One of the most frequent questions that we hear from people is “Why is it that creating good relationships requires so much work? If it’s so natural for us to love one another, shouldn’t it be easier than this?” To paraphrase a former president, I can feel their pain. In fact I’ve asked the same question myself. Many times. The great poet Rainer Maria Rilke, knew and acknowledged this truth when he wrote, nearly 100 years ago that “to love another human being is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks”. Recognizing the degree of difficulty in this task is nothing new, but that still doesn’t answer the questions of why exactly it is so hard, and what the nature of the “work” is that we need to do in order to master this challenge.

Personally, I find it comforting to know that many others, even those who like Rilke possess great wisdom and spiritual strength, also share this experience. Yet despite the awareness that creating rich and rewarding relationships does require work, it’s often easy to believe that there must be something wrong with: a) me, b) you, or c) us, if it’s this hard. It’s tempting to believe that because if we do, we are provided a ready-made excuse for doing the work that relationships challenge us to take on, a ready-made excuse. If we’re a bad fit or if I’m just not suited for committed partnerships, or if you are too damaged or unwilling to do your work, there’s no point in even trying. So let’s just end it and cut our losses since this ain’t gonna go nowhere anyhow. So we do end it, and that’s it, that is until we meet someone else with whom we think things will be different, and they are, for a while, until they’re not, and then we repeat the same cycle all over again, etc.

Sound familiar? And you don’t have to literally split up or divorce in order to go through this cycle. It’s possible to recycle the whole pattern with the same person and stay together. It’s just not a lot of fun. As many of us have learned through experience, staying together provides no assurance that we’ll be any happier than we would be otherwise. And even if we choose not to get involved with anyone, ever again, those same issues that created suffering between us and our partner will come up in other relationships. Our hopes and wishes notwithstanding, we can’t help but relate to others, since we are all at our core, interdependent creatures. It’s not possible for us to thrive or even survive outside of the context of relationships. We are doomed to recycle our patterns until….we do our work.

So what exactly does that mean?

It means finally accepting responsibility for our own happiness and well-being and holding ourselves accountable for having gotten into the place we are, and acknowledging our intrinsic capability to affect change in the quality of our own life experience.

It means letting others off of the hook and releasing them from our belief that it’s their job to make us feel the way we want to feel and it’s their fault if we don’t.

It means forgiving those who have disappointed us, let us down, hurt us, or betrayed us in some way.

It means forgiving ourselves for all of the unskillful choices we’ve made, unkind acts that we’ve committed, and unwise options that we’ve taken.

It means becoming willing and able to live more openheartedly without being naïve, and providing ourselves responsible security and self-care when we need it.

It means making and keeping a commitment to our own integrity and understanding what that really means.

It means recognizing that our partner isn’t necessarily as demonic as they seem to be even when they are at their worst, and that we are not as innocent as we believe ourselves to be, even when we are at our best, and accepting them and ourselves as is, anyway.

It means assessing our values and making sure that we are either living what we say matters, or getting honest about what we really care about.

It means transforming our resentment and self-pity into empathy and compassion.

It means finding gratitude that we have awakened enough to know what our work is, that we have the desire and motivation to do it, and that we are not alone in accepting the sacred challenge of becoming a more loving human being.

And it means being very, very patient and reminding ourselves that this is the work of a lifetime, not of a weekend or a month or even a year, and that it’s not about getting the job done; but rather, it’s about staying committed to the process and trusting it; trusting that staying on the path is the reward that we get for our efforts.

So perhaps it’s less important that you know exactly why relationships are often harder than you think they should be, than it is to know that you’re not alone if this is your experience; in fact you’re in good company. And try not to take it personally if you find this work more difficult than you think it should be. It just is. And keep in mind that you’re not alone if you’ve made a conscious choice to accept the challenge of doing your work rather than opting out. However, you probably won’t see who else is on the path until you get on it yourself.

I’ve been told that you get what you’re willing to pay for, and there’s no doubt that it’s going to cost something to pay the dues that great relationships require. Whether or not you make that choice is up to you. Like Linda likes to say, “It’s not a ‘have to’ it’s a “get to”. You get to make this choice because you’re already awake enough to see that you have a choice to make. Congratulations.

Now what?

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