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ERP 103: How Love Can Transform Us In Relationship [Transcript]

ERP 103: How Love Can Transform Us In Relationship

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

This podcast is 100% ad-free. To support this show, please subscribe and write a review today. Here is your host.

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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 103 – How Love Can Transform Us In Relationship.

Before we get started, I wanna talk about a little bit what’s going on with the Empowered Relationship community and those of you that are interested in the Connected Couple program. Last week I gave a presentation. A couple of you were on live, and then several of you listened to the replay. I had the replay only available for 48 hours, so several of you have e-mailed me requesting access to that presentation, so here’s what I’m gonna do – I’m excited about this… For one week – so this will expire on Monday 17th April.

What’s gonna happen is I will put on the show notes a link to the presentation, which is a video presentation with slides; there’s an exercise, I walk through some really essential tips for creating happy, lasting love. I also share with you an information page about the connected couple program, which is a six-month experience. I’m only taking 20 couples, and actually I’m giving some bonuses which really create a nine-month support system.

If you’re interested in that, please click on the link to have access to the presentation, to learn more, to go through that experience, as well as to get more information about that program. And what I’m gonna go ahead and do for this week only is I’m gonna give you a discount. The discount is 25% off, so it’s a nice chunk to give you the extra motivation if you were thinking that this is a good fit for you. Again, I only have 20 couples spots, and I’m only providing this material for the next week, so I encourage you to hop on over.

Again, you can access the show notes on my website, which is  DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast and you can find today’s episode (103) How Love Can Transform Us in relationship. You can also find the show notes by just tapping on the Empowered Relationship Logo from your smartphone or your electronic device, and you can find the show notes there. Down at the bottom you’ll see Mentioned, and you can find the links there. Also, if you have any questions, you can always e-mail me at jessica@drjessicahiggins.com.

I received a comment from a listener; I’m not gonna share the whole e-mail because it’s pretty personal, but I did get permission to share a little bit. I think it’s helpful to hear other comments from other listeners, to just invite a sense of community, and that we’re all in this together. The purpose of this show is for us to gain the insights to help us navigate intimacy more successfully, as it invites the promise of real, beautiful, unconditional love and shared partnership that is vital and authentic and connected and passionate and alive. We want to experience that flow with another human being and have that depth of intimacy.

Part of the path that we talk about here is also the challenges that occur, what gets activated in us, in our partner, in our relationship, and how that can be extremely tricky… And painful, honestly. And getting the support, the insights, the keys and all the guidance that can be talked about on a podcast – a podcast is limited, but again, that’s the conversation that’s happening here, it’s how to do relationship well, how to do intimacy well, and how to set ourselves up more successfully on the frontend. We wanna be more proactive and invested in the process.

This listener unfortunately isn’t going through the best time, and he writes:

“I’ve been listening to your podcasts for the past few weeks and I’d like to say thank you for the insight and information. Unfortunately it’s too late to help in my current marriage, but it is very insightful. Coming from a family with parents that didn’t show love to one another I never learned how to express it in a productive way.

My wife recently filed for divorce and it has placed me in a state of shock. I’ve been reflecting on our relationship, going to therapy and attending AA to help through this rough time.

He goes on to share a little bit about his personal story and the things he’s been dealing with, and then he says:

“Nevertheless, I am hopeful that I can become a better person in the long run and express myself fully with all those I encounter and your words and guests keep me going. Your podcasts have taught me new skills and opened my eyes to the reality of how to build a strong, productive relationship and they also help me get through the rough days. I hope that others will hear you before it’s too late and work on developing themselves.

God bless you and once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

I wanna thank that listener for taking the time to contact me and share a little bit about his personal experience. I really appreciate your feedback, and I appreciate your willingness to let me share that with everyone on the show. I wish you all the best in your journey and what you’re going through. I have nothing but respect and regard for people that are trying to keep their eyes and their heart open through all that gets brought up in relationship. It’s one of the places that I feel like it is the most difficult to navigate.

For today, I am going to be doing something a little different. I’m going to be sharing with you an article written by John Welwood. The article is titled “Intimate Relationship as a Spiritual Crucible.” The article is rather long and there is some spiritual aspects, and he references different spiritual traditions… I’m actually not gonna go as much into the spiritual principles; I’m going to talk about how relationship and the love in relationship invites us into a transformational process, whether or not we frame that as a personal growth process, and/or if we see it as a spiritual transformation.

In my researching – and even in my personal study – years before doing my dissertation, I remember coming across John Welwood’s work, and I had wanted to interview him on the show. I looked at his website and it just didn’t seem like he does interviews or is really difficult to get a hold of, and didn’t seem like it was an easy thing to access.

I thought, “What better way then to include him in the conversation by way of one of his articles, here on the Empowered Relationship Podcast?”, especially because what I’m gonna be talking about today does mirror some of the philosophy that I discussed in my dissertation. Again, in the dissertation, my research looked at seeing relationship from a growth orientation, and some of those participants define growth as also including spiritual growth.

For today, I’m going to be reading some of his excerpts, quotes… I’ll also be weaving some client stories and some examples to help bring this even further into light.

In John Welwood’s recent article, “Intimate Relationship as a Spiritual Crucible” he writes:

“While most people would like to have healthy, satisfying relationships in their lives, the truth is that everyone has a hard time with intimate partnerships”, and he cites Rilke: “For one person to love another person is the most difficult of all of our tasks.” I love that quote.

Again, it just talks about the challenge that we are faced with when we partner and when we love, and I’m gonna talk about that more here.

He’s saying it’s not that it’s hard to actually love, or to find love or to be in love, but how hard it is to keep loving someone we live with, day by day, year after year. After numerous hardships and failures, many people have given up on intimate relationship, regarding the relational terrain as so fraught with romantic illusion and emotional hazards that it is no longer worth the energy.

I love the way he writes this, he’s very poetic and my heart clenches in just knowing that I have personal contact with the reality of this often. I have told many of you that this is one of the reasons why I’m wanting to offer a curriculum, because we don’t get any understanding of how to do relationship well, we don’t get a toolbox, often we don’t have any models, and we just have these grand expectations and we expect to put very little investment into our relationship and still want the success.

So what I would find in my therapy practice is that couples would come in and they were already exhausted; one or both of them had really made the decision that it was too little, too late, or that it was just too late. So this quote here around that they just give up, they’ve given up on intimate relationship, regarding it as basically too hard, is true for a lot of people, and even the listener that I opened with. I’m not sure the entire circumstances of that dynamic, but it’s an example of “This is not working, this is too hard.”

He writes:

“Although modern relationships are particularly challenging, their very difficulty presents a special arena for personal and spiritual growth.” That’s what I think I often am trying to display as the long-term benefit. It doesn’t feel like an immediate reward, but it’s the long-term goal, and as we start to shift into that, we start to awaken into the possibilities and grow ourselves and then experience the gifts that that has to offer. That it’s not a seven-year road and we don’t ever get to experience the benefit of that; it actually starts to happen rather quickly, and it’s something that we have to work through, we have to walk through the fire. That’s why I titled this “Transformation”. Transformation doesn’t always feel easy. Sometimes we have to walk through the fire to get to the other side.

Welwood is talking about to develop this more awake, or conscious relationship. He wants people to consider that there’s different dimensions. We have our ego in relationship, which is usually connected to old patterns that we on some level believe to keep safe. Then there’s the humanness – we are living his human experience and we are going to make mistakes and we are fallible. Then this concept of being that he talks about, connected to an essence that’s pure, good and true; that’s in us. That’s part of our true nature, that essence of being connected to what’s good, wise and true… Whether or not you call that your wise self, higher self, or even connected to divine source. A lot of terminology there.

He describes this in an example. “While one moment two people may be connecting, being to being, in pure openness, the next moment two egos may fall into deadly combat. When our partner treats us nicely, we open (“Oh, you’re so great!”) but when they say or do something threatening, it’s “How did I wind up with you?” Since it can be terribly confusing or devastating when the love of our life suddenly turns into our deadliest enemy, it’s important to hold a large vision that allows us to understand what is happening here.”

Again, if you’ve watched my presentation or if you are going to watch my presentation, I have a little whiteboard illustration of what often happens here, this classic story that he’s describing, that we get faced with, of the upset of the person that’s our person, and then they look like our enemy at times… And to not get caught in that illusion, that it doesn’t stop there, that there’s more. I like to call it “The Invitation.”

He’s going on to further describe this… He calls it “Relationship as alchemy.”

“When we fall in love, this usually ushers in a special period, one with its own distinct glow and magic, glimpsing another’s beauty, and feeling our heart opening in response provides a taste of absolute love and pure blend of openness and warmth. This being-to-being connection reveals the pure gold at the heart of our nature: qualities like beauty, delight, awe, deep passion and kindness, generosity, tenderness and joy.”

This is often what I talk about in that romance stage… This is, again, largely what we talk about and glamorize in the movies. All of us yearn and long to feel this sense of connection, openness and beauty that he is describing. And around the corner, as life would have it typically, there’s a turning point, because it also, he writes:

“Yet opening to another also flushes to the surface all kinds of conditioned patterns and obstacles that tend to shut this connection down: our deepest wounds, our grasping and desperation, our worst fears, our mistrust, our rawest emotional trigger points.”

As a relationship develops, we often find that we don’t have full access to the gold of our nature, for it remains embedded in the aura of our conditioned patterns, so we continually fall from grace.

This is something that, again, I believe on some level or another, some version, we all are confronted with this. When we have experienced pain in our childhood, or as this listener described, at the very beginning, not seeing a model of two parents who love each other, we can feel like there’s a lot more that gets brought up, a lot more fear, a lot more mistrust, and we tend to resort to our ego, our survival patterns… As he talked about distinguishing between the ego, the human, and the being.

I have some clients that I’ve been working with for quite some time. They are two young professionals, very successful in their fields, and they have a lot of love for one another. And their ego patterns, when they feel threatened – and this is particularly when they’re in conflict – and he experiences her to be not as nice, maybe raising her tone, nonverbally not being as kind, and he feels threatened, because in his upbringing that wasn’t a part of his experience; people didn’t raise their voice, people didn’t get curt, or strong, or more dominant or assertive in their language.

When he experiences that, he feels hurt and he also feels like she doesn’t care. That mistrust – he’s scared that he doesn’t matter, that he’s not important in those times, that she doesn’t care about him… So his ego strategies are to try to talk to her, but lay out and get her to agree with him… Point out, describe, illustrate, dramatize, so that she can say “Yeah, you’re right, I can see how that would hurt. I do love you, I do care about you. Let me try to help make that feel better for you in the future.” But she doesn’t hear that.

She hears “It’s not okay to be angry, it’s not okay to express yourself, you’re doing it wrong, you’re being bad. I wanna punish you, let me scold you, let me blame and shame you.” So she feels extremely resistant, protective, defensive, and her ego is to push back. Her patterns are to fight. Like, “No, I’m not gonna be told that’s not okay.” Underneath that, the hurt and the mistrust is that she’s bad, or something she’s doing is wrong, or that she’s not good enough, inadequate.

So they’re both hurting, and they both love each other, and they both wanna feel care and consideration from one another, yet when they’re in their threatened ego state, they will go round and round and fight for hours, stuck in this pattern that’s very damaging to both of them.

I’m laying out here how easily we can go into this place of falling from grace, feeling threatened, having our ego kick in the gear, the protective mechanisms. I really wanna encourage you to check out a couple of podcasts here. One is episode 95, which is “How Your Beliefs Can Destroy Your Relationship” – this is talking about the brain neurochemical process that’s at play when we feel threatened, so you can understand a little bit about what’s going on and how to manage that… As well as episode 52, which is your attachment styles. From early childhood we get a particular imprint, so therefore we begin to learn how to do relationship, what we can expect in a relationship, our beliefs about relationship, all of that. So I encourage you to check out those two podcast episodes.

In John Welwood’s words, he’s describing this as “It’s important to recognize that all of the emotional and psychological wounding we carry with us from the past is relational in nature; it has to do with not feeling fully loved, and it happened in our earliest relationships, with our caretakers, when our brain and body were totally soft and impressionable. As a result, the ego’s relational patterns largely developed as protective schemes to insulate us from the vulnerable openness that love entails.
In relationship, the ego acts as a survival mechanism for getting need met, while fending off the threat of being hurt, manipulated, controlled, rejected or abandoned in ways we were as a child. This is normal, and totally understandable, yet if it’s the main tenor of a relationship, it keeps us locked in complex strategies of defensiveness and control that undermine the possibility of deeper connection.”

I love what he’s saying right here, because he’s saying this is absolutely normal, understandable, and is going to happen. Yet if we stop there, we miss the possibility for more, like I was saying a moment ago.

Self-proclaimed, I tell you I practice everything that I talk about, and I have to work my ego, even still; it’s not something that if you’re practicing, you’ll never have to do again. If I’ve been eating healthy for two years and say “I put in my time, I’m good; I can eat whatever I want” – and I eat pretty much whatever I want, but I choose healthy versions and options, and I eat in moderation. But if I were just to fly off the handle and eat terrible, thinking that “Oh, I put two years of healthy eating under my belt and I’m good now” – that’s kind of silly. We don’t see it like that. Similar for a relationship.

My husband and I have been experiencing a lot of stress, so for us to notice where we get caught in those defensive patterns, and the conversation that brings us back to connection – there’s so many tools that we use to do that… But to not stop at the defensive patterns.

The goal is to be able to meet what is happening and what’s real with the knowledge and the awareness that there’s more, so that you can work it differently. Give space for other conversation.

Welwood writes:

“Thus, to gain access to the gold in our nature, in relationship a certain alchemy is required, the refining of our conditioned defensive patterns. The good news is that that alchemy generated between two people also furthers the larger alchemy within them. The opportunity is to joing and integrate the two poles of human existence: heaven, the vast space for perfect, unconditional openness, and earth, our imperfect, limited human form, shaped by worldly causes and conditions.

As the defensive, controlling ego cooks and melts down in the heat of love’s influence, the beautiful, evolutionary development starts to emerge. The genuine person who embodies a quality of a very human-relational presence that is transparent to open-hearted being, right in the midst of the dense confines of worldly conditioning.”

Essentially, here he is talking about the paradox. We’re confronted with our defenses, our protection, our threat and our fear. If I look at most of my clients’ examples of their hardships, most of the time it distills into one partner feeling afraid that the other doesn’t care, doesn’t love them, and might leave them. Then the other partner feels some typical feeling of like “I’m not good enough, he/she wants me to be different. I’m inadequate, I’m bad, I’m wrong, I’m not good enough.” And it’s funny, I have three examples I’m gonna use today, all of which can be distilled down to those. And even myself – I brought up myself and my husband, and I think in its very core essence that emerges in us, as well.

Welwood is essentially pointing to the opportunity to recognize the conditioned defensive patterns, and also recognizing the love that invites a deeper connection, and how we work that. It’s almost like a paradox, and they’re very polarized feelings. One is extreme, maybe even ecstatic love, and the other is deep, threatening wound and pain sometimes. He describes this as charnel grounds. He’s got a lot of metaphors for this, but it’s essentially a crossroads, a transitional space between life and death and rebirth.

Again, we’re feeling touched and moved and inspired by love, and yet we’re also feeling activated with threat and pain and fear. Again, those are very different qualities and sensations, and the temptation is to want to focus only on the inspiration and the love, and ignore the pain, but we can’t do that.

I have many couples that have been together for 20+ years. This particular couple – their children are in high school and I’ve known them for a while, and they off and on seek support. He comes from a family where his dad expressed anger pretty volatilely, so he feels challenged when he is feeling frustrated or annoyed or angry, that he will have outbursts. He’s been trying to manage that and work that, and their particular pattern is she doesn’t enjoy that – as she shouldn’t – and she feels sometimes criticized by him; she feels like it’s not good enough, she feels responsible… She needs to manage things so that he doesn’t get angry, and then in their intimacy he feels like she — so she’ll also distance herself, because she doesn’t wanna experience the frustration or anger.

This is all happening in between the lines, it’s not explicit… So he feels her distance, and he feels like “She’s not interested, she’s done with me. She doesn’t care.” There’s no violence, this isn’t a domestic abuse situation; it’s just when he’s angry how he expresses it.

Their dynamic, if we wanna distill this, is she’ll feel like she needs to be doing something different, she’s not good enough and feels responsible, and like she can’t assert her needs, and that he dominates… And he feels like she doesn’t care.

Again, without having to go into the full stories of this, they’ve been together for a long time and they have created a lot of success in their life. Their children are doing great, and they have a beautiful home, they have great careers, and yet their intimacy is really compromised… Because over the years they have learned to keep this in a box. They don’t go there. And when they meet with me, I’m poking around and I’m asking questions and I’m trying to get them into the game; I’m trying to get them to become awake to and aware of what’s going on in them, and what’s also going on in their relationship. I’m trying to bring a safe space for them to meet themselves and meet each other, and I feel like often times I’m selling them — I’m trying to create safety for them to approach the conversation, and yet it’s very scary, and they have a comfort zone… And even though I’ve known them for a really long time, I don’t know that they’re gonna do this work.

There’s a certain level of comfort in keeping things contained, yet the side effect of that is a real compromise of vitality and trust and openness and intimacy that they long for. Again, it’s a real paradox here. You wouldn’t think, “Oh, I’m gonna say yes to pain and discomfort to get to what I really want, which is love and connection and openness.” In my presentation I talked about — well, you’ll have to hear it; I give a story, an analogy to this.

Okay, moving on. Welwood is talking about this crossroads – confronted with the challenge and the pain, and what do we do with that. He says:

“It’s a place to die and be born, equally, at the same time. It’s simply our raw and rugged nature. The ground where we constantly puke and fall down, constantly make a mess, where we’re constantly dying, we are constantly giving birth… We are eating in the charnel ground, sitting in it, sleeping in it, having nightmares on it, yet it does not try to hide its truth and reality.”

Again, the carnal ground is basically this graveyard… The way he describes it in the article is pretty grotesque.

“Many of us have a cartoon-like notion of relational bliss: that it should provide a steady state of security or solace that will save us from having to face the gritty, painful, difficult areas of life. We imagine that finding or marrying the right person will spare us from having to deal with such things as loneliness, disappointment, despair, terror, or disintegration. Yet anyone who has been married for a long time probably has some knowledge of the charnel ground quality of relationship.

Sooner or later, relationship brings us to our knees, forcing us to confront the raw and rugged mess of our mental and emotional life. This then is the meaning of the charnel ground. We have to be willing to come apart at the seams, to be dismantled, to let our old ego structures fall apart before we can begin to embody sparks of the essential perfection at the core of our nature, to evolve spiritually. We have to allow these unworked, hidden, messy parts of our lives to come to the surface.”

He goes on to say this is not a pessimistic view, because some kind of breakdown is usually necessary before any significant breakthrough into new ways of living, not so encumbered by past conditioning. Charnel ground then is a metaphor for this breakdown/breakthrough process, that is an essential part of human growth and evolution, and one of the gifts of a deep intimate connection is that it naturally sets this process into motion.

Yet, not one ever wants to be dismantled, and this is what we’re talking about. When we’re confronted with this, nobody really ever wants to feel this pain, but yet it’s almost the initiation process. And we can choose in and say yes, or we can choose out.

He’s saying there’s two main ways that people will try to abort this process. One is by running away, and John Welwood writes:

“The problem with running away when a relationship becomes difficult is that we are also turning away from ourselves and our potential breakthroughs. Fleeing the raw, wounded places in ourselves because we don’t think we can handle them is a form of self-rejection and self-abandonment that turns our feeling body into an abandoned, haunted house. The more we flee our shadowy places, the more they fester in the dark and the more haunted this house becomes. And the more haunted it becomes, the more it terrifies us. This is a vicious circle that keeps us cut off from and afraid of ourselves.

One of the scariest places we encounter in relationship is a deep inner sense of unlove, where we don’t know that we’re truly lovable just for being who we are, where we feel deficient, we don’t know our value. This is the raw wound of the heart, where we’re disconnected from our true nature, our inner perfection. Naturally, we want to do everything we can to avoid this place, fix it, or neutralize it, so we’ll never have to experience such pain again.”

This brings to mind one other couple that unfortunately their relationship ended and I believe they’d been together for like nine years. They experienced such activation and pain through their cycle… She on a very deep level was afraid he didn’t love her, afraid that he didn’t really wanna be with her, was burdened by her or annoyed her, didn’t wanna prioritize her and would rather be somewhere else. There was this deep fear, despite his presence, despite his working and our sessions together and despite all his gestures.

She had a deep feeling of this unlove, which was terrifying and excruciating, and how she dealt with that in her ego patterns and defensive conditioning was to lash out, to attack. His experience of that was feeling like he needed to be different; he wasn’t accepted, she didn’t see him, she didn’t value him, she didn’t appreciate him, she didn’t love him, she didn’t care about him or really value what he needed or wanted, or his input… That she just wanted him to be who she wanted him to be… And they went round and round and round. And his feeling too — that feeling of unlove. That who he is in his true being, for not doing anything, for not being anything, but just who he is is lovable. The threat of that kept him distant, kept him avoiding, and the avoidance triggered her feeling of not feeling like he was interested and engaged, and the cycle ensued, and eventually to their breakup and failed relationship, if you will.

My heart breaks, because part of what I can see is there’s love for one another, and I tried to invite them into looking at these patterns, working them differently, having a different conversation that builds connection, building safety, managing their triggers and their threats… And I do think trauma might have played a role in this, so that made it even that much more challenging.

So this is no small thing. Again, when I started with opening up the show, I said that this is one of the hardest things that we will ever do, one of the scariest things we will ever do.

Welwood reminds us…

“When we are in the midst of this ferment, it may seem like some kind of fiendish plot. We finally find someone we really love, and then the most difficult things start to emerge – fear, distrust, unlove, disillusion, resentment, blame, confusion… Yet this is a form of love’s grace. It brings our wounds and defenses forward into the light, for love can only heal what presents itself to be healed. If our woundedness remains hidden, it cannot be healed. The best in us cannot come out unless the worst comes out as well. This kind of practice means engaging with our relational fears and vulnerabilities in a deliberate, conscious way. The only way to be free of our conditioned patterns is through a full conscious experience of them. We become free of what we’re stuck in only through meeting and experiencing it directly.

He writes:

“This allows you to digest unresolved, undigested elements of your emotional experience from the past, that are still affecting you; how you were hurt or overwhelmed, how you defended yourself against that by shutting down, how you constructed walls to keep people out.”
The last excerpt I will end with here from Welwood:

“In relationship, it is two partners’ greater beings, gradually freeing themselves from the prison of conditioned patterns, that bring about this decisive defeat. And as this starts reverberating through their relationship, old expectations finally give way, old movies stop running, and a much larger acceptance than they believed possible can start opening up between them. As they become willing to face and embrace whatever stands between them – old relational wounds from the past, personal pathologies, difficulties hearing and understanding each other, different values and sensitivities – all in the name of loving and letting be, they are invited to “enter into reality”. Then it becomes possible to start encountering each other nakedly, in the open field of nowness, fresh and unfabricated, the field of love forever vibrating with unimagined possibilities.”

I so wish this for all of us, to be on the path of doing this work… To be in the field of love, forever vibrating with unimagined possibilities for each of us. This is difficult work. I want you to feel supported, I want you to feel guided and held in this transformational journey, and that is why I created the Connected Couples program. I encourage you to check it out.

If you’re feeling inspired by this conversation, the invitation of what is available and possible in the relationship, not wanting to settle into comfort that is lack of intimacy, or to feel that the volatility of these old ego patterns just continues to whittle away and create harm and disconnect… Join me. Again – 20 couples I’m accepting, and I have a discount. It’s a 25% discount, so it’s a nice, solid discount. I’ve made the pricing very affordable, and you can check out all the details, and I will have that information on the show notes.

Again, you can find that on my Podcast page, which is on my website – DrJessicaHiggins.com. This is episode 103, How Love Can Transform Us In Relationship.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I can be reached at jessica@drjessicahiggins.com and until next time, I hope you take great care.

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