“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” -Rilke
Imagine if we began our relationships with the vow, “I take you as my burden, to have and to hold from this day forward.” Call me jaded, but I think if people understood that committing to love someone over time is agreeing to the most enriching burden you will ever carry, we would leave each other less. We would enter the challenge of relating with our eyes open and be prepared for the serious heavy lifting that love takes. We would not get married expecting it to be a long-term romantic getaway. We would know that our relationships are the most loving chance we have to grow up.
I was heartened when I heard Dr. Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, echo this belief on my radio show last week. His book and the therapy model identify that the highest purpose of any intimate relationship is to build a “couple bubble” whose job is to maintain security and safety for both partners to grow and develop. In this scenario, it is the relationship that comes first. This level of commitment has also been referred to as a “conscious partnership,” where you both recognize that your marriage or relationship is not about you or the other partner, it is about itself.
Ironically, it is when you honor the commitment to this third reality, by being more responsible to the needs of the relationship than your own needs, that real transformation and healing takes place. When you make your relationship primary and your own needs secondary, you produce the paradoxical effect of getting your needs met in a way that they can never be met by making them primary. It is, in fact, where the deep and magical reciprocity of love lives and flourishes. When you pour love into the container of your love with someone else, you discover a foundation of strength and a space of acceptance that cannot come from a desire to meet your own needs.
The truth is that none of us enter our intimate relationships unscathed. We all bring our own version of high maintenance, unresolved needs that occur throughout our early years of learned attachment. Our pairing later in life is our attempt to heal the broken places inside of us. Furthermore, we generally choose well when we find our mates to work on those issues. What we don’t have is the understanding that this is the work of life. We get swept up in the romance and forget how profoundly annoying human beings are. We refuse the messy work necessary to grow beyond the early wounds we bring to love.
The miracle of the container, “the couple bubble,” is that when you can agree to hold the space sacred between you and your partner, when your partner’s sense of security and safety with you is as important to you as your own, you are transported to a new level of reliable and sustainable presence that transforms your deepest and oldest pain into something workable, lovable even, just by being held in loving attention.
So, if you want to give something that matters, start here. Begin by honoring and being responsible to the container of your relationship. Let its needs guide your priorities and behavior. Let go of your own needs and trust that they will be met in this container. And yes, both people have to be grown up enough to want this to work, otherwise it is just another kind of co-dependency.
The reason that marriage, or any kind of relationship that is a closed loop, has been held in such sacred esteem is that two people who are guardians for each other’s hearts is perhaps the most soulful and spiritual love that we have access to. It is not for the faint of heart or for those who think they are lucky when they find it. This is the truest work of pure creation.