“In true love, you attain freedom. When you love, you bring freedom to the person you love. If the opposite is true, it is not true love.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love
It’s no secret that romantic relationships are complicated. So many of us strive for perfect relationships based on unrealistic standards, or love out of familiar family patterns. We may find ourselves feeling stuck in our relationships – mindlessly living day by day in unhappiness or feeling trapped by our partner’s expectations. With so much relationship advice floating around, how do we find the right tools to cultivate true love in our own lives?
When clients seek me out for relationship guidance, I explain attachment versus detachment. In unhealthy relationships, partners are attached to each other. Partners may be unclear as to what keeps them connected, and might be fearful, jealous, or afraid of being alone. Symptoms might include constant bickering, insecurity, or jealously. Partners may attempt to regulate each other, or project issues onto their partner. Codependency may be the foundation of the relationship.
The opposite of attachment is detachment. In healthy relationships, detachment is essential. Detachment values autonomy. Individuals are able to function independently, and choose to be interdependent in expression of shared intentions. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free, not only outside but also inside.” When detachment is practiced, individuals are safe to share their thoughts, feelings, and suffering with each other.
Building a healthy relationship free of attachment begins with self-awareness. Instead of focusing on your partner’s actions (or inaction), bring your attention inward. Ask yourself, “Am I lovable?” What are your feelings of worth? Developing mindfulness of our attitudes, perceptions, and emotions will promote detachment. “When we practice deep looking directed toward the heart of reality, we receive help, we receive understanding, we receive the wisdom that makes us free.”
By looking inwards, we transition from the ego state, identified as prideful and willful, to an open willingness which allows us to truly be present for our partners. This enlightenment journey will look different for each person, and the signals of growth are change and progression. Even if only one person is willing to look inward, changes will naturally occur in the relationship. I like to remind others that there are no failures, only evolution.
On the path from attachment to detachment, it is important to practice self-compassion. Difficult feelings will arise – be with them. Practice tenderness with yourself, and compassion will bloom.