Valentine’s Day marketing might give the impression that relationships are all hearts and flowers but we know the reality can be quite different. Strong relationships take work, compromise and acceptance throughout the year. Ahead of their couples retreat at Green Farm this May, Alex Hanley and Gabriel Faccini have written a guest blog on the importance of pausing to listen to yourself and your partner.
Did you think you would find your perfect life partner and that you would miraculously be their completely ideal lover too? Maybe or maybe not, but if even a shadow of that expectation sits in your back pocket you set yourself up for disappointment and suffering.
Most people aren't so out of touch with reality that they expect to find ‘The One’ and settle down into conjugal bliss for the rest of their days. Even so, many of us get caught out by things that don’t get enough airtime.
The truth is that we come into relationships as individuals, often carrying a tonne of baggage. Some of this baggage we have accumulated in our own direct experiences through life, and some were piled up ready for us even before we were born. If you are in a relationship with another human being, not only do you have your baggage deal with, you also have theirs. And a bit like a conveyer belt at the airport it is not always easy to identify who’s bag is whose at first glance. It is not uncommon for the one partner to insist the baggage isn't their’s (because it’s too uncomfortable to own it) and to do so persistently, so emphatically, that the other partner believes it must be their own: “Perhaps they’re right, I feel terrible, I must be terrible.” Add other family members chipping in their bit, taking sides, and gosh what mess it can be.
In such situations taking time to come together and see more clearly becomes essential. The simple practice of stopping and taking-stock is so important for your relationship and for your overall wellbeing. We all know this, yet life gets in the way. It's easier to ignore the cracks, easier to block out the stuff that causes shame, embarrassment, and other painful feelings, and pretend everything’s hunky-dory. Thankfully, we are coming out of an era where relational problems are so stigmatised, but we still have some miles to go. Even the most grounded and well-formed therapeutic or spiritual practices have been misunderstood, highjacked, and imbued with voices of harsh criticism. The result often being another system for handing out judgment to self or others.
Most of us have heard harsh voices and taken them in, we don't need to cultivate more of them, but learning to talk to ourselves in a compassionate and understanding way often takes guidance, practice, support, and time. If we are severe with ourselves, we continue to keep stuff hidden from ourselves. If we are severe with our partners, they may keep stuff hidden from us. Understanding can enable the truth to come to light with less fear of punishment. When we let go of a need to be right, to prove ourselves, to be perfect, or to bolster an outdated self-image we cling to, we come closer to ourselves and those around us, and our relationships become more intimate and fulfilling.
I hope this article inspires you to take a little more time to stop the constant doing, to listen to your body, your thoughts, and your feelings, and to develop a position of compassionate awareness towards yourself and others. But be warned, this nurturing often has 'grave side-effects': prioritisation of good sleep, nourishing food, gentle exercise, diminished anxiety and anger, greater intimacy, and meaning to name but a few. Life becomes richer, relationships more meaningful.
'Retreat Together' was created to help you do just that, and we hope through this article you will think about joining us on one of our Retreats at the beautiful Green Farm Kent.