Calvin and Rosa had been working with me for six months. We were in the integration/completion phase of therapy, and were reflecting on significant themes and milestones. Rosa was reflecting upon a particular fight in which Calvin had said terrible, hurtful things to her. In this moment of our session she was noticing how she had been changed by that event. “I don’t think I’ll ever be the same,” she quietly mused.
I concurred, “I don’t think you will either.” I went on to explain, “We might enter a love relationship or marriage with innocence, believing that real love is always kind. When we discover otherwise, it changes us. We lose that innocence. We might then turn our back on the relationship, believing the love must be gone, or we might harden ourselves and turn our back on love altogether, believing it must be a lie, an illusion. Another possibility exists, one that I believe is more aligned with the deeper truth of the matter. We can expand ourselves, we can grow our capacity for holding the true complexity and inherent contradictions of romantic love. This changes us. We lose our innocence, but gain something deeper. And we’re never quite the same.”
Losing innocence in love
The experience that Calvin and Rosa had – losing their innocence in love, having their faith in love shaken, and beginning the journey of integrating their new, darker experiences of love – this is a rite of passage, a fiery initiation. It’s allowed to hurt. As we pass through the flames, our innocence is burned away and we emerge raw, shaken. Culturally, we tend not to recognize this critical milestone; certainly there’s little encouragement to honor or celebrate it. Instead we feel like a failure. As a therapist, I’ve come to realize that the appropriate response to someone who comes stumbling through this fire and into my office is not, “Oh, that’s a terrible thing that’s happened to you.” The appropriate response is, “You’ve come far on this journey. Welcome.”
Too many couples fight (themselves and each other) for too long trying to preserve their innocence. They stay stuck. Stuck is a word that comes up often in couples counselling. Each partner wants to preserve their own innocence, and to make the other understand, acknowledge, or validate them; in other words, to be understood as inherently good, doing their best, loving.
When love descends (it makes a thud)
Acknowledging our own cruelty, our own selfishness, our own weakness and fallibility marks our fall from innocence and begins the next part of our journey, where love descends from heaven and meets the earth with a thud. It’s a crucial step, but it hurts like hell, and hardly anyone talks about it or understands it, so it gets avoided.
We lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves, “My love is always kind.” This creates incongruence inside us. On some level we believe we have to be different from who we are in order to be in relationship, in order to love, to be lovable. Much disconnection results, from ourselves, from the world, from our partner.
Re-Connecting through initiation
Re-connection is not a matter of reclaiming our lost innocence or rekindling a love that once was (although it might include retrieving parts of ourselves that have been hidden away or rejected).
Re-connection asks us to recognize the initiation we are going through, and to keep going. The old relationship with our partner is finished, and that’s hard to accept. But when innocence is lost, something else is born. Birthing that something is our work. Like all births there is a natural momentum, a natural direction, a natural force of emergence that we can either align ourselves with or resist.
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