There is nothing quite as electrifying or soul-satisfying as falling in love—thinking maybe, just maybe, you've found a partner to spend your life with. But what happens when you start to see or sense that this man or woman might cause you more pain than joy? You've already let yourself get so invested that it's more painful than you could've imagined.
This was my experience, over and over, until I started to see my relationships from a different perspective.
I've come to believe that relationships are soul assignments—they are projects intended to teach us lessons.
Romantic relationships can be counted upon, more than any other challenge, to bring up all your "stuff." You know, your baggage. So, when you and your significant other are triggered—when those old wounds will come up—it's not necessarily because those relationships are wrong or that person isn't a fit for you. It's for the purpose of healing. For any relationship to work, though, both parties have to be willing to feel and to deal with their ugly feelings.
As a student of A Course in Miracles, and a woman devoted to my spiritual growth, I'm always up for working through any difficult emotions or situations that might come up in a relationship. In the last failed relationship before my paradigm shift, my partner was not. But, of course, it wasn’t as easy as just cutting him loose as soon as I discovered that. At that point, we were already in love.
A friend gave me a piece of advice that really struck a chord with me. It resonated much more intimately than the typical clichés we hear when our friends try to be supportive but aren't quite sure what you want to hear. (Pro tip: Your best bet is always, no matter what, to tell the truth in love.)
My spiritually astute friend recognized the truth that I hadn't been willing to recognize on my own. I was basing my decision to stay in that relationship on my feelings rather than my values. I explained to her that I loved this man and wanted a future with him but had some major concerns—for example, he wasn’t interested in a spiritual life, nor was he willing to work through any emotional baggage or issues stemming from his past divorce.
It seemed obvious to my friend that my then-partner was simply not ready for a serious relationship, despite how often or how fervently he told me otherwise. His decision to lie to me on more than one occasion came up as a character defect as well (something I had overlooked because I loved him). We both knew the right decision was to walk away from this relationship. So, why was it so difficult and painful to end it? The answer, I now know, is that I had the wrong perspective.
When I wrote down what I value in a romantic partner, I realized this man did not embody many of those qualities: He was unwilling or unable to support me emotionally, to share my spiritual commitment to a higher power, or to be fully committed to me.
My friend took me through an incredibly illuminating thought experiment.
She asked me to pretend I was single. Then, she said she was going to tell me about someone and she wanted to know if he's someone I would want to go out with, as a single woman.
She said, "I know this guy you're going to find so charming, so attractive. Want me to hook you up with him?"
"Sure," I said, playing along.
My friend said, "OK, great! But you should know up front, he won’t share your values: He's spiritually passive; he will refuse to work through any of his emotional baggage and instead project his pain onto you. He will talk about his ex-wife regularly, he won’t support you emotionally, he won’t celebrate your career accomplishments, and he will attack and criticize your feelings. But I think you'll fall in love with him. So, do you want to go out with him?"
Feeling repulsed, I said, "Um, no. Why would I want to do that?"
My friend then told me, "I just described your boyfriend." Talk about a mic drop.
At that point, I couldn't remain in denial any longer. I had to confront the fact that I was leading with my feelings and not my values, and that it wasn't landing me in the kind of relationship my soul longed for. My attachment to this man was getting in the way of what I truly desired in a life partner. It was clouding my judgment.
If we want to experience the nourishing, nurturing, fulfilling relationships our souls crave, we have to follow our values—not our hearts.
While at first I was heartbroken at the thought of walking away from love, I eventually realized I was actually protecting and preserving my love by waiting for someone with the character and values that align with my own. When I explained to my then-boyfriend what I wanted and needed, he agreed that he was not ready for this kind of relationship. I said, "I hope you become ready. I want that person to be you, but right now, I have to move on." It was a mutually respectful, loving way to end a relationship. That's all any of us can hope for when something isn't right.
It's true, I had hopes that he would be inspired to go to counseling, get support, and want to fully commit to a loving relationship with me. But he didn't. He wasn't ready to work through any of his issues, and I have closed the door on that relationship permanently. I truly wish him the best on his journey, and I’m thankful for the soul growth I experienced while I was with him. I learned what I want, and, more importantly, what I do not want in a relationship.
If you take anything away from my experiences, let it be this: Know what core values you need in a partner before you begin a relationship. If someone you're getting to know romantically is not displaying those values, make a conscious decision to not get involved. Hold out for the person who embodies those cherished values. And spend the time before you find that person cultivating the characteristics that you value, so you'll be ready for them when you do. A steadfast commitment to your values is ultimately the best way to protect yourself from a life that doesn't live up to your dreams.
Lead with your values, and your values will lead you to the right person. Guard your heart. It's worth protecting.
Want more insight into your relationships? Find out the two types of passion (and which one is good for your sex life), then learn the real meaning of conscious lovemaking (and how to do it).