Training to become a transpersonal therapist, she was enthralled with all she was learning. Tom, an engineer working his way up the corporate ladder, thought his wife’s new interests were a waste of time. He worked hard all day for his family and wanted his wife’s support. Tom wanted a partner who could be a perfect wife and mother. He also wanted someone who was willing to share the financial responsibility for running a household in these increasingly difficult economic times. Jane felt alive for the first time in years. She wanted understanding and acceptance for her new passion. She was willing to help out financially, but only in her chosen profession. Both were unhappy and unwilling to budge. They had not spoken about their needs and passions since Jane had returned to school and they did not want to start now. When this happens and we have lost hope or are unable to remember those qualities that first attracted us to our partner, there is really nothing that can be done. The work then becomes ending the relationship with love and integrity.
Chuck:Here is a case where the man wanted to change the relationship. Jack is an artist who is doing a lot of soul searching lately. Lisa is a corporate executive who is struggling with her new promotion. Jack is asking questions like: why am I here, who am I with, what is our purpose together? Lisa is asking: how can I do my job to the best of my ability and stay ahead of the game? Jack is having a hard time with Lisa not seeing what is really important to him and is seriously considering leaving the marriage. He brought his issues to a head the other day and it came out that he wanted to leave. In the ensuing discussion with Lisa, he began to see all the wisdom that she had within her. Jack realized that she was the one who had many of the insights about what was going on in their relationship. He saw her inner beauty. It had merely been obscured by the pressures that she was dealing with at work. Jack really saw how much of a balance that they had between them and in just that moment he began to open up and share even more of his deepest feelings. He found that Lisa was interested in some of his ideas about how to deepen the relationship, she just didn’t have the time right now. They re-committed to each other and began to make time to talk and listen to each other about what was most important.
John Welwood, author of Journey of the Heart, takes another approach. He asks what happens if a couple no longer needs each other to fill their old co-dependent roles. Should they move forward and risk losing everything or should they stay where they are and continue to feel stuck? Moving beyond old patterns requires a frightening leap into the unknown. This is when practicing what Welwood terms beginner’s mind – not holding on to any fixed idea about how things are supposed to be – becomes essential. Couples wonder what will happen if they let go of their old ways of being. They worry about how they will relate to each other. If a couple is willing to let their relationship patterns die, then they can begin to recreate them into something new and more appropriate. With every step they take, a sense that they are deepening the relationship keeps them moving forward. Using the concept of beginner’s mind, we lose our investment in a rigid or preconceived notion of who our partner is. We can then see our partner freshly each time we look at them. Welwood concludes: “If two people can face each other in a spirit of beginner’s mind, they will discover that their connection can continually expand beyond domestic familiarity, to include a larger sense of space and mystery.”
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