As a love coach, I'm dedicated to guiding people toward clarity and peace in relationships. So it seems appropriate for me to tell you how I gained the insight I now share with others. How I awakened to understanding love, and how this experience completely changed my life.
I was in a yoga class in Bali, two weeks out of a passionate, loving, fiery, beautiful, intense, challenging relationship. My man and I had finally split.
There were a lot things I was feeling at that time, but in this particular moment what stood out was my anger.
Grounded in a warrior pose, I pretended to challenge my ex (who, in my imagination, stood before me). The anger, frustration, entitlement, blame and rage surged through my system. I was pissed.
With my arm fiercely stretched in front of me, I imagined confronting him with all the things he did wrong in our relationship. "How dare you ____ and _____ and _____…" The list was long.
All of the sudden, in the middle of this fire-seething session, I was struck by something different. Something hit — something strong. Something I hadn't considered of before.
In a flash, a voice of conviction rose up from within me. In a clear but compassionate, straightforward kind of way, it said, "Sweetheart, you aren't up against anyone but yourself."
My breath left me. The tension released. My arm dropped. I broke.
I knew exactly what the voice was saying, and I knew it was true.
This voice wasn't coming from outside of me. It wasn't something I heard with my ears; it was something I heard with my heart. It came from deep within; it was something I desperately needed to hear.
This voice was the highest version of myself speaking to me (more accurately, through me) — my soul, if you will. And somehow, on that particular day, in that particular way, I got the message.
The message was: I had to stop blaming the people around me — this man in particular — for my experience in life. It was time for me to take responsibility for myself and my relationships; it was time for me to look in the mirror.
And that's what I did.
After the yoga class I rushed back to my bungalow. I immediately made an effort to search within, to evaluate if it was actually true. Had I really been up against myself this entire time? What role did I play in the pain that occurred in our relationship? What was my part?
What I found out changed my life forever. This is the truth that I discovered that day: Every single thing I blamed my partner for, I had done too.
This may not seem that profound to you. In fact, it may seem pretty obvious. But as I went down the list of what had happened in my relationship, I was stunned.
What did I blame him for? Well, for starters, he withheld love from me!
But wait, had I withheld love from him? Well, now that I'm thinking about it, I guess did that too. In fact, I did that a lot.
But he played it safe, staying on the perimeter of our relationship!
Had I played it safe, too? Did I swim along the edge of our relationship?
It only took a second for me to know the answer.
Absolutely, I did.
I continued down my list:
Was I critical?
Was I dishonest?
Did I play games?
Did I constantly back away?
Did I fail to show up fully and authentically?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Everything I had blamed him for, I had done as well.
This was all news to me (I'm telling you, the unconscious is a powerful thing.) Of course, I had no problem seeing things he did "wrong." But I had never, ever realized that I had been doing the same things too! Until now.
I finally woke up.
People who come into our lives are our teachers. They mirror us back to ourselves. Our partners are our most potent mirrors — this is why our relationships can be extremely challenging. We get so caught up in what they are doing that we miss the lesson meant for us. We blame the troubles in our relationship on them, instead of asking where we might be able to change and grow.
If you want to change your relationship, you must change yourself first!
This was big.
Today I can say I am, and will forever be, so grateful to this man. For being my teacher, for being my soulmate, for shining me back to myself.
I'm grateful for the beautiful moments we shared, and I'm grateful for the pain I felt. I'm grateful that I loved him so much that when we broke up, my heart had no other choice but to break open. Without a break that big, there's no way I would be where I am today.
Today I live consciously in my relationships, and I get to teach others how to live consciously in theirs. This is all because of the lesson I learned from him.
Integrate this lesson into your life. Learn from it. Let it be your wake-up call.
Who are you closest to? What do they do that makes you angry, the stuff you can't stand? Then, if you're feeling brave, ask yourself with courage and brutal honesty: How am I doing some version of the same thing?
The answer just might be enough to wake you up.
The amazing thing about a wake-up call is that you get to be awake. When you wake up, your life, your relationships, your love, and your world get to wake up too.
All I had to go through to get here — all the truths that were hard to look at, all of the pain, loss, sadness and suffering — it was all worth it. Because nothing compares to seeing the world through a new lens; everything is much brighter on the other side.
Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist with a holistic and spiritual approach to relationships. She has worked with thousands of clients on improving their relationships with others and themselves, and she's also the instructor of the popular mindbodygreen courses How To Become The Most Attractive Version Of Yourself and How To Attract A Partner.