‘Love’ has become a mythological creature. It is ravaging our homes. And it’s time we slay it.
For when we think of ‘love,’ we are more often than not thinking of a co-dependent form of love that may be ‘romantically’ alluring, but is actually downright destructive.
Let’s turn to the Biblical Archetype of Relationship itself. Remember the story of Adam and Eve? Or rather, the STORIES of Adam and Eve. There are actually two stories of the creation of ‘man.’ In the first story, man/Adam was created “Male and female – God created THEM” (Genesis Chapter 1:27). In true biblical sci-fi, the original man is described by commentators as a hermaphroditic creature; male and female puzzle-pieced together by the very chain of the spine.
And yet, a few paragraphs later, a second creation story shows ‘Adam’ as simply male. He is put to sleep, anesthetized, for the surgery of crafting woman out of his side. (Genesis Chapter 2: 21)
It seems like two essentially contradictory tales. And yet, the 16th-century Kabbalistic mastermind, the Arizal, resolves the contradiction elegantly by revealing that they are actually one story, with two phases. We start out merged and then our task is to separate. The Arizal calls it moving from ‘Back to Back’ to ‘Face to Face’.
In the back-to-back state, we may be one merged entity… but we are facing the opposite direction. We commence a relationship with an enmeshed expectation that our partner exists as but an extension of ourselves. They exist for the sake of filling our needs for self-esteem, love, nurturing. In this state, we may very well ‘have each other’s back’…but we do not have true intimacy. We are facing opposite directions. We can’t even truly see the other person.
Thus, the next necessary step is what the Arizal calls the nesira. Nesira means ‘sawing-off’ or ‘surgical uncoupling.’ Certainly not the typical romantic gestures we imagine for ‘love’!
And yet, this uncoupling is essential for real love. For in this uncoupling, we get the antidote to unhealthy codependency – the space to find ourselves. Here we realize that we do not need our partners to love us in order to love ourselves. We do not need them to take care of us because we know very well how to take care of ourselves. As the saying goes, only once we love ourselves can we come to love another.
Only from this place of independence can we enter into the grace of being face-to-face. This interdependence is the true goal of a relationship. In the face-to-face, we each stand sturdy on our own two feet, as self-fulfilled entities. Here, we simply behold each other, free of demands, coercions and disappointments. Here we cultivate a sense of curiosity and interest in the unique soul who stands before us. That culture of curiosity naturally breeds love and flowing attraction to the other.
That is love.
Step 1 – Back-to-Back (Codependency): We start out as one fused entity – merged back-to-back. Codependent and enmeshed. Full of expectations and demands.
Step 2 – Nesira (Independence): An epic uncoupling that splits up that merged entity. We learn to stand on our own two feet – and our partners do too.
Step 3 – Face-to-Face (Interdependence): We turn to face each other; see the other and revel in our differences.
3-Step Formula for Achieving the ‘Face-to-Face’
I once had a couple come in for therapy who was suffering from a serious case of codependency. Vivian and Dan’s codependency was expressed in the form of what I call ‘shoulditis’. They were constantly ‘shoulding’ all over each other. And so we opened the session by doing an exercise. I gave each of them a pen and paper and asked them to write out the top three ‘shoulds’ they were currently projecting onto their partner.
They vigorously scribbled out their ‘shoulds.’ Next, I handed them each a red pen and invited them to revisit each ‘should,’ this time writing out next to it in red the inner FEELING that had prompted each one. After a good five minutes of quiet writing, I noticed that Vivian was crying.
She explained, “When we came into the office I was immediately annoyed with Dan. I had this big ‘should’ that he should have given me a comfortable chair. I was quietly fuming about it. But when I closed my eyes and asked myself what feeling was underneath, I was amazed by what happened. I felt a wave of worry and fear… I was scared that I was going to be uncomfortable doing this couple’s work and I wanted Dan to put me at ease – symbolized by his getting me a comfortable chair. My dependence on needing him to take care of me was actually making me furious at him.”
Voila, she had hit the psychological bullseye! Who knew that a little guided introspection would turn this once-kvetchy woman into a Freudian protégé? It was an enlightening reframe. Instead of projecting her frustrations onto her partner and expecting him to fix them, she simply rooted into her feelings. She found there a remarkable treasure trove – her self. It was a gorgeous moment of nesira.
With eagerness, Vivian dove into her next ‘should,’ keen to see what it would reveal. It was a ‘should’ shared by so many women worldwide – my personal favorite: “He should give me more compliments.” (Anyone else out there familiar with that one?)
Her feeling underneath: “I feel insecure and fearful that if I’m not pretty, I’m not worthy of being loved. I want Dan to compliment me to make me feel secure and valuable.”
An awe-struck Vivian realized how often she misses out on her own experience by unconsciously projecting needs onto poor Dan. Which is a bummer for Dan. But it was also a bummer for her. Because each detour into should-ville was a tragically missed opportunity for her to meet her self. And, most importantly, to meet her own needs.
I asked Vivian to turn to Dan and repeat the phrase: “I release you from the responsibility of making me feel comfortable, secure or valuable.”
Remarkably, when Vivian declared this to Dan it was like he had stepped into a warm bath. Like someone had handed him a purring kitty. His face softened. His entire body relaxed. The release was remarkable. He smiled. He sighed. He laughed out loud.
Vivian took to this with surprising exuberance. She declared an enthused, “Yeah, I should give myself compliments! I’m awesome!”
By the time Vivian was done with claiming responsibility for her ‘shoulds,’ Dan could barely contain himself. He burst into his own spontaneous combustion of a compliment, “Oh my gosh, you are so gorgeous!”
And that, my friends, was the face-to-face grand finale we were all waiting for. Because here’s the kicker: The paradoxical prize is that the moment we do the nesira and stop ‘shoulding’ on our partners, we rake in the very rewards we were trying so desperately to reap. When we hoist the responsibility off of their shoulders (pun intended) and onto our own, then nine times out of 10, our partners are all too eager to join in helping us shoulder it. Suddenly the responses we have been pulling teeth for ages are given freely, dotingly.
Presto. The magic formula for getting everything you want in your relationship: Give up on ever getting it from another and go about giving it to yourself. Your partner will very often eagerly follow suit. And if they don’t, well, you yourself are already committed to providing it instead.
Take five minutes to do this three-step process yourself. Use your ‘shoulds’ to find the treasure trove of your own feelings, release your partner and meet your needs.
- Back-to-Back – The Should: (Example: He should compliment me more.)
- Nesira – Identify My Feelings: (Example: I feel insecure and doubtful of my value beyond my appearance.)
- Face-to-Face – Release Other and Take Responsibility for Self.
Formula for Releasing Partner: It is not his responsibility to x (Example: It is not his responsibility to make sure I feel secure and valuable.)
Formula for Taking Responsibility for Self: I take responsibility to x (Example: I take responsibility to compliment myself more.)
By all means, please share your findings with your partner. Great relationships don’t come pre-packaged at Target. We have to work for them. We get to work for them… and the reward is true love – real, healthy, Face-to-Face-Garden-of-Eden-Archetypal-Style Love.
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