- Being overly self-sacrificing in a relationship can create more problems later.
- Asking for what you want and need can actually create a closer connection in a relationship.
- Your relationship tiggers can be turned into moments of personal growth and transformation.
- Don't let love myths hold you back; you can experience the pleasures of intimacy from many kinds of connections and commitments.
This is the third part of a three-part series on love myths that can cause us more heartache than happiness. In my first post, I discussed the myth that love heals all and the myth that long-term relationships are the only way to experience real intimacy. In my second post, I discussed the myth that there is only one soul mate for each person and that we’re a failure if we haven’t found them. Today I explore the myth encouraging us to always be selfless in love. Then I conclude with some tips for turning your relationship triggers into growth opportunities.
Myth 4: Be Selfless in Love and Eroticism; Don’t Focus on Yourself
My response: Conversely, be self-full.
There’s an old romantic storyline that we should lose ourselves to a beloved. Instead, I believe it’s important to distinguish between sharing yourself—which is bonding and empathetic—and losing your identity to someone else’s needs, which can lead to codependency, anxious attachment, and later resentment.
In fact, connecting to your individual needs and asking for what you want can create a deeper bond within a relationship, paradoxically. Look at it this way: When people always compromise what they want, no one is all that happy. Yet ironically, once we do get what we want, it’s natural to want to give back.
So let’s give to our partner because it feels good—out of generosity, not out of compromise. If you are someone who tends to lose yourself in a relationship or be overly nurturing of others, practice honoring your not-so-selfish desires.
Your desires also shouldn’t depend on someone else igniting them; they can start within you. For example, erotic pleasure relies on feeling that you matter and that receiving your desires matters. So generate your erotic preferences and let your partner get to know this side of you.
In the ancient yogic and Buddhist texts, there’s a concept called "sympathetic joy"—the act of being happy for another’s happiness. When we delight in our partner's success, see it as an example of soulful connection rather than this myth of selfless love.
Relationships As a Spiritual Practice
Consider the idea that your relationships of all kinds (shorter ones, longer ones, not-forever ones) could lead you to some great insights. The meditation teacher Phillip Moffitt writes about relationships falling into three categories: transactional, egoic, or spiritual.1 Transactional is about what you can get from the other person (financial security, children); egoic is about your partner helping to raise your status (they’re good looking, or have clout, so that gives you status too); whereas spiritual is about the person being your teacher. They inspire you to awaken and own your blind spots. Compassion and nonjudgmental awareness in any relationship is certainly not always easy but can be transformational in the best possible way. It’s like a lifelong yoga or meditation practice—each day is a choice to step on the mat or sit on the cushion with integrity.
Our relationships are our biggest teachers; they’re a mirror reflecting our light and our shadow back to us. Whether it be a 30-year monogamous relationship or a spring fling, if you are consciously curious about the experience, there can always be revelatory moments. Let whatever type of relationship you’re in, and the gaps between them, be opportunities to expand. Even two ships passing in the night can be a jump-start for self-reflection. Listen to what reverberates in you—such as how your partner isn’t “making” you feel a certain way but rather stirring the pot of something already stewing in you. Once we take responsibility, we can take agency.
This three-part series has been about looking beyond our old, traditional beliefs about romantic relationships, because it’s possible to experience the pleasures of intimacy from many kinds of modern connections and commitments. If we didn’t associate uncoupling with failure, weren’t so afraid of being alone, and felt liberated to ask for what we want, we might free ourselves from commitments that aren’t true to us. Remember that you get to decide what relationship “success” means to you. So live and love in ways that work for you, not how others have said your relationship should be.
Phillip Moffitt, "The Yoga of Relationships," Yoga Journal, updated April 5, 2017, http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/the-yoga-of-relationships.