Beyond Bliss: Creating Conscious Beginnings
When Rey and Chris first came to me, they couldn't stop looking at each other. They moved their bodies almost in unison, and when each stopped to talk with me separately, it wasn't long before they found their way back to each other's eyes. It was as if they were a single entity.
Two years later, they were breaking up.
How does this happen?
I see it happen so often, I'm more interested in the question, How does it not happen?
There's a saying that's also a book title. It goes, "Before enlightenment, the laundry. After enlightenment, the laundry." This stems from the idea is that we hear about enlightenment as a sought-after state that will bring us a kind of otherworldly exaltation that somehow absolves us from everyday concerns. In fact, we face the same everyday concerns no matter our spiritual state.
It's the same with intimate connection. Before bliss, the skills. After bliss, the skills. Skills and perspectives are what will protect us from some of the most obvious pitalls of relationship, and help us navigate the inevitable rocky terrain humans encounter when they start getting close. Though it's the last thing we may want to think about as we're falling for someone, I think more awareness rather than less can actually create a special kind of sexiness--the kind that comes from building a solid foundation for lasting connection.
When we know some of the common features of intimate relationships, we can better prepare to make conscious choices over time, and create that kind of foundation. Here are some things I've noticed that help to keep in mind:
1. Infatuation is an altered state When you're crushed out on someone, your brain gets flooded with hormones. This alters your perception of reality, yourself, the other person, and your relationship.
During this stage, it's not uncommon to build up an image of the other as the source that will finally end all your pain, loneliness, and heal your deepest wounds. Mind you, we don't do this consciously! But the sense of peace, delight, and oneness of the universe that often accompanies new relationships stems not from any actual guaranteed outcome of the relationship, but rather from the love chemicals bathing your brain.
Therefore, remember to check in with your brain.
It may be that your brain is also totally on board with this connection. It also may be that your brain has given you warning signs from very early on, that something is amiss. Sometimes we feel intense attractions because the person we're attracted to runs patterns so similar to those who wounded us early on. When we recognize this, we can make more conscious choices around it, even as we feel strong feelings of attraction.
2. Feelings--and brain states--shift over time
Generally, as the sex and attraction hormones abate, and attachment hormones start kicking in, the way we respond to the other will also shift. We also get to see how they respond after they let their "new relationship" guard down. How do they handle stress? How do they treat you in daily life? In my experience, both these things--response and behavior shifts--happen around the same time--generally at 7 months, but I'd say anywhere between 6 months to a year. At some point in that range, both behaviors and brain chemistry start to shift, and each person's true colors start shining through.
Therefore, repeat to yourself during those early stages, "I'm not in a position to make any life-altering decisions."
Moving in can wait. Pooling your money on a major purchase will still be available next year. Starting a business together can happen at any time. Think of it this way: You wouldn't inject an ecstasy-inducing drug before deciding to make a major change to your life. It's the same with that early-stage rush that new relationship brings. Talk about it. Think about it. Dream big! But wait to jump.
3. "Love brings up everything unlike itself so we can heal"
This means that all our unhealed wounds can come to the fore when we're being loved, or even given loving attention, by another. Even a bit of kind, warm presence can bring up tears, or the body's natural functions of shaking off stress. This is a big part of what we do in Wisdom of the Body sessions--create a field of love and spaciousness where the wisdom of the client's own body leads her (or him) to movement, sound, or posture that's needed for healing.
However, the parts of us that want to heal often got dismissed or punished early on, and covered over by shame and fear. So instead of getting to move through the straightforward process of crying or shaking or raging that our bodies needed to do with aware attention, we learned to stuff our feelings to survive, and instead adopted somatic patterns to survive those early circumstances.
Intimate love relationships in particular can call forth those parts of us that want to heal. Love can reactivate those old survival patterns and we can wind up creating more distance instead of more closeness. Our animal brains get the signal, "Finally! A chance to heal!" But because so few of us received the loving attention we needed to move through our deepest wounds, we unconsciously respond with the same patterns of stress, anxiety, aggression, withdrawal or pulling that we learned in response to less-than-ideal childhood conditions. Our systems come to believe that without those patterns, we will not survive, even if our rational mind knows otherwise.
If our partner's loving presence brings out, for example, a need for affection that didn't get met, instead of asking directly for what we want, our survival patterns may drive us to do or say things that push our partner away.
Therefore, realize from the beginning that parts of you will surface that are pleas to heal, in disguise. Recognize them as such. Ask for the support you need to move through them.
"I'd like to experience you holding my hand and staying while I tell you how it felt to have you leave the room."
"Can I be three years old for ten minutes? I need to be held and cry."
"I'd like some space to experience you in the same room but not requiring that I interact."
In the right circumstances, these are the kinds of requests (not demands) that can help you and partner be on the same side of helping each other to heal what comes up in relationship. Relationship can be an exquisite environment in which to heal old wounds, piece by piece, as you and your partner can fully consent to being there for each other. Your creativity, ability to ask for what you want, and to consent only to what you want to give, are the only limits to this potentially lifelong exercise!
None of this suggests not to enjoy the delicious rush of feelings that new relationships bring. With some awareness of what's happening to your brain, and some skills to navigate all that these new feelings bring up, you can lay the groundwork for your new love to nourish you for years to come.