There are three energies to tend to in any relationship: partner A, partner B, and the relationship itself, which exists as a separate entity; and, like a broom gathering dirt from the kitchen floor, it picks up, what I like to call, emotional clutter.
This past month, my relationship gathered a mountain of dirt, which led to my pulling away and shutting down. Then, this morning, I found myself buried in tears, on the phone with my best friend, confessing all the ways in which I was a lunatic and saying how it was a miracle that anyone could ever love me.
You see, a relationship is like a pimple: the emotional clutter builds and builds, carrying with it the residual negative charge of thoughts, misperceptions, and judgments, expressed, mostly, through passive aggressiveness, withdrawing, or moodiness, until, finally, it reaches its zenith, at which time there is an explosion – a great release – in the form of a fight, a fit of crying, or some other heightened experience, after which a cleansing has transpired.
What I had experienced was a buildup of emotional clutter that needed to be cleared in order for my relationship to continue to function in a healthy way. Being in a relationship will bring up all of our dirt – wounds, traumas, and fears we’ve collected from past relationships. It’s the nature of love, showing us everything unlike itself through an exaggerated lens – the places where we withhold, our selfishness, greed, and reticence. Love will mirror back our fears tenfold, and the easy way out would be to blame our partner, to project our fears onto him or her, thus using our partner as a scapegoat for our own neuroses, however, if we are in a conscious relationship, we get a chance to become aware of our fears and clear them. Further, we can choose a partner for whom it is worth walking through this process, someone whom we love so much, we are willing to cast what our prideful egos say aside.
So what exactly is the process for clearing emotional clutter?
1.We become present to our patterns. Most people have habitual negative relationship patterns, such as running away, lying, or acting vengeful. As we become aware of these patterns, we can choose to respond differently when a situation arises in which we want to react out of old behaviors. The first step is recognizing where we’re withholding love and what our tendencies are when it comes to sabotaging our romantic lives.
2.We share our thoughts and emotions with our partner in an honest and loving way. I have been feeling distant lately. I miss you. It makes me feel sad. These I-messages are a lot easier for our partner to hear, opposed to: You don’t make time for me. Someone else would appreciate me more than you. You should treat me differently. When we are communicating our deepest fears and emotions is the exact time to be mindful of our word choice and tone, which is, funnily enough, the exact moment when most people go unconscious and fall into negative patterns of accusing, yelling, and acting out of spite.
3.We must make a choice to see the truth and own up to our mistakes. The stories of our lives, and of our relationships, is just that: stories. It only takes a shift in perception to completely clear the emotional clutter from a relationship. Rob Bell writes in The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage: “In those moments when the two of you see things differently, you can hold onto your view, defending it and protecting it and arguing for its superiority, or you can allow your perspective to be broadened, enriched, expanded, and deepened.” What he’s saying, is that we can’t use the same mindset that created the problems in our relationship to find a solution. We must open up to new ways of thinking in order to perceive our relationship anew, and in kind, it will be renewed.
We must not try to avoid emotional clutter, as it is inevitable. The key is to find a partner who will be supportive as the clutter becomes apparent, who will commit to communicating and shifting when we feel stuck in the most erratic of emotions. We must be willing to transmute our fears by bringing them to light, and relationships are the perfect vehicle for transformation, as it is in being with another that we get the closest look at ourselves.