Love is hard: Reframing Work Into Opportunity in a Relationship

“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.” – Eric Fromm

During the introduction to the first Glue Talk last week, I gave an overview of the history of Global Glue Project, and along with it came my personal story of divorce as well as my parents’ divorce (and later second marriage to each other). As I typically do, I asked how many people in the room were in committed partnerships; how many had ever gone through a divorce; and how many thought relationships are easy. As is also typical, about half of the room raised their hands at having gone through a divorce, and only one person in the room raised their hand signaling their belief that relationships are easy.

Relationships are hard. They are really f#%*ing hard. Relationships challenge our humanity. The internal struggle to choose compassion and patience in difficult moments can feel as if we are being asked for nothing short of enlightenment and finding our own Buddha nature. The triggers and buttons that intimate relationship can push are startling, and the desire to fight or run away or shut down can be overwhelming. One of the speakers for the night, Jeff Pincus, said that before he met his wife, Rachel Cahn, he felt quite sane. However, once in a relationship with her, so much came up for him that, he joked, all of a sudden he felt completely insane.

Jeff Pincus!
Featured speaker Jeff Pincus, LCSW. Image from couplestherapyboulder.com

Later in the evening, one of the future Glue Talks’ speakers and Naropa faculty member, Diane Israel, who was there as a participant, stepped forward and asked for a reframe on the statement, “relationships are hard.” She shared that 19 years into her committed partnership, she’s found it to be the hardest thing she’s ever done. But relationships can be more than that. By reframing how hard they are, we can see relationships as not just a challenge, but also as incredible opportunities to grow as individuals and as couples.

The reframe is not just to say, “relationships are hard,” but to use that statement as a reflection of their astonishing power to allow for and even enable our growth, if we are willing.  To understand that among all the difficulties it’s amazing that relationships permit us to work with all of this; that it is a gift to face ourselves in all of our humanity, in our fears, and in our insecurities, that within this lifetime we meet our greatest teachers who show up as our partners. This reframe can be seen as an attitude adjustment as it combines the “work” around relationships with a sense of gratitude and joy that we get to do this “work.”

It’s taking Erich Fromm’s quote from The Art of Loving, and adding gratitude and wonder to the practice and a sense that our great fortune as human beings is that this art form called love shows no bias, it’s available to every one of us, and like any skill we can choose our level of mastery by our attitude and commitment to the craft.

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