Stepping in Again - on returning to relationships

We enter all relationships with hope in our hearts and we leave some of them defeated, lost, and in a lot of emotional pain. No one moves in and out of this warrior path of living and loving among others without being strongly impacted. Sometimes when we leave a relationship, especially if it has been of some duration, we tell ourselves we are never going there again. The emotional pain of parting and the vortex of feelings that accompany an ending are very hard to bear even when the relationship has been a difficult and conflictual one. However, the passage of time and the magic that the world spins eventually propels us into the arms of another and we relaunch our hearts with someone new. 
We are all in relationship all the time from the moment we are born. We enter the world and our connection to life and others begins. How emotionally healthy and secure we are as children will imprint certain vulnerabilities and behaviours throughout our lives. That is because we form coping mechanisms to help us deal with trauma and emotional challenges as we move through our early life. Often these behaviours cause us recurring problems as adults. 
Our opportunity in relationship is to truly know ourselves through loving another and integrate or heal our emotional wounds by being seen and loved by the other. It is in our intimate adult relationships where we re-encounter conflict, hurt, betrayal and intense vulnerability and often our acquired dysfunctional coping mechanisms begin to cause us a great deal of suffering. Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone and many are strong in the broken place” . He seems to be saying that though we humans all experience suffering something extraordinary happens over time. We are given the insight to see where we have built within us an ability to integrate our emotional wounds in such a way that they become a form of emotional strength. My parents moved a great deal when I was a child, many upheavals and boarding school thrown in twice. Apart from friendship ruptures and new homes and schools, I see now how it developed in me a particular resilience and adaptability for dealing with some of the challenges of my adult life, especially change. 
After an intimate relationship ends we move away into our own corners to rebuild our lives. If we have children the hard and painful path of separated parenting begins. Within ourselves, we try to retrace the journey of the love we have shared, we peer into our memories and emotional history to find out what went wrong and why it ended. Some people hide or bury themselves in work. Others lapse into their favourite addiction, but this form of self-medication can be destructive and hard on those around us. It provides only temporary relief from the issues being avoided. It is an intensely human form of emotional coping and we all do it at one time or another. Unfortunately, some of us get stuck there. We spend years with closed hearts acting as if we are fine but feeling deeply isolated and lost from our own selves. We simply don't know who we are anymore. 
We all share a need to be close, to love and be loved. How we express these needs in the world varies with the unique life expression of each person.  Opening our heart once again after what  we perceive as a failure requires courage and a belief in oneself. I say” perceive” because I believe no relationship is a failure. People often feel they can't “do relationship” and they cite the length of their most recent one as an indicator of their intimacy incompetence. Emerging hurt and emotionally scarred from a relationship is very painful. Being willing to keep stepping in, to open yourself to another person, to be seen with all your idiosyncrasies and flaws as well as your lovely traits is truly embracing life and expressing your heart in the world and that cannot be failure. We need to reframe this idea of failure in the overall context of our life journey of relating to others on this small planet of ours.
Let’s look at a few reasons why some relationships end.  There are as many reasons for a love relationship ending as there are for one beginning. The word incompatibility is often used as the umbrella term for two people not working out, but what does it really mean? In our disposable world today it signals a worrying trend to judge relationships using the criteria of what I call “entitled ready-made intimacy”. In other words, if you are having conflict, communication problems, sexual issues or general relating difficulties, then it can only mean one thing. We are incompatible. All couples have to deal with issues. The ones who tell you they never fight or have difficulties are in denial or furiously burying those issues, often in silent complicity while the real vitality of the relationship droops and dies. Getting to know another human being takes time and patience and we cannot instantly achieve a deep intimacy despite what the romance purveyors would have us believe. 
None of us are taught how to relate and it is not on any school curriculum. It is assumed we know this from birth. We depend on our parents to model relationship for us but if we think about it, why should they know more since they inherited a similar lack of learning?  Our parents relationship, whether good or bad is the template for our way of relating. Philip Larkin, the poet said “They fuck you up, your mum and dad / they may not mean to but they do / they fill you with the faults they had / and add some extra just for you.” So we are all at sea really and trying to make a go of it. We arrive into a relationship both of us with our emotional baggage and we spend the life of it discovering who the other person is and who we are. It's impossible to sustain a relationship without the rudiments of knowing oneself. Many relationship endings are a mix of poor self-awareness, prolonged overwhelm, negative communication habits, lack of support, unexplored emotional baggage and a reluctance to seek help.  
Wherever you are on that spectrum, I want to encourage you not to give up on your magnificence within and the unique beauty you possess. Love is always worth another shot. Our hearts are hard wired to be touched, loved and cherished in our lives and the joy of loving is the gift of keeping our hearts open, even when every part of us wants to shut down. There is no doubt intimate relationship is a warrior path that can take us to great heights and depths, that can cast us on shores of intense vulnerability , that requires grit, honesty and grace and that asks us all to walk the journey of our lives while remaining close and intimate with others.
About the author: 

Eilis Stanley is a professional Humanistic Therapist for many years working with Individuals and Couples. She runs One Day courses “Stepping in Again” for people wanting to explore opening to the possibility of a new relationship. She has worked and lived in London and California for 25 years and returned to Ireland in 2000. She now has a private practice in Dundrum and Wicklow, and she runs her workshops all over Ireland. Eilis is also a published poet and writer. You can contact her at 087 1245336 or email her at [email protected]