Turning Great Relationships Into Enlightened Partnerships – Part One
An enlightened partnership is an intentional creative relationship that fosters the development and evolution of each partner and is dedicated to a soulful wisdom, compassion and trust. Enlightened partners are motivated by an inner vision and passion for a high level of cooperation and creativity.
Committing to enlightened partnerships is not for everyone. There is a difference between simply having great relationships and having enlightened partnerships. The crux of that difference lies in intention and aspiration. The intention of an enlightened partnership is to use the relationship consciously for spiritual growth, to heal unresolved issues from the past and to become fully awake. That is, after all, the meaning of enlightenment — to be fully awake to reality, free of the illusions that invisibly bind us to unhealthy ways of relating.
Enlightened partners aspire to a clear minded, open-hearted state of creative, passionate engagement. And if you can do that in your most important relationships — you know, the ones that tend to trigger you the most — you’ll be evolving very quickly!
Relationships are seldom as simple as we would like. They bring out our needs, anxieties and conflicts with people from our past — our parents, friends and former partners.
Our relationships with our partners are colored by our own personal legacies. We often react to our partners as if they were someone else — and most of the time this causes conflict in the relationship. After all, when we entered into a primary relationship we expected love, nurturance and validation just for being who we are. A relationship, we usually imagine, should provide a safe zone where our partners cherish us for expressing our unique qualities. This is a simple expectation. Why, then, does it seem so hard to achieve?
How we perceive our partners is influenced by how we learned to deal with other people in the past. This process can go back into early childhood, even to infancy. Indeed, our earliest primary attachment to a caretaker — a mother, a father, or another adult — can have an effect on how we deal with other people for the rest of our lives. For example, if our earliest experiences taught us to trust in the world, then we are likely, barring any other event that leads to distrust, to take a trusting attitude toward people throughout our lives. Conversely, if a child is never shown love during the earliest stages of life, it may be a challenge during adulthood to learn how to experience love. Early experiences from childhood can have a powerful effect later on. (This is a strong argument for treating children well.)
Children experience both good and bad in the world. Plenty of good experiences, like love and trust, feel comfortable and produce a positive self-image in children — a positive way of defining themselves. The bad experiences, though, create feelings of conflict and frustration. These negative experiences also go into the self-definition that the child is developing. But they don’t feel compatible with the more positive feelings, so, according to one theory, the child projects them onto somebody else. (Projection means finding in someone else the qualities that you don’t want to accept within yourself — like blaming your partner for being controlling when you are the one who has the tendency to want to control.)
It is not only early childhood experiences that cause us to project our unacceptable feelings onto someone else. Friends can have the same effect, as can partners from our previous relationships. This is a process that happens throughout our lives. How many times have we heard someone say, “Treat me for who I am — I am not your former partner”?
The major point to keep in mind is that we project our own problematic feelings onto another person. For example, if we have an issue with the feeling of jealousy, we will project our own jealousy onto someone else, and perceive them as being the jealous one! This is because we can’t tolerate seeing ourselves as having a problem with jealousy — and it’s easier to attribute it to someone else. In other words, we feel unable to correct the problem in ourselves, so we focus on this issue in the other person. The way out of this, of course, is to become aware of this projection and understand how it affects us.
When couples experience conflict in their relationship, projections are often at the root of the problem. If we are living with our own conflicts and are unable to make any headway in understanding them, it’s as if we look for the problem in the other person. In fact, at a certain level, we may actually seek out partners who have the qualities that we find problematic within ourselves. If we have difficulty in asserting ourselves, for example, and we get frustrated and angry with other people for running over us, we may see out partners who do just that — people who dominate us. Just as often, though, our partners may not see themselves as domineering, but because we need to work out our own problems with the issues of dominance and submission, we will search for these qualities in the other person. We take any cue we can from our partner and magnify it. Then we’re able to project our own problem onto the other person, saying it is their fault. By blaming the other person, we protect ourselves from having to come to terms with our own issues. We can safely continue our submissive pattern and blame the other person for having the problem.
In an enlightened partnership, when projections are causing relationship conflicts, it is preferable to increase our awareness of our own internal conflicts and how we project these conflicts onto our partners. We can look for examples of our projections in other life situations until we see a pattern. When we have awareness of the problem, we can understand the many ways it influences our behavior — and this can give us some control over the problem. We can then try out new ways of dealing with people. For example, when a person experiences frustration time and again from feeling dominated by others, learning some assertiveness techniques can help them alleviate the problem.
Most of the time we don’t recognize our own projections unless we have an intention to discover them or someone points them out to us. The process of “sorting them all out” almost always involves communication; sometimes with the person we are projecting on and sometimes with a trusted advisor or close friend. There is a process of getting a “reality check” because our projections always “feel” true to us.
This communication can only occur in a safe emotional climate where honesty about thoughts, feelings and impressions is brought forth. Whenever we discover our projections we reclaim a piece of our personal power and we are that much closer to the enlightenment that comes from deep self-awareness.
NOTE: It is important to understand that projections are not at the root of every problem that couples experience. Sometimes the other person does indeed have a real problem that can lead to an abusive situation. In this case, it is not advisable to try to understand it as projection, but to see it for what it truly is and to take appropriate measures to change the situation.
Next month in Turning Great Relationships Into Enlightened Partnerships – Part Two, we will talk about what happens when the other partner colludes in the projections. We’ll also have an example of a couple involved in projection so you can see more clearly what we are talking about here. Plus, we’ll offer you some important questions so you can assess your own relationships.