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The Most Important Thing

Why do couples fall apart?

Why do lovers leave each other?

Why do people get divorced?

I mean… let’s be realistic: They break up for any number of reasons. But the stories that really break my heart are when two people really care about each other, really want it to work, really have feelings and good intentions and everything; and still they fall apart. And as I see this over and over again, I see a recurring theme:

Life throws a lot of curve balls. Look at the current conflict in the Middle East, if you want a stark example: The most common question people ask me is if I know what’s going to happen. And of course, I have no idea. How can I know?

Life offers us a lot of different things; but one thing that it never offers us is certainty. And if anything, the only certainty is that sooner or later, you’re going to see some crazy times: an illness, an accident, a medical emergency, a war, a death in the family, a financial crisis, a world-wide pandemic - just to name a few. Tragically, one of the more common occurrences in relationships is that sooner or later, one or both partners find themselves confronted with big questions, and big fears. Many of these can come from the inside. But whether they are from the inside or out, when these things come around, we go into emergency mode. I’m not saying this as a criticism, I’m saying it as a fact of biology: Our bodies are wired to survive, and survive they do. Our adrenalin shoots up, our muscles tense, our teeth come out and we get excited, even aggressive. The challenge here is that it’s very difficult to let love flow, when you are trying to survive.

For this reason, many couples begin to bicker when the water boils - even if it’s only boiling because someone just happened to leave the gas on for too long. The reason for the crisis doesn’t matter nearly as much as the way we navigate it. And the truth is that we have very little choice over whether or not we are going to get excited or angry - that much is entirely beyond our control.

The problems really begins when we do not have space for our emotions, do not know what to do with them, and allow them to take the wheel. This is true whether we are overwhelmed by our own emotions, or by our partners’ emotions: As soon as the temperature begins to rise, people begin to feed off each other’s angst. Before we know it, we are yelling, shaking fists, throwing insults - or worse. And naturally, we begin to see each other as harsh, hurtful people. Two people who could have had everything going for them can fall apart from something as menial as a house relocation. Their emotions took over, and they didn’t know how to make space for them.

The good news is that, no matter where you go, your heart is always with you. Your challenge is to keep your heart open; and if it closes, your job is to let go of everything and devote all your energy to opening it up again.

Having a third party to mediate is, of course, extremely helpful - assuming you can find someone who can keep their own heart open, rather than get sucked into the melee.

And how do you know if your heart is open?

That’s very simple, and very hard to do: Imagine a one-year-old child with you in the room. When they hear you talk, are they inclined to come over and hug you? Or to run away and hide?

(Much to our chagrin, other methods, such as “I know what I’m talking about” or “My friends agree with me” are - I hope obviously - not enough at all.)

Look at what is happening in the world right now. Look at the conflict, look at the emotions.

Can you engage with an open heart?

Because if you can, believe me, the rest will fall into place.

Photo by Rene Asmussen,


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