Why are relationships so hard?

Dear Pervettes,

Was it just me or did it seem like everyone was going through some huge relationship crisis this past year? As I was navigating through my polyamorous landmine in November, I was coaching my friends through theirs. The advice I gave was given back to me at key moments when I was so deep in my situation I couldn’t see it for what it was. At times I felt like I was an emotional masochist. Just taking it. But something would happen in the darker hours. A breakthrough would occur. And I could see why I was going through this. I’m on the other side of it now (thank god). And I’m trying to put it all together, everything that I’ve learned. So I’m writing this to myself and to anyone who has ever asked..

Why are relationships so hard??

Having just been there and knowing how alone you can feel in your heartache, and how sometimes the advice “you’ll get through this, it just takes time” doesn’t actually make you feel any better. So I’m going to attempt to make you feel better by helping you see the bigger picture. Or at least this is the picture that I see.

Here’s how I conceptualize life and relationships. I see life as a journey, up a mountain. The goal is to reach the top, to reach your highest self. And how you get there is by growing and learning. How do you learn? From books, experiences and because we’re social creatures, we are shaped by and oftentimes learn about ourselves through our relationships.

Staying put in one place along your journey is easy. But climbing it is hard work. And it can be painful.

But every hardship, every heartache, is that opportunity to climb higher.

The hardship that you face is truth presented to you. That conflict or struggle (with another or within you) is trying to reveal to you what you need to see in order to grow.

That thing you need to see in order to grow (which is actually reality) isn’t easy to see. As we tend to see what we want to see, which is through the lens of our ego. Then how do we see reality, outside of our ego? You have to recognize the ego. This is incredibly hard to do. I find it’s only easy to spot when it’s bruised and not your own. When I hurt my partner, I can see his clearly. It kind of looks like an unreasonable self-entitled child that’s throwing things at you to get your attention. It’s basically the most unattractive side of you.  It’s also fear. It’s the voice inside you that’s trying to protect you from getting hurt. It tells you to not be vulnerable. It tells you to run away first (“You don’t want to be abandoned, do you?”). Or it tells you to lash out. (“You hurt me, so I’m going to hurt you back”). Sometimes it distorts your feelings in its attempt to preserve your identity (“No, no, you’re not the jealous type”). It builds the wall between you and the world, by judging and criticizing the other. It finds all the differences between you and the other and highlights it. It’s also not really listening to what the other is saying because it’s too busy defending itself or fighting back. That’s the ego. It’s the hurt child that’s pretending to be a tough adult.

It’s the bratty voice inside that blames the world (not itself) for our suffering. But the irony is that suffering actually comes from the ego. Because the ego holds on to expectations. And suffering is the difference between expectation and reality. Then what are the expectations we’re holding on to? Is it the image of how things should be as we rewind to the beginning of the when everything was fresh with new relationship energy? Or is it the idea that we were meant to be together and really the fear that no one is going make you feel this way ever again? Or is it the model of how the ideal partner should be, always attentive, can read your mind, is perfect in every way. These are all UNREAL expectations. Can you let them go? Can you accept an imperfect reality?

So the ego is basically a relationship-sabotaging machine. Try as hard as you can to quiet this voice. And whatever you do, don’t let it speak for you, especially in a heated conversation with your partner, unless you like ugly fights that don’t end well. Letting go of your ego is like taking off your armor and putting your arms down. If you stop shielding yourself, you can actually begin to see the other side. You can hear what they’re saying. You can see how you’ve hurt them. You can see why they’re lashing out or running away. If you go even deeper, you can even feel their pain. Now is not the time to be a warrior. It’s time to be vulnerable.

When the ego is quiet, not only can you see the other with more clarity, you can begin to see yourself. My turning point was when I was able to see my own flaws, which was that I can justify everything I do (because y’know, my intentions are always good). Everything that I knew—my default ways of being, my defense mechanisms—got me to here. But it won’t get me beyond. To climb, to be with someone, we have to break away from what we know. We have to learn how to change. We have to learn how to be better for ourselves and each other.

What about your partner? Can you see them for all that they are. Not just the good when it was good. But everything, especially their wounded child selves. Can you see them in every light? And you have to ask yourself, Can this person climb this mountain with you? Can they weather this storm? Or are they stuck? Are they carrying too much baggage that they can’t let go? If they’re wounded, are they willing to let themselves be healed? Can they lift you up? Or are they dragging you down? Can they change and grow with you? Or is this as far as they can go with you? If you both can learn from this rough patch, then you advance to the next level with more tools in your toolkit. If you can’t, then you grow apart.

Maybe that’s why relationships are so hard. It’s like climbing a mountain. It’s work. We’re working on ourselves in order to be with each other. Because there are places we can’t get to alone.  Sometimes we get lucky and we find someone who can help us get there.  When you do, I would recommend putting all of yourself into this person, risking pain and heartache. Because the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. So just love (let go of ego, let yourself be hurt) and learn as much and as fast as you can. And be grateful for this mountain. Because without it, you cannot climb.



photo: Mt. Shasta from the trees