An Invitation to Grow: Resolving Relationship Conflicts with Love

“As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life, and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow.”~Charlie Chaplin

“As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life, and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow.”
~Charlie Chaplin

I think it’s passé to ascribe to the notion that one can only be in a healthy loving relationship (code for “no drama”) when they have fully learned to love themselves. It’s as if we’re saying that until we can attain such an ideal, we really can’t, nor should we, expect to have a loving and fulfilling romantic partnership, free of conflict. On the contrary, the quest for loving partnership is a universal journey and every one of us deserves to enjoy the rewards of a loving relationship no matter where we're at on the Path of “Self-love” and “Personal Self-regard”, and the fantasy or spell that relationship is supposed to be a tidy agreement that two emotionally healthy individuals make, needs to be broken.

Charlie Chaplin said after realizing that loving himself healed his “craving for a different life”, he “could see that everything that surrounded” him was “inviting” him to “grow”. When Chaplin specifically used the phrase “As I began to love myself” he didn’t indicate he had finished doing so. When he said he realized everything was an invitation to grow, he could not have been excluding one of the main highlights of human existence; romantic partnership. 

Beyond the biological, evolutionary instinct to procreate, loving partnership in modern times serves a higher purpose of growth and transformation (a spiritual purpose), yet we often get tied up in seeking love for all the conventional reasons (material and carnal purposes), none of which are wrong in themselves. However, as conflict arises, and the mind gets caught up in storylines of blame, shame, anger, and posturing, we can miss what Chaplin is pointing to as the gift waiting for us in each experience; the invitation to learn and grow.

Are you taking up the invitation to grow yourself beyond what you thought possible in the present relationship you’re in? Or are you finding yourself posturing and blaming, as a way to put meaning to personal inner discomfort arising? Or, if you are not yet partnered, have you considered what growing yourself means in the dating world? If you can maximize your personal daily experiences by finding the learning(s) waiting for you, you will be closer to manifesting the loving, connected partnership you desire and more able to handle relational conflict. According to Dr. Jan Harrell, PhD and author of the book Love Now! Untangling Relationships, there are four main categories from which inner suffering in relationships arises. I see them as four inner conflicts (or subconscious wounds) inviting us into deeper personal growth levels.

The Four Inner Conflicts

Conflict #1- Right to Exist: If you tend to feel too pressed and always think your partner wants and needs more than you can give; if you have a hard time feeling relaxed in a committed partnership; if you feel resentful of your partner’s requests, needs or behaviors, you are looking at your “Right-to-exist” inner conflict.

Conflict #2- Owning a Healthy Sense of Separateness: If you tend to feel like your partner isn’t as connected to you as you are to them; if you need them to be something for you to feel secure; if you tend to feel triggered when they cannot give you their full presence, or if you feel indignant when they don’t think as you do, you are working with your “Sense-of-separateness” inner conflict. 

Conflict #3- Absolute & Ultimate Aloneness: If you feel intensely triggered when your partner’s attention wanes or is away from you for too long, or if you feel a deep sense of pain at being unpartnered or feel anxious or on edge in the absence of your partner, then you are working with your “Absolute-and-ultimate-aloneness” inner conflict. 

Conflict #4 Learned Helplessness: If you feel like you can’t do it on your own; if you feel resentment towards your partner for not helping you; if you feel entitled as if they should have helped you; or if you feel too afraid to do it on your own, you are looking at your “Learned-helplessness” inner conflict. 

The value in understanding which of the four inner conflicts is at the base of your triggered emotions is that it gives you an immense advantage in personal growth and in using a relationship conflict to grow more into the being of Love, Light, and Power that you are, but momentarily forgot you were. The problem is that the mind’s attachment to our stories and the details of the stories cloud and weaken the personal connection to the love we ARE. On top of that, it inhibits connection with our beloved. 

The Value of Our Stories

Stories are the details of the events that make up our lives, past and present. We use stories to devise strategies to interact with our surroundings.  They help us express and process a feeling in a way that should allow the feeling to run its course. According to Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., and neuroscientist, a feeling takes 90 seconds to move through your whole nervous system and then it’s done. The only reason a feeling persists beyond that is because of the stories we tend to tell ourselves about what happened, why it happened, who it happened to, where it happened, etc.

This occurs automatically and subconsciously. We’ve been doing it from birth until now. It happens automatically daily all the time. Mindfulness is the act of watching or observing the stories of the mind, to qualify if they are true or to see if there are other stories we can build for ourselves that are more in alignment with the truth of who we are. The truth of who we believe we are is constantly changing and growing as we take in more information about ourselves and the world in which we exist. A personal relationship is one of the most effective places for this growth. Our early relationships however left us with a foundation that tends to govern the direction and quality of our growth in our romantic relationships. 

If, as a child you had a parent who gave you very little privacy demanded a lot of your time and attention and threatened you with love loss (angry with you or disapproving of you or your choices) an example of a story you may have made your reality, is that you have to sneak time away to yourself, or you may have the belief that taking time for yourself isn’t possible, or you may perceive a partners request for attention as too much pressure and deem them as too demanding. This is an example of a “Right-to-exist” inner conflict. 

If, as a child you had a caregiver who always worked and left you home alone to fend for yourself, wondering when they’d come home or if they’d come home; if the parent told you they’d be there and then didn’t show or told you things like ‘I’m gonna give you up for adoption’ jokingly when you were too young to understand jokes, the stories your subconscious mind made real would be different than the previous example. Your subconscious mind may have made up a story to explain the feeling of sadness or abandonment and you may have made it mean that no one could ever possibly love you; or that there must be something wrong with you, so you have to try harder in the areas of your strengths to get them to love or care for you adequately; you may doubt their efforts in being there for you and feel a need for assurance over and over again. Since the arena of stories is unlimited, so are the things the mind can make real for one’s self. These are just samples of how the subconscious and the conscious mind interweave our external experiences into the realities we co-create for ourselves which perpetuate inner suffering and inner conflict. 

 The downfall of this mechanism is that we tend to get stuck in feelings of blame, anger, resentment, grief, shame, guilt, abandonment, rejection, fear, and hate because the storylines we build to help us process or make sense of the inner suffering only keep them circulating. As the stories become our way of seeing the world and ourselves, the feelings that should have left the nervous system long ago are encased in our neurobiology, the physical body. So how can you begin to accept Charlie Chaplin’s words of wisdom in relationship conflict, as an invitation to grow?

Start with first slowing down the mind by breathing and meditating. When the mind is running on high anxiety and the ego kicks in its “control-the-externals” button, this is coping and leaves little space for growing. When the mind is relaxed and knows self as safe and secure, the mind’s stories can be examined neutrally. You’ll be able to see how the thoughts and judgments you make about yourself, others, and the world around you, are especially connected to one or more of the relational inner conflicts. Qualify which inner conflict of the four seems to be connected with the surface details of your story so you can begin to reshape it into one that serves your identity as a being of love, light, and power. As you do so you’ll be accepting the same invitation from Life that Charlie Chaplin accepted as he stepped onto the path of Self-Love.  

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