Many people have experienced an extreme degree of trauma and emotional injury in their early lives. In some cases, they felt that they didn’t belong or didn’t want to belong to their original family. In their inability to either change or successfully adapt to their situation, they rejected their world in an effort to create a more tolerable reality. Such a survival strategy requires courage and resourcefulness since it involves a willingness to risk ties with others that have been based upon unhealthy family values.
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A strong, compassionate, and loving relationship can provide the support necessary to break old dysfunctional family patterns and promote the healing process. Ironically, it is those who have qualities or tendencies most like the caregivers with whom we experienced the greatest degree of difficulty that we find most attractive. This isn’t because we are gluttons for punishment, but rather because they are the ones with whom we can most effectively access our past experiences and feelings that require our attention.
Few of us enter into relationships with the conscious intention of recovering from emotional wounds or even an awareness of the specific nature of the wounds themselves.
Yet in a loving, accepting, and trusting relationship there is a natural tendency to bring out all that has previously been withheld and denied. The feeling of safety and compassion that is present in the relationship compels the emergence of that which requires care. The depth of the desire to experience wholeness allows us to confront the circumstances we found ourselves in as children and young adults.
This desire is often driven by a determination to free ourselves from the constraints of an inner world that limited our ability to live life fully, with authenticity, integrity, and passion. It is this mutual support that a partnership of two healed people can provide for one another that enables us to finally break free from chains of the past.
The process is not one-sided. Even though it can at times appear that one partner is the “patient” in need of care and the other is the “provider”, this is generally not the case. In reality, in most situations, both partners are in need of healing and making efforts in different ways to recover their own wholeness. We tend to be more attracted to those with whom we experience “matching wounds”, that is, those with whom we can most effectively contact the buried or denied the pain that we need to access.
This process can be difficult and often more prolonged than we think it should be, It’s generally not a decision that is made intentionally or even consciously. It is rather a state of being that couples open to when they feel trusting of their partner and supported by them. There is at these times, an intuitive awareness that restoration of wholeness is possible with this person. That recognition is the incentive to overcome the resistance that is natural to experience when one stands in the face of painful and fearsome experiences.
It’s not surprising that so many people choose lives of “quiet desperation” rather than face their demons. Overcoming the natural, understandable resistance to this process requires courage, strength, commitment, and perhaps most importantly, the support of a partner who is willing to go the distance, even when it can feel like the stakes are one’s very survival.
In every case, the road is paved with surprises, failures, and victories. In the process of embodying this commitment, these qualities and others become strengthened to an extent that we are no longer the same people who began the journey. Both partners ultimately become more autonomous as individuals, and more intimately bonded as a couple. The path can be daunting, but the rewards are profound. This is the work that relationships require and it is truly a labor of love.
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Written by Linda & Charlie Bloom