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Trish's Blogs

Relationship Energy

Posted on 9/21/2013 by Trish O' Sullivan in pivot point in couples therapy

Relationships consist of energy patterns that play out between people. To Improve relationships we must first examine what we bring to it.

Relationship Energy

When we think of relationships what immediately comes to mind are relationships with other people--romantic, family, friends, neighbors, etc.    We are also in relationship with things such as money.    If we spend beyond our means or are miserly, our money relationship is out of sorts and we think and worry about it too much.   Money is inanimate and it is only our “money energy”creating the problem.   We don’t blame George Washington for our misuse of the dollar bill.   We get that we are responsible for mishandling money and to change the relationship we must change ourselves.  

Relationships with people are more complicated because people bring their unique relationship energy or patterns of relating based upon past experiences.

Relationship energy is powerful and has both a positive charge and a negative charge.  These charges create “magnets” that attract us to people who match our charge specifics.  For example, if we felt invisible in our childhood relationships with our parents and peers, there will be a strong negative charge to our relationship energy that will bring people into our lives that will contribute to the continuation of this pattern.   We may even bring out in them behaviors that match this pattern, such as not listening when we speak. 

In difficult human relationships we have a tendency to first blame the other without looking for“what is it in me that is attracting or encouraging this dynamic.”  What if we took responsibility for our relationships as we do when we examine the way we handle money when there are money issues?

There is a saying that, “Your worst enemy is your best friend.”   Being confronted with an enemy allows us to see negative reactions to them that lie dormant within us.  We are challenged to reorient ourselves and find our good will, wisdom, patience, tolerance, understanding and skillful speech.  So a difficult relationship can be a good situation if it gives us an opportunity to grow.   

Many such opportunities arise when people live together.   One of my teachers, Zen Master Seung Sahn likened life in a Zen Center to a potato washing machine where the potatoes are tossed around and washed by rubbing up against each other.

Often we miss the opportunity to heal our own issues when we move on from a difficult relationship only to create the same dynamic elsewhere.  We must look clearly at what we are creating and heal the energy driving the pattern.  Part of that involves seeing the pattern and not participating in it.  That means to take back the negative energy that we are contributing by engaging with the pattern and to look at ways to do things differently.  Taking rigid positions strengthens the negative magnet and dynamic we want to be rid of.  Bringing negative to negative makes negative stronger.   A negative magnet can only be undone by positive energy.  The first step is to let go of blame,rigid ideas and positions even when we are “right.”   When we look first at ourselves, we must be sure to apply the same standard.  Even if we are responsible for bringing these negative patterns into our lives, we are not at fault.  We did not create the pattern-- it was created by our experiences.  The good news is that we have the power to change any relationship by changing what we contribute to it.    We cannot change anyone else. 

In my work with couples there comes a point when both drop their defensive stances and open to really seeing what is going on and what each contributes.    In our Zen practice there is a term “together action” that means full cooperation in an effort by two or more people.  It is at this point that the couple's “together action” effort begins.  When this happens the energy shifts and it is refreshing--like a cool breeze on a hot day and we all feel it.  It is a pivot point and the rebuilding of the relationship starts here.  One of the couples I work with is at this point and the anniversary card the husband sent to his wife reflects this perspective:

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make sense any more.”   Rumi

Conflict will always arise and good relationships are those that use good communication to resolve conflicts.  Good communication involves listening and really trying to understand where the other is coming from and what is driving the behavior that “rubs” us the wrong way.   It also means that we must express ourselves and own our truth.  If it is too soon to forgive that must be acknowledged.  I once heard it said that "forgiving too soon is like putting icing on a burnt cake."  It just doesn't work and we are not being true.

There is one relationship where compromise is not allowed—the relationship with self.  If we are to blossom we must learn to trust and take care of ourselves. We find a way to drop blame without abandoning ourselves.  It is truth that nourishes us.    If we trust ourselves we will know when to work on a relationship and when to leave it.   

Copyright 2012 by Trish O' Sullivan