On Love and Rilke

“The demands which the difficult work of love makes upon our development are more than life-size, and as beginners we are not up to them”. This is a quote from the famous German writer, Rainer Maria Rilke from the beginning of the 1900’s. It can seem that he wrote so long ago and we could question if his perspective applies all these years later. The relevance of his words shows how our human nature responds to messages throughout time. His words reflect back our humanness and the problems that plague us no matter in what era have a certain similarity. We are all in desire of desire—or many of us.

Rilke goes on to say the following. “But if we nevertheless hold out and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in all the light and frivolous play, behind which people have hidden from the most earnest earnestness of their existence—then a little progress and an alleviation will perhaps be perceptible.” In other words, love does not mean becoming one but becoming more. The nature of love is such that it fosters growth not being lost. It is a force and a need that we respond to at the beginning of life and if given enough and in the right manner we thrive. Love is a dynamic, an increase of consciousness and not a blind merger.

Too often people come to therapy upset that the partner and they differ. What do they have in common and where are the same interests. Isn’t the question really one of how to we grow from being with each other? How do we touch each other’s lives? How do we impact the one we love? How do we learn and pass on the information we know? And, how do we give and receive love in ways that will stretch us beyond our safe borders?

The complex nature of love requires conscious consideration of self and other. It merits and brings heightened awareness, a new regard for conscious existence and honoring the being rather than the doing. Love makes our individuality come forward—at least if it is the kind of love that challenges and is more than one person melding into the other. Often people have problems when they think they are to be like the partner. Who sets up this scenario? Do they both agree to it and why? Should they get out, make the relationship more viable and therefore more intriguing? This will bring out a type of discernment and interaction that makes love not the kind in the quick fix columns but the kind that is hewn from two conscious people who struggle to make themselves known and in the process better at love and loving. As Rilke acknowledges it is not easy “but they are difficult things with which we have been charged; almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious”.

A Love Myth

Love constellates positive, negative and challenging elements to our personality. Love opens us to the impenetrable or unspeakable truths about the human condition, and particularly the pain and confusion often occurring in relationships. The intensity of love and its travails experienced personally is similar to the archetypal motifs and mythic patterns that demonstrate the path of self-discovery. Recognizing the mythic dimensions at the basis of our personal experiences unites us in the universal nature of what it is to be human. Love leads us down the alleyways we might otherwise avoid. It takes us into ourselves. It shakes our foundations. It is rude, shocking and enlightening. Love rocks our world and sets us on the path of the unexpected.

The ancient Greek myth of Psyche and Eros portrays the beauty in love, the excitement as well as the fact that gaining consciousness brings with it the pains of betrayal and loss. All these aspects are psychological awakeners.

A poem by Rumi, entitled Lovers describes love: “Everywhere the murmur of departure; the stars, like candles thrust at us from behind blue veils, and as if to make the invisible plain, a wondrous people have come forth”.

Throughout collective history and personal fantasy, ideas and emotions about love appear in various forms. Love relationships often feel over laden with expectations of mythic proportions. Looking at myths leads us into the range of the psyche’s depth and breadth, its emotionality, frustrations and satisfactions. Rather than reinforcing blind acceptance of society’s constructed rules, mythical stories contain hidden meanings and speak to us in unexpected ways. Myth enables us to reconnect with different forms of knowing that are intuitive and embrace the broader mysteries of life. They awaken the collective and personal unconscious through the use of the symbolic and metaphoric. They help us uncover the treasures and the essence within ourselves through expanding upon the fixed normative patterns. At its most negative edge, myths show us how the patterns can become compounded into repetitive cycles that burrow down into hatred and revenge. In this instance rather than love, the partners are drawn to each other in karmic roles from which they do not escape, until they take the difficult yet rewarding journey to gain consciousness.

For example, the myth of Psyche and Eros reveals the many unexpected elements about love. Concepts appearing in this myth, such as roles of men and women, projection and envy lead us into the complex intricacies of love for self and other. Eros, the god of union, pierces the heart with an arrow, making an opening for love to pour through. This opening alternately also leaves room for a broken heart as through it we are lead to explore the meaning and the healing of the heart’s wounds. Especially when the opening is painful, we wish it did not have to happen this way. But, it is through this portal that consciousness pushes and we realize this is the way. And, along the path, there is no choice but to tackle the seemingly impossible and find our love.

Untangling from the Past

Untangling from the past means a couple individually and together consciously engage in the present. This seems so obvious. But, can you do it? The whole concept implies taking the history and prior reactions and not letting them rule the present interaction. It means taking the moment for what it is. If the past hurts that remain take precedence, you cannot hear or totally react to the present experience.

The issue is that old ways of being together get projected back and forth. One comments. The other takes the comment in old ways, old meanings, and old reactions are expected even before anything else can happen. In this manner of communicating, the previous habits creep into the present and any new ways of reacting are effectively stopped. No growth is allowed. The familiar is easier even though it has created the current problem.

So, in order to change anything, a couple is forced to take mutual responsibility and call a halt to their ineffective communication. It means each person in the partnership is willing to check inside how they feel. Then share this verbally, emotionally and honestly. Each agrees to listen to the other without defense or attack. Openness is the answer to really being able to hear oneself and one’s partner.

Here is an example. He wants to save money and goes for a super austerity approach. At the same time, he feels upset and resentful that to his way of acting is not on board. She says she feels the same as he about their need to budget, but they do need to spend some money to live. For their own reasons each blames the other for the financial bind they are in. In fact, this may be a reason they are still together because they cannot afford to separate. Yet, there are more reasons they remained together. They still too angry and sad and do not yet know how to express gratitude or appreciation to each other.

Until now they have not known how to communicate, discuss feelings or really listen to each other. By sitting down once a week for a longer time and daily for a shorter time, they have slowly began to clear out some of the debris that was clogging communication. They were each afraid and money was one of the huge issues they avoided discussing. The arguments covered their fear. Money is so central yet often denied a place of discussion. And, it aroused shame and despair.

In order to find their way through, they agreed to listen first and then take action. And they made the agreement to do so in the therapy sessions. They knew if they were in a safe place, they could begin to talk, small step by small step. They knew they could not get together without this help. Communication was too layered in a muddy way from going on so long. They wanted to work out something and the agreement to seek help was a significant step to each other. An opening was helping them untangle.

Dreams about You and Your Partner

Here is the scenario. Your partner appears in your dreams. You wonder what does this mean? In the dream is he or she with you, with another, loving, kind or not? Are you relating, talking, hugging, having sex? All of these various poses and life expressions mean something about what you need, are getting or not, desires met or not and what is happening psychologically and relationally between you and your partner as well as within yourself.

The dreams show what is occurring on the outside and equally the inside. Dreams are unusual, filled with symbols and come in a language not always easy to decipher. They are barometers for how you are feeling about your love relationship. Dreams do not lie and as truth tellers provide signs and signals along the way for uncovering our authentic self.

Now, we are often not the greatest when it comes to interpreting our own dreams. However, it is helpful to be open to dreams as a way of keeping us on the path of a healthy relationship. They are guides. They tell us what we need and even what we know but may not be listening. Therefore, they might escalate to nightmares or repeat themselves until they get our attention.

For example, sometimes people dream of their partner having an affair. This could be a real occurrence. It could be a symbolic one. As such, it could mean that the traits of the person our partner is with in the dream are ones we have ourselves. We might need reminders to get us closer to our total selves. In other words, the dreams can be helpful in expanding our personality.

Things often change from the inside. How we can get closer to our partner lies in the unconscious as well as in conscious behaviors and awareness we acquire. Dreams reveal how we are, who we are, things we know and do not know about ourselves. Sometimes they show us parts we do not want to acknowledge. However, knowing about these less glamorous aspects also helps us find a means of dealing with them, perhaps as revealed in the dream. Dreams are natural and are mirrors showing us parts we are not attending to. They bring us to a depth we might not otherwise explore.

So, the next dream you have about your partner, look at it literally and symbolically. It may be a metaphor for how things are internally and externally in the relationship. You can use the dream as a means of conversation with your partner. Work together to figure what it says. There is no right or wrong, just what feels on target to you as the dreamer and your partner. You can hear how each sees the other and the dream can be a guide into intimacy and understanding. The language of the dream is to take us more thoroughly into ourselves, our relationships with others and the world. No matter what dreams are saying, they can assist in the process of relating with fullness and honesty.

So before you go to bed, tell yourself to be open to the dream world and that you want to remember your dreams. Write them down and share them. See what happens.

Relationship Ruptures and Repair

People at one point in a relationship never imagine that the unsaid issues will haunt them later on. They, we, all of us, just try to ignore the problems and go on. The popular phrase is ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’ but the real phrase is that it will come around and cannot be denied as it is important, whatever the issue. The damage to pushing things under the carpet cannot be minimized. It is to be taken seriously and at first signs addressed. Or, get help to learn to address the problems in communication, whether they seem shallow or deep-seated.

A couple came to my office with an issue going back 15 years. It related to how each interpreted the situation and both felt betrayed. They talked around it. First one and then the other brought up feelings. Each felt misunderstood or just not understood. Each was hurt, inconsolably it turned out.

Now, years later one wanted a divorce and the other agreed but hesitated. At issue was the power of their connection they both sensed and agreed upon that lay underneath it all. This connection had held them through these years of distress and when they came together made for a powerful bond. However, the rupture was equally powerful and now neither was sure they could or should repair the basic issues that they were used to ignoring. Life gets busy, someone has to go to the store, work, and assist the children with homework and so on. Life gets in the way of taking care of feelings and emotional reactions, or it can if both want to skirt the issue or do not know how to get into it.

So, they each asked what could they do now.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Sit down and talk together a few minutes each day. Be in a calm place, look at each other, cut down the distractions and be face to face.

2. Allow for the minutes together gradually increasing and being respectful when one or the other can go no further. Then make time to follow up and not drop the difficult topic.

3. Bring up some pleasant topics in the midst of the heavy ones.

4. Listen closely without defensiveness. It is a skill to learn to listen openly and without the guards up.

Beginning Communication

A couple comes to my office. She reports having been emotionally hurt for years. He did not realize this is why she refused his physical advances. In fact, he did not know how to ask what was happening. She thought he knew or should know. He assumed that he was clear to her even though he did not know how to communicate his emotions. Because he did not communicate emotionally, over time, she lost passion for him. They did not directly address the obvious and this was a safety measure so neither would get more hurt. Instead, they were becoming more hurt at the lack of attention each paid to the other.

He saw she filled her time with helping others. He worked. Although he was feeling the lack of being with her, he said nothing. They were social and this being with other couples covered the pains and disappointments each felt but did not know how to get met with each other. What a sad stalemate they had created for themselves.

She began to think about others. And, then she met up with an old sweetheart on facebook. Seemingly out of the blue but it became meaningful. They developed a time to share with each other. Less time with her husband meant she had more time to think about being with this other man. And what started as a fantasy could now become a reality, if she wanted to pursue it.

Then she realized what she was doing. Was she really serious enough to move forward? She was caught up short and felt she should try to see if there was anything left in her marriage.

She made the therapy appointment, first for herself and then she came with him. They both expressed that they wanted something else with each other. This meant they were willing to try. Not everyone is willing to try. And, they expressed love for each other even though they set aside little time to spend together.

So, in therapy we set up some beginning parameters for increasing communication. They were as follows:

1.Time together daily but not in a perfunctory way.
2. Discuss feelings and the relationship at least once in the week. Normally this is not enough but they both need to get used to talking together. It is harder to do so after patterns of not talking are set in place.
3. Go out on a date weekly and go somewhere they have not gone before.
4. Communicate during the day by text, e-mail, phone. Check in with each other about feelings, thoughts, ideas.
5.Increase affection to each other verbally and physically. But, the caveat is that any communication in any form has to be honestly given and honestly received.
6. Return to therapy and use it as a safe place to talk about the harder topics.
7. Hug each other and really share how it feels to be in each other’s arms.
8. Be honest about what has been repressed, unsaid and try to bring it out.
9. Be willing to give it time to grow, change, and take a different road.
10. Discuss the disappointments and the victories.
11. Recognize the value in the relationship and what each has learned from the other.
12. Treat each other as special, and do not take each other for granted.

Endings…and Beginnings

“I am without direction and cannot find my way. There are poor rooms divided by curtains that are ripped–like you would see in very poor countries where people have no privacy. People are not unhelpful but their directions to me do not help me find my way. I still cannot find my group or where I belong. I wander around and am more and more distressed. I am somehow sure I will get the path but it is not yet there. Even though I am upset and almost panicky, I remember that things work out for me. So, up and down the escalators I go. Have I been here before, I question? This hotel like place seems to have an air of familiarity. Yes, I was here before but also know I want to not be here and to get out.”

This dream repeated and repeated. Sometimes there was a way out, sometimes not. It came at a time of huge endings in a woman’s life. Her primary relationship was changing and had the possibility of becoming deeper but it was rocky at the moment. She did not know where to go on from where she was. Inside herself she was confused, at odds. What was right? Should she stay as it was or push for more emotion and zest between them. Then she remembered she was the one to bring it up. Would he get it? Should she persist and try yet again? It seemed she had been down this route before and always ended at the same old stalemate. But, the dream in its repetition kept telling her the issue remained unresolved and posed the question about her own satisfaction, or lack thereof. If things stayed the same would the metaphor remain of her being lost and without direction?

Her relationship was pushing for her development personally and she had to face herself and her life. Did she want to remain? Was it good enough? Could they get closer? Would that solve her lack of inner direction? She was not sure and like in the dream seemed to be going in circles.

Yet, she felt the need to persist and play it out. Have the conversation they seemed to have but push it beyond the walls. Recognize the difficult and convoluted feelings, ask about his, reveal hers to a greater extent and not be just whiney but secure in what she presented. She was going to try, she decided. This time she had to extricate from the morass of indecision and take the leap of faith in both of them. They each had a part and both had to be accountable. They were living without the joy and the question was if they could re-find it. So, she was going to open the conversation, not to get to the same point they always go to, but to get through to somewhere and to put some resolution on that dream.

Love’s Story

A poem by the famous Persian poet Rumi from the 14th century, entitled Lovers, describes love: "Everywhere the murmur of departure; the stars, like candles thrust at us from behind blue veils, and as if to make the invisible plain, a wondrous people have come forth".

Love is basic. A need? An instinct? A life force? A form of spirit? Yes, love fits all of these definitions, and more. Our lives envelop us in the series of images about love that we carry individually and collectively. These images appear in art, literature, videos, movies, dreams, tales, myths and stories. And, in relation to love they reflect the myriad of pathways for integrating the unconscious love feelings with our conscious life.

Love constellates positive, negative and challenging elements to the personality. Love opens us to the truths about the human condition, particularly the pain and confusion that can erupt in relationships. The intensity of love and its travails experienced personally are similar to the archetypal motifs and mythic patterns that we encounter along the path of self-discovery.

Recognizing the mythic dimensions at the basis of our personal experiences unites us in the universal nature of what it is to be human. Love leads us down the alleyways we might otherwise avoid. It takes us into ourselves. It shakes our foundations. It is rude, shocking and enlightening. Love rocks our world and sets us on the path of the unexpected.

We all can recall the tales of childhood where the princess and prince united a then lived happily ever after. But we often forget that these stories from all over the world require many tasks by both the heroine and hero. Each on their own develops strength and ability. They are tested and have to do what seems like the impossible. Only after they have left home and found who they are through the trials experienced alone they then unite or re-unite with each other.

You may wonder how this applies to you and our modern times. However, these tales and stories contain universal motifs held in our psyches. They depict the age-old patterns that we all go through in one way or another to discover who we are and how to intimately unite with an other. These are not childhood stories but life stories. They portray the unfolding of life with its bumps and problems, stressors and difficulties. They show us how to get through and they demonstrate development of personality through various sorts of adversity.

As an example, Eros, the god of union, pierces the heart with an arrow, making an opening for love to pour through. This opening alternately also leaves room for a broken heart as through it we explore the meaning and the healing of our heart’s wounds. Especially when the opening is painful, we wish it did not have to happen this way. But, it is through this portal that consciousness pushes and shows the way of our development. Along the path, we realize we have no choice but to tackle the seemingly impossible within ourselves and with our partner to attain the fullness of life that we desire.

The psychological depths require personal work and individual timing. This is the place where we gain consciousness of the energies that hound us. Becoming conscious of these energies and using them in helpful ways prevents them from destroying us. Rather they assist in our growth, as they are emissaries of the transformative nature of love.

After The Holidays and Into the New Year

By now most of us are back to our work schedules, our daily responsibilities and chores and the routines of everyday life.

Even though it has been only a week from New Year, the holidays already seem far away. On the one hand we are glad to be back to our normal lives, to eating more responsively, to not be too busy with social events, family, etc. On the other hand, however, we miss those times of celebration and togetherness and may feel blue and lonely.

There is often a let down when we return to our daily lives from holiday times, particularly if we live far away from our loved ones and miss them. This is especially painful for the elderly, who often live alone and see their families only over the holidays. To them, this is a time of separation and loneliness and of little to look forward to.

The following is a positive way of examining our lives and reflect on creating healthy plans. Let’s start with reminding ourselves that we all have three main needs. These are:

The need to have someone or something to love;
The need to feel we make a contribution with our lives, and
The need to have something to look forward to.

The first need has to do with the value and relevance of emotional connections. These are some of the most important elements in healthy and balanced lives, as being disconnected is not healthy for most of us. So, if you have a relative who lives alone, a neighbor, or a friend, remember how important it is to be present in their lives, as this can make a huge difference in their lives. If you have children, take them to visit grandma, or an old aunt or uncle, or an elderly friend. Both will be enriched by this experience. Children learn a lot by being exposed to different generations, and the elderly are re-vitalized by young children who represent what’s new and vital and full of life.

The second need refers to the importance of creating meaning in our lives. We all want or feel that we have made and are still making valuable contributions by being alive, productive, involved and active. So, search for a meaning in your life if you don’t have one, and make room for those activities that support, encourage and reinforce it.

While the first two needs have to do with the past and the present, the third need has to do with the future. We all want to wake up in the morning and feel energized by the new day, the new challenges and the activities that we plan to engage in. Having something to look forward to gives us excitement, liveliness, hope and optimism. So, do you have something good to look forward to? If not, set it right now and begin to work toward achieving it.
We all want to wake up in the morning and feel energized by the new day

Focusing on our three basic needs helps us transition from the holidays to new goals and directions for ourselves, in this way reducing the feelings of sadness and emptiness we may feel, and replacing them with new energy and a strong, positive outlook.

Daniela Roher, PhD

The Holiday Time and the Dynamics of Distance

The holidays are reminders that we want closeness yet unconsciously set up emotional walls of distance. This may sound strange and paradoxical as the holidays are supposed to represent remembrance and thoughtfulness, love and care. They also bring up all the early needs that went unmet previously and emerge in the present so we attend to them now.

In other words, we can spend a lot of time being busy and wishing for closeness rather than creating it. We even may speak about the more superficial topics, thinking it is the holiday season and this means we should suppress the real feelings. But this only perpetuates a fantasy of the ideal rather than making some of it occur. And, it brings up the question of whose benefit do we act inauthentic? We say for others, but it is no doubt to preserve ourselves. We want the sweetness we see elsewhere, or think we see. We ignore the fact that the honest and emotional approach is the only one that works.

For example, in order to counteract the falsity and fake cheer, why not devote a time for sharing night dreams? This can be expanded to a time to discuss and even create a safe emotional space together. Partners can make this a place for openness and kindness to each other’s inner world. And, you can add on a time to bring up dreams for life goals and new ways of being in the coming year. Use the opportunity to be direct rather than distant. Uncross your arms symbolically and literally. Listen. Be distinct. Reveal the fears and the feelings. Take a risk to be real.

The holidays then become a time for sharing and are lit with the glow of specialness as the air is cleared. People feel freer to give and take. We all feel more authentic when the gaiety of the time is real rather than fantasized.

These previous comments are meant to provide some short but significant ideas. Find your own ways together of lowering the gauntlet and holding up the white flag to each other. Do not do it for the holiday time itself but because each of you is important and your feelings and your life occurs in the present. Keeping the focus one each other will make those around you feel better as well and they also will have more authentic experiences. Making you and your partner the priority opens the door to love. Remember, quite essentially the love, like standing under the mistletoe or sitting together in a quiet connection, smelling the food or expressing love verbally are also emotions that can occur all year long.

Could you even make an agreement to remind each other of staying on this track? After all, if you work to establish something more pleasant now and, of course that is comprised of honest emotion, a new direction can be hewn out of the old. This is a time of renewal that can foster the unfolding of the sort of emotional renewal that includes getting closer rather than being stuck in emotional distance.

Susan Schwartz, Ph.D.