You cannot escape relationships. They are everywhere. They are the connective tissue of life. Be it friend, spouse, child, sibling, coworker, or neighbor, life is filled with relationships of varying dimensions, connections, and intensities.
Each of us is a product of some kind of connection. In fact, we are born into Relationship 101 — a.k.a. our family — which serves as our first social unit and school for our beginning lessons in interpersonal dynamics. This is where personality styles are formed, and family roles are acquired.
These early years are, indeed, formative. We develop our modus operandi of how we relate to others and how we operate in the world. Do we become bullies, pleasers, shrinking violets, peacemakers, or devil’s advocates?
As life progresses, we advance through the relationship ranks. We learn how to make friends, create enemies, find love, taste passion, explore intimacy, plumb depths, fail love, and, if we are lucky, as well as courageous, refind love.
Relationships stretch us like rubber bands, sometimes to the point of breaking; they hollow us until our innards echo. They take us to the very edge and then call us back again.
Relationships test us. They make us question, cry, rant, rave, disavow, and betray; they also warm our hearts, make us glad to be alive, and allow us to jump for joy, smile incandescently, and howl with delight.
Relationships can be our greatest spiritual teachers.
Here are my top ten spiritual lessons:
1. Remember the evil step-mother in Cinderella and her famous words, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
Relationships are like that. They can serve as mirrors.
Often the very thing that raises our blood pressure in reaction to another is a reflection of our very own behaviors. Who knew?
2. Relationships teach us to keep the faith and try, try, again.
Mistakes, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and all other forms of mess-ups are part and parcel of relationships and that great lab experiment called life. There is room for practice, redo’s, and try-overs. With renewed attempts, we can learn patience as well as fury, fear, country music songs, and psychotherapeutic coping skills.
And all the while, we practice faith: faith in ourselves, faith in the relationship, and faith that bad moments can be healed.
3. Relationships are the essential testing grounds for trust.
Relationships ask for the walls to descend, the masks to be retracted, and vulnerability to come forward so that souls can share deeply.
This trust breeds intimacy. Broken trust bears betrayal. Both are powerful teachers in how we choose to deal with truth and serve ourselves.
4. “I’ve got to be me.”
The yin and yang of relationships are the urge to merge and the yearning to be your own authentic self. Out of the dark side of merging, wherein we attempt to possess, control, smother, and manipulate the other, there comes a cry for boundaries, limits, respect, and selfhood.
5. Relationships can be fun.
When the connections are good and the stars, moods, and circumstances are in alignment, there is great fun to be had. Be it laughter, goofiness, silliness, sex, and play time, there is no end to the fun available.
The good thing about fun is that it is an in-the-moment activity. And it is joyous. You have successfully raised your vibration; you are operating in the now. This, my friend, is spiritual mastery.
6. Relationships are made of connections; they can create safe harbors.
Think of the story of the baby hippo that was washed out to sea with the tsunami. This baby hippo lost its family and found a 100-year-old tortoise, which took the baby hippo under her wing, so to speak. This tortoise mothers and nurtures this hippo baby as her own. Relationships are like that; they can create something that feels like home.
7. Relationships can decrease stress.
We open our hearts. We share our souls. We vent our spleens. We explain our dreams.
It feels good to be heard, acknowledged, and understood. It feels good to be held and touched and comforted. We are not so alone. We are not so stressed.
Humans are social animals. We are hardwired for connection. It’s our nature to look for the communion of relationships. It can be both pleasurable and healing.
8. Ideally, we enter every relationship whole, but the truth is, life is a continuum and we keep learning as we go along.
There are certain kinds of relationships where we are blind about ourselves, but we can dimly see ourselves through the loving eyes of another. The other’s loving acceptance is transformational for us. We are tenderly taught the lessons of self-love and self-acceptance.
9. Clearly, it’s always a choice, but relationships can teach us to forgive, to forgive ourselves, and to forgive the other.
Cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien (who, alas, recently left this mortal coil) said we are all members of the “Scar Clan.” We have been hurt, and we have hurt others as well.
Such are the cycles of learning and life. Pain happens. However, if we can forgive, we can move on.
10. Relationships can be one of our greatest gifts as well as one of our greatest challenges.
Ultimately, relationships teach us how to love unconditionally. This is one of the hardest lessons of life; it is also one of the greatest spiritual lessons.
To learn to unconditionally love someone means we accept them– warts, idiosyncrasies, betrayals, and all. It’s never easy, but we can sure breathe a lot easier when we reach this place of understanding where we learn to love like God loves.
Relationships are not easy and they can be more than challenging. They teach us as well as confound, thrill, encourage, humble, and make us beam. When the connection and resonance happen, there is no better reason to be a walking, talking, feeling human being.
Let’s consider today Relationship Appreciation Day and remember how we have stretched and grown. We couldn’t have done it without them.