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Written by Shai Tubali

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as intellectually sophisticated beings, when it comes to relationships, we are often embarrassed to find out just how infantile we can be. Each one of us can recall some moments in their relationships, especially the romantic ones, in which we behaved and acted in amazingly irrational ways. How can it be that in other dimensions of our life we manage to maintain at least a façade of rationality and respectability, while in relationships we seem to be so easily defeated by our own irrationality?

The reason is simple: in relationships our true level of emotional maturity is tested. On the bright side, this makes relationships an awesome platform for maturation. However, we usually deny the deeper learning and remain more or less as we are: expecting that the other will turn into something that we want; treating the other as a means to fulfilling our needs. When our wishes are thwarted in relationships, the small child that we have remained is revealed – extremely vulnerable, overly needy, aggressively expecting and demanding. We regress to the infantile state in which we seem to be the center of the universe, while all others only spin around us as our own reflections and projections.

It is somehow socially acceptable that our relationships would remain so embarrassingly childish. But if we don’t accept that as our reality, we can open ourselves to the possible evolution of the heart. This evolution can be easily understood through a model of three stages.

The first stage

The first stage is where we are not truly able to appreciate the existence of the other; there is no real ‘otherness’ in the other. In this stage the other exists only as a reflection of our wants and expectations, and when these are frustrated, we wage war against this very reflection. We ‘love’ our projection and when we scream, we scream at an imaginary being that somehow claimed a life of its own and evaded our perfect control. This is an emotional stage which started in childhood and adolescence and, as we learn from moments of crisis in our relationships, has never really developed ever since.

The second stage

The second stage is where we learn to recognize the other. In this stage we come to appreciate that the other is a wholesome, independent and separate system. Now the other is there, in all its ‘otherness’, no longer a projection of our brain. He or she has their own reality, their own wants and needs, unique expectations and processes. As such, we can no longer take them for granted (though we may still sometimes try).

This stage consists of two sub-stages. The first one is developing a heart that knows what compromise really means. Any relationship is a process which demands compromise between different wills and journeys. In this mature and beautiful type of compromise one learns how to give up sometimes one’s wants and needs not with bitterness but out of profound recognition of the otherness. Compromise here is not just realistic; it is also deep respect and even love.

The second sub-stage is developing the wholesome heart. Such a heart completely and finally lets go of any projection on others. Others are no longer a screen on which we project our internal movie, and they don’t play any a role in our emotional and psychological fulfillment. We assume complete responsibility for this fulfillment, thus turning our hearts into self-nourishing systems and our relationships – into completely non-violent friendships.

The third stage

In the third stage there’s again no other. Though this sounds somewhat similar to the first stage, here it is because the wholesome heart takes its next leap and becomes the awakened heart. In this stage the heart transcends the duality of relationships and recognizes unity, the place where no barrier between ‘me’ and ‘another’ exists. This stage naturally includes in it the first stage, in which we learned to acknowledge our own needs, and also the second stage, in which we learned to appreciate the otherness and cultivate our independence of heart. However, while these two are now it’s obvious traits, it abandons the personal center of wants and needs and so, drops the very idea of relationship. When there’s no me, there is no other too. This heart experiences the great universal love; like a tremendous sun, all human relationships are only its faint rays that come and go.

We can identify in this model a peculiar flow: in the first stage there is no other; in the second, there is another, and in the third and last, again there seems to be no other. Sometimes we attempt to skip the second stage and shift at once to the third stage of oneness. We tend to do it on the spiritual journey, where abstract ideals over-excite us, but even in the perfect image of weddings, in which we hurriedly commit ourselves to unfailing ‘union’. The hard truth is that as long as we do not go through the second stage, we can never really mature and move to the next stage of love. Since trying to avoid this stage forever is the one true source of conflicts in relationships, we suffer but do not understand why we suffer.

It would be wise to admit the reality of one’s narcissistic and dependent heart. However, this cannot be too easy, since we cling to a self-image that protects us from this reality. Shielded by this self-image, our attention turns almost always to blaming the other’s narcissistic and childish tendencies. He or she doesn’t love enough; he or she are still immature and do not know how to love like we, of course, do. If we could stop blaming (one more characteristic of the infantile heart), our attention would be free to inspect the integrity of our own heart.

A simple and healthy practice would be to recognize the otherness of all things. Walking in the world, looking and talking, we can remind ourselves that there are things outside us, objectively-existing beings that are not mere reflections of our thoughts and feelings. The sunset, the flower, our loved ones, are different worlds, not just tools for our fulfillment. Feel the otherness that exists outside your boundaries.

Beyond these boundaries, true love, one that forever escapes our ego, awaits us.

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