02.02.2017 Relationships

Surviving the Reality Check

Relationships counsellor Frank Vilaasa offers advice on that inevitable time when our dreams meet reality

The song “People’” is playing in the back of my mind as I write this. The Barbra Streisand version – “people who neeeed people…. Etc”. My partner hates this song - she thinks it’s too schmaltzy and the lyrics don’t make sense – but I love it, I don’t care about the lyrics. I am more romantically inclined than she is, and I can recall as a young man empathising with Barbra’s almost desperate yearning for love.

There is a longing in every human heart to share love. When we are young, this longing triggers off all kinds of hopes and dreams. Then when we actually enter a relationship, we come up against a reality that is very different from the dream. In the dream, we idealise love. We listen only to the highest aspirations of our hearts, and ignore the barriers we have placed around them. In a relationship, these barriers sooner or later come up, and if we are not alert to what is going on, we can easily become disenchanted or cynical about love.

Men and women react to this disillusionment in different ways. Men tend to give up on their romantic dreams, and chase after sexual experiences instead. Women may follow suit, or react to men’s sexual advances by withdrawing altogether.

This is not a pretty state of affairs, and in this Valentine’s month, it is worthwhile stepping back a little and reflecting on what happens when our dreams meet reality – or when the rubber hits the road, as Barbra might say.

Recent research has shown that when we fall in love, biochemicals such as dopamine and noraphrinepine are released in the brain. Dopamine has the effect of raising our focus and energy levels, so that we think almost obsessively about our beloved in a highly energised way. It puts a rose-colored glow around the other person, reinforcing our belief in how wonderful they are, and fuelling our anticipation of romantic bliss.

These are real feelings, but they stem from sexual excitement and dopamine-fuelled romantic fantasies. Once the excitement and dopamine wear off, a different reality sets in. The rose-colored glasses come off, and we find ourselves looking at a very different person. Someone who is - shock! horror! – human, with shortcomings and blind spots, as well as a few remnants of their former wonderful self. Even more horrifying is the fact that they start to see us in the same way. Those intoxicating words of admiration are replaced by a tone of voice from which the fervor is noticeably fading.

This is, of course, very disheartening for those ill-prepared to deal with the rough and tumble that follows post-coital bliss.

What is one to make of all this? Is there no happily ever after? Why do our dreams turn to dust?

We can approach our relationships in one of two ways. We can see them as a way of fulfilling our ideals and expectations, or we can see them as an opportunity to learn and grow. In the first case, it is inevitable that reality will at some stage bite us on the backside, and create shooting pains all the way up to the heart.

In the second case, reality becomes our friend and guide. The idea of learning ‘lessons’ in relationships points to the fact that we are all works-in-progress. Our connections with others become an opportunity to clear up any blind spots we may have around giving and receiving love. The fact is that none of us is perfectly loving. We all carry certain obstacles that prevent the heart from opening freely. What happens in a relationship is that we get to see these obstacles in a rather rude and unflattering way. Our possessiveness, judgments, efforts to control the other person, and so on, all start to emerge shortly after the honeymoon is over.

We can try to brush them aside and blame the other person - as so often happens - or we can choose to take the opportunity that this relationship presents, and do some real spiritual practice. If we are willing to take responsibility for our shortcomings, and roll up our sleeves to make some attitudinal and behavioral change - we can free ourselves of many of the subconscious and karmic blocks that we have to sharing love.

The simplest way to do this is through a three step process I call the 3 As – awareness, acceptance and affirmation.

Firstly, we need to give up any denial we have about our shortcomings, and become aware of the particular block we have.

Then we simply accept it as it is, without judgment or wishing it was different.

This second step of acceptance is an important one. It sounds simple, but it is not easy to do. Usually when we discover something unpleasant about ourselves, we react by feeling embarrassed, or guilty or inadequate in some way. Rather than accepting it, we immediately start trying to fix it up, or wish it was different. This creates an internal conflict that makes us feel bad and unloving towards ourselves. Accepting ourselves as we are is the first step towards real self-love, and clears the way for the third step of transformation.

Finally, we make a series of targeted affirmations, to bring in new qualities and attitudes that will counteract that particular block. For example, if we find ourselves being overly possessive and controlling, we repeat to ourselves statements such as “I now recognise and respect the other person’s freedom to be themselves.”

As our blocks clear up over time, we find our heart connection with those close to us deepening more and more. We discover that, beyond our grievances and insecurities, there is an abundance of love and compassion that wants to be shared.

This process of learning and growing can apply, not just to intimate partners, but to other connections as well. Relationships with family members, friends and colleagues, if we approach them with the same spirit of wishing to learn about ourselves, can also make us aware of when we are being judgmental or intolerant. Once again we can transform our blind spots by applying the 3 As.

One thing that never ceases to amaze me on this journey of awakening is just how many layers there are to the heart.

Just when you think you have known all there is to know about the heart, if surprises you by revealing something more. We can always be more unconditional, less judgmental and more abundant in our loving.

Spiritual growth can only happen through awakening the heart. The heart is the doorway to the divine, and our relationships provide us with an opportunity to remove the rust that has gathered at its hinges. As we continue to do this, the door eventually swings open, and reveals the dazzling radiance of the reality of love.

Frank Vilaasa

Frank Vilaasa is a counsellor, healer and meditation teacher living in Fremantle WA. He is the author of What is Love? – the spiritual purpose of relationships and can be contacted at www.awaken-love.com