Intimate Relationship as Spiritual Crucible

John Welwood

While most people would like healthy, satisfying relationships in their lives, the truth is that everyone has a hard time with intimate partnerships. The poet Rilke understood just how challenging they could be when he penned his classic statement, “For one person to love another, this is the most difficult of all our tasks.” Rilke isn’t suggesting it’s hard to love or to have lovingkindness. Rather, he is speaking about how hard it is to keep loving someone we live with, day by day, year after year. After numerous hardships and failures, many people have given up on intimate relationship, regarding the relational terrain as so fraught with romantic illusion and emotional hazards as to be no longer worth the energy.
Although modern relationships are particularly challenging, their very difficulty also presents a special arena for personal and spiritual growth. To develop more conscious relationships requires becoming conversant with how three different dimensions of human existence play out within them: ego, person, and being. Every close relationship involves these three levels of interaction that two partners cycle through— ego to ego, person to person, and being to being. While one moment two people may be connecting being-to-being in pure openness, the next moment their two egos may fall into deadly combat. When our partners treat us nicely, we open—“Ah, you’re so great.” But when they say or do something threatening, it’s “How did I wind up with you?” Since it can be terribly confusing or devastating when the love of our life suddenly turns into our deadliest enemy, it’s important to hold a larger vision that allows us to understand what is happening here.
RELATIONSHIP AS ALCHEMY
When we fall in love, this usually ushers in a special period with its own distinctive glow and magic. Glimpsing another person’s beauty and feeling our heart opening in response provides a taste of absolute love, a pure blend of openness and warmth. This being-to-being connection reveals pure gold at the heart of our nature — qualities like beauty, delight, awe, deep passion and kindness, generosity, tenderness, and joy. (Read the rest of this article at:)
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