Not a Problem!

Posted on in Healthy Living by Robert Augustus Masters

Making Wise Use of the
Difficult Stuff in Relationship


The closer we are to our intimate other, the more painful the absence or diminishing of closeness between us (and yet the less we mind such pain if our relationship is sufficiently mature).

A feeling of disconnection arises and thickens, the mind lists reasons, and attention gauges the density and strength of the distance between us.

Some witnessing capacity is present, but love may be having trouble taking root. Anger, fear, shame, hurt make it difficult to see what is actually happening. And attachment to being right makes it even more difficult.

What’s left of us cannot see a way out (except perhaps intellectually), but there usually is a knowingness that the way out is in. Instead of turning away from our pain, we can turn toward it. And, step by conscious step, enter it, cultivating more and more intimacy with it.

Being close to our partner feels so good, so heartwarming and enlivening, that it’s easy to make a problem out of times when we don’t feel close. What we tell ourselves at these times we need to learn not to take so seriously—unless there’s abuse involved—for it is mostly just the voice of hurt or self-importance.

Our challenge, our ongoing labor of love, is to be as intimate as possible with whatever is occurring, including our respective stuckness, reactivity, or closed-off-ness. It is, of course, easier to spot the other’s stuckness and hold it accountable for ours.

It’s not so easy to be intimate with the difficult stuff within when we’re in it up to our eyeballs. But after a certain point—the length of which provides an accurate measure of our self-inflicted suffering—what else is there to do? How much more can we milk it for it’snot-fair handouts?

Being intimate with the difficult stuff is not about feel-good payoffs but rather about not losing touch with what really matters, however fragile or slippery our connection to that may seem. Spending some time openly feeling—feeling into, feeling through, feeling for—our closed-off-ness to our partner opens us, if only by widening the cracks in whatever selfpossessed containers we are busy occupying. Again, this isn’t easy, given that we may not feel much like taking a break from whatever seems so important that we’ve allowed it to possess us.

But when we are deep in the muck—caught up in feeling doubtful or otherwise negative about our relationship with our beloved—we can at least acknowledge that that is where we are, however embarrassing it might be. This is where we can very profitably drop all blame and stop indulging in reactivity and any selfcondemnation for being reactive.

We might also drop any romantic notions we have regarding advanced states of intimate relationship. Difficulties will continue, reactivity will not disappear, and obstacles large and small will continue to cross our path—regardless of what stage of relationship we’re occupying. And thank God for this, for without them and the discomfort they provide, we would likely stay stuck, too cozily snuggled into our daily life’s automatic acts to awaken from the entrapping dreams we so readily inhabit.

This use of discomfort—this willingness to allow our suffering to be a form of grace—sooner or later generates gratitude in the revelatory raw, gratitude for what we normally do not feel gratitude for, gratitude for being alive, gratitude for having the capacity to make wise use of difficult conditions.

And what gets us back on track? Sometimes taking enough time to let what has happened settle; sometimes letting another’s pain really touch us; sometimes remembering what really matters. Mostly, though, it is a matter of becoming more fully present. Even if we are in a seriously endarkened state, we can be present in it and to it, and we can also remember to love, regardless of how numb or reactive we may feel.

This does not mean that our heart will necessarily open easily, but it does mean that a seed of awakening and care is being nourished. What else can we do when we are off track, and recognize that this is so, other than to locate, nourish, and fuel our intention to get back on track? As we lift our head from the mud, we are akin to the first creatures that left the sea and found themselves on land, wriggling free enough of their past to take in the sky.

And we fundamentally are that sky, home to every one of our qualities, containing both thunderbolt and ethereal wisp, already having room for all, already beyond whatever we take ourselves to be, yet also always right here, remembering when we are clouded by difficulties that whatever is happening is only part of what is really happening.

This we cannot truly figure out or explain but only embrace, letting it remind us of who and what we are. Thus do we expand our love. Thus do we touch what has always touched us. Thus do we go on, gradually lessening our demand that our path be straight, until we are not only walking freedom’s pathless path but in a very real sense are that path. This is not the end but the beginning of a truly human life—and what a joy, what grace, what a miracle of mutuality, what a sacred privilege, to do and share this with another!

Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, is a relationship expert, integral psychotherapist, and psychospiritual guide and trainer. He is cofounder with his wife, Diane, of the Masters Center for Transformation and author of many books, including Transformation Through Intimacy, Spiritual Bypassing, Emotional Intimacy, and To Be a Man.

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