Reason, Season, Lifetime: Accepting Impermanence in Relationships
It has been said that people enter our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
- Reason (a project or one time activity, a “guardian angel” encounter when someone steps in and moves you out of a dangerous situation, a fleeting/swoop by lesson)
- Season (a short term; perhaps a few months or years, interaction that teaches you lessons that you may not have learned otherwise.)
- Lifetime (long term connections that may begin at birth or anywhere along the timeline, that endures, perhaps despite challenges, or may even strengthen thus)
The reality is that one day someone will die or leave you, or you will die or leave them. Sound morbid or maudlin? It need not. Instead, it calls for an awareness of the precious and often-times fleeting nature of relationship.
It begins with a desire for connection. According to scientist, Matthew Lieberman, the author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, we are social creatures with an inherent need to engage with others.
Everyone you now know and love was once a stranger. When you gaze back over your timeline, can you recall a time when many of these people were not in your life? Some have been with you for so long, that it might be unimaginable.
Sara shares her experience, “Throughout his life my son would look at me puzzled when he would see me smile or greet ‘strangers.'” He would ask, “Do you know that person?” When I would respond, “Not yet,” he would continue, “Then why are you saying hi to them?” My answer was always, “Because they are in my world.”
Continuing, “How sad it would be to have missed the opportunity to connect with certain people who grace my life and how rich I am to now know and love them. It is hard to imagine what it was like before they stepped on stage. I have had fleeting encounters with folks whose smile or comment have made my day. I have lifelong relationships that I treasure. I anticipate connecting with anam cara (Gaelic for soul friend) as each day I set an intention for having extraordinary experiences and meeting amazing people. And each day I do.”
“Walking through my door will be people I will love for decades and look forward to embracing as new links in those overlapping soul circles that so delight me,” she adds poetically. “I am grateful for my far-flung tribe, wherever it is that they are living and breathing now.”
Many of our interactions seem “meant to be,” or in Yiddish, “beshert.” Consider people who show up in unexpected ways as if scripted. You may have thought how wonderful it would be to have someone help you with a task and within short order, a person crosses your path who is ready, willing and able to be of assistance. A desire arises for a new friend who will engage in fun activities with you and later that day you hear about a meetup in your area that focuses on the very thing that peaks your interest.
Once a relationship is established, you may find yourself taking the person for granted; assuming they will fit into the “lifetime” category. Relationships need to be cultivated and tended to like a blossoming garden. With neglect, they will wither and with loving attention, they will flourish. This is so, whether we are speaking of platonic friendships, family relationships or romantic partnerships.
How to maintain the garden:
- Keep the lines of communication open. People are not always mind-readers and can only respond to what they imagine you are thinking or feeling.
- The same behaviors that drew you to each other can be maintained. Keep courting each other with kind and loving words and gestures.
- Don’t let the fire get doused. Feed it with fun, attention and the fuel that lit it initially.
- Speak to this person as if they are someone you love and would like them to remain in your life.
- Start with the ending and imagine that the relationship is over, so that the pressure is off and you can speak the truth about who you are, rather than hiding your shortcomings to make a good impression.
- We can think about the concept of, “If I had a year to live, what would I do in that period?” An even more revealing question might be, “What if I knew my parent/child/partner/friend had a year to live, how would I treat them?” Would you be more patient and understanding? Would you spend more time together creating memories that will carry you through the loss?
- Don’t sweat the small stuff and it is mostly all small stuff. Richard Carlson, the author of the beloved series by that name, had it all going for him. A wonderful marriage to Kristine, two thriving daughters, a solid career as a writer and speaker. On board a plane, headed to New York from California, he had a pulmonary embolism and died on December 13, 2006 at the age of 45. Would you be better able to accept what comes your way if you knew that each breath could be your last?
What happens when the show is over and the curtain comes down on the relationship?
Sometimes, despite your best efforts and that of the other person, the relationship dynamics shift and the person leaves your life either by your choice, theirs, or by agreement. Conscious uncoupling has become a more commonly spoken about concept, with the split between actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin; lead singer of Coldplay. How do you maneuver those sometimes-treacherous waters?
It would be understandable to harbor emotions of sadness, anger and resentment in the wake of the loss. Allow yourself to feel it all, but be aware that permitting them to take up residence in your mind, might keep you trapped in a downward spiral. Find supportive people to be on your recovery team as you heal your heart.
Some relationships have toxic qualities (such as abuse, untreated addiction, lying, infidelity, criminal activity) that are better left, lest they pull you down into the abyss. Even if love remains between the two of you, there are times when it is safer to love from a distance.
Remind yourself that you had a life prior to meeting this person and will have one following the changing of the relationship dynamics. Once the relationship completes (as much as any relationship can be fully over), take a pro-active and self-loving stance as you decide who you truly are, outside its structure. Even as it can be a painful process, shedding the layers of who you were with this person, ask yourself who you are without them.
Thank the person, either aloud or in your mind, for the lessons that came as part and parcel of the relationship. There is always a gift in every interaction, even if it might not seem so at the time. Gratitude has a way of easing the pain and smoothing away the rough edges.
Regardless of the ways in which relationships change, be compassionate with yourself and the others involved, to help heal any residual wounds. Honor and appreciate it for what it was as you open the door for even more to enter and enrich your life.
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