When you open the front door to where your 2-year-old awaits your homecoming, you won't have a chance to put down whatever is in your hands, read the mail, go to the bathroom, make a phone call or leave the spot at which you are attacked with voracious affection. That small child doesn't care about anything but full body contact and feeling secure once more within your arms.
Similarly, when you separate from that small child, you can expect the same level of passion, though it is likely to be more of an intense protest. Not having the understanding or temporal ability to go forward in time, he or she fears you will never return, and will use every possible tactic to keep you there as long as possible. The woeful cries you hear are earnest and desperate, as is the anxiety that accompanies them. In some core place in that child's heart, you might disappear.
New-love adult partners have very emotional responses when they gratefully reunite after time apart or when they must be away from each other for any period of time. Even though there is a high probability they will see each other again, they know it is not an absolute certainty. Until they are reconnected and can integrate what has happened while they were separated, they will stay in each others' presence until adequately reunited. Distractions and other priorities will wait their turn.
The intensity of emotion the partners feel in their connecting and separating rituals also has great power to heal any problems they may be experiencing in their relationship. The quality of their attachment when they are away from each other is mirrored by the renewed value both feel when they reconnect. That important resource and its accompanying confidence motivate those couples to resolve their problems as soon as they occur. Most newly-in-love couples cannot even bear going to sleep with unresolved conflict between them. The small child still remaining in both of them must be reaffirmed before they can rest.
Unfortunately, as intimate relationships mature, many partners let these important rituals diminish or lapse entirely. Couples who once made clear that their sacred, intimate reconnection and separation experiences were top priority sadly allow them to diminish in importance. More pressing priorities emerge and many couples take for granted what they once carefully treasured. Now, at the end of their day they are more likely to: check emails, return crucial texts, leave for the gym, attend to family demands, grab a beer or glass of wine, or do whatever else has now taken precedence.
Even when they finally do reconnect, couples who once ached for the time they would see each other again often only have energy left to share their day's most important frustrations and achievements. Leaving each other at the beginning of a new day bares a painful, almost impersonal, similarity. Sharing their plans for the coming day while rushing to meet separate obligations, the partners only have time to exchange inquiries and reminders of what they must each accomplish before they see each other again.
Recreating Sacred Attachments
I have counseled couples of all ages and at every stage of their relationships for almost four decades. Though most partners come asking for help with long-standing relationship issues, some are in shock and deep grief when an unexpected tragedy has struck. The sadness of an irrevocable loss without warning leaves the other partner shattered and totally unprepared. He or she must not only suffer the trauma of that event, but also the anguishing regrets of reconnection opportunities now forever lost. In the depths of sorrow, those left grieving often ache for just one more chance to say, do, or take back something they did.
I have often been given the privilege of being included in these sorrowful moments. Those experiences have given me a gift I may otherwise not have known as deeply. I have learned to honor and treasure one of life's most precious existential truths: the guarantee of security is only an illusion and the future is not predictable. That conscious knowledge inspires me to make the decision to treasure what is until it is not, and to share that perspective with my patients who still have each other.
When anyone you love leaves your presence for any reason, for any destination or for any period of time, don't ever just casually say goodbye. As you part, remember in your heart what your relationship means to you, always remembering that this could be the last time you might see each other. When you are given the blessing of their return, welcome that opportunity as the gift it is, another chance to live the relationship as you want it to become.
If you treat every leaving and greeting ritual with that kind of treasuring, you will also receive a wonderful bonus. The conscious intent to treasure saying "goodbye" and "hello" with the gratitude that should accompany both becomes the foundation for extending that appreciation to other parts of your relationship. With each fully appreciated reconnection, you are reminded to recommit to more successful interactions in the future and to leaving less helpful ones behind.
I routinely ask my couples about their separating and greeting rituals. It is so clear to me now that those couples who have continued to practice them with the same intimacy and gratitude they felt at the beginning of their relationship have stayed in love in ways that most mature couples do not experience. They have never lessened their awareness of the blessing of having another chance to be together again.
They are also careful not to undervalue those moments by repetitive, obligatory interactions. Those automatic, more superficial behaviors can actually create more impersonal connections. Couples who have not forgotten to treasure the blessing of continuing their relationship, practice their separation and connection rituals with the same sincerity and devotion as they did when their love was new. They have discovered the core wisdom that not only love is precious and that it can be taken from them at any time, but that being fully present in parting and reconnecting with their loved ones reconfirms what they mean to each other while they are still together.
We are not just the age we are in the present. We are all the ages we've ever been, with each past moment ready to reemerge when called upon. When you were first in love, you met and left each other with the same level of passion and enthusiasm that you hopefully felt as a child when someone you loved with all of your heart came back into your life. If you can recommit to that same cherishing enthusiasm you knew then, you will never feel as if times past are more precious than those you create in the present.
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