By Makarand Paranjape
Relationships are central to our existence, yet no intimate relationship is simple or can be taken for granted. Building healthy relationships needs work, patience, tolerance and compassion
Relationships are one of the most difficult areas of human life. The closer the ties the harder are the challenges. A good deal of our happiness, and our sorrow, arises from these relationships. The people nearest to us, such as spouses, parents, children, siblings, or close friends and relatives are usually the source of our deepest anxieties, fears, insecurities, unhappiness or pain, as indeed they are of joy, love, support, affirmation, comfort, solace, guidance, and even liberation.
If relationships are so central to our existence as human beings, if we spend so much time on them and in them, if they can, in fact, make or break us, then what is the secret to getting them right? If only we knew this, we might not only prevent much sorrow but also actually create a good deal of happiness. And we may finally find a way of being at peace with ourselves and with others. There is, of course, no simple answer to this complicated question. Relationships are often like labyrinths, each choice leads to many others, each missed opportunity comes back to haunt us. Every mistake is magnified, every error multiplied until, in the end, we might find ourselves completely lost, helpless and confused, even devastated. Where did we go wrong? What could we have done better? Why did we waste all those years? How can we rectify the mistakes?
To approach this complex human problem, we must start with the basics. First of all, we have to understand that no intimate relationship is simple or can be taken for granted. It needs a lot of work, patience, tolerance and compassion. Loving the other person makes them feel safe and removes insecurities and suspicions. They stop being angry or retaliatory, begin to relax and behave reasonably. Indeed, it is our inability to love that is the cause of so many of our problems.
But how can we love when we are dry and depleted within, when we are needy ourselves and look to the other to quench our thirst? What can he give who is impoverished himself? This indeed becomes the key issue in any relationship. What we seek from the other is what we lack in ourselves. Partial, incomplete, and inadequate in and of ourselves, we seek completion, fullness and adequacy through others. And usually we end up disappointed. That’s because the other expects the same from us. In this clash of expectations, many a relationship fails.
There are a few lucky ones who find the complementarity wherein others, whose wants they in turn meet, meet their wants. Such reciprocity leads to a healthy relationship. Rather than trying to be perfect in oneself, each partner acknowledges his or her weakness and supports the other in his or her quest for fulfillment.
On closer observation, one can notice an asymmetry even in those relationships that seem to be perfectly balanced and mutually supportive. There is always a gap between the partners, a slight disequilibrium or inequality. No relationship is so perfect as to escape this imbalance. But in good, affirmative relationships, these disjunctions are acknowledged, accepted, or ignored, and thus overcome. Usually, we find one of the two partners taking a more understanding approach, giving up something in order for the relationship to thrive. Such sacrifices ought not to be viewed as compromises but as conscious choices for the greater good of the relationship.
There are, however, some relationships that seem to be impossible, if not exceptionally difficult. Someone we are closely connected with becomes a source of much pain and suffering. In such cases, we need to remember that this person is a part of our life because perhaps there is an unpaid karmic debt that we owe him or her. We should, therefore, discharge this debt with a joyous detachment, if possible, rather than a sorrowful resistance.
We can view whatever happens to us as being either purely accidental, or that there is method in it, that, in fact, everything does or eventually will make sense. If we believe in the latter, we know that we have chosen every test and trial that we face.
If so, it is our duty to do our best in every situation by offering a quiet, supportive love to the other, irrespective of what we get in return. Of course, sometimes it is also necessary to withdraw entirely from a person and to break free from a relationship we know is damaging for us in the long run. On the other hand, if we can affirm, renew, and release what is positive in that relationship, it is never too late to mend it, to set it right, and thereby free ourselves from repeating its trauma.
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