I’ve always thought of myself as a simple, uncomplicated guy. I like concepts distilled into bite-sized digestible phrases. When asked what my purpose in life today is, I would have to say, growth—I’ve had enough of stagnation, not to mention regression, to last a lifetime. Lately, I feel like a fuse has been ignited deep within my core. It’s as though I had a laser-sharp understanding for what I want the next chapter of my life to look like.
I wholeheartedly believe you can’t go forward without first taking stock of where you have been, and more importantly, where you are launching from. With the exception of the fear and shame that have been toxic stowaways throughout my life, the one constant in the past 28 years has been my wife, who at times, has been my partner, a bewildered bystander, and most recently, my advocate.
For lack of a better word, I’ve always thought of my wife as a soul mate—the person who completes me, my missing piece. Yesterday, this misconception was shattered, when out of the blue, a friend sent me a seemingly innocent quotation from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, a person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life…show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so out of control that you have to change your life.”
There’s so much to chew on here that I thought it worthwhile to unpack this—painful realization, by painful realization. I have to say it’s a little unnerving to discover a new lens through which to view the most important relationship in my life.
1. Do you complete me or reveal me?
This is an entirely different perspective to assess your relationship with your partner because instead of looking to someone else to fulfill you, or complete you, we begin to see that happiness and fulfillment are an “inside job”—It allows me to feel perfectly “whole” as I am, and it takes the onus, I would even venture to say, “the pressure”, off our partner to “complete us”. If you buy into this way of looking at your primary relationship, you might as well throw that old expression, “my better half”, out the window.
2. Can I see “me” without you?
Having been married to the same person for the past 27 years, I completely grasp what Elizabeth Gilbert suggests when she says your soul mate is “the person who shows you everything that is holding you back.” Long-term marriages are certainly more of a rarity nowadays, and I believe that one of the consequences of this has been that fewer people are able to take advantage of that stark, and crystal clear reflection held in front of you by your partner. We can all benefit from that person in our life who has known us longer and better than anyone else in the world. I’m just lucky that this person happens to be someone I’m romantically involved with, but I don’t believe that’s a prerequisite for a “soul mate”. Without this person, it’s so much more difficult to identify self-destructive behaviours, sabotaging cycles, and even unrecognized strengths.
3. Is there discomfort in love?
I was talking to a friend the other day about whether or not a healthy, loving relationship makes you feel “safe”. I’d really like to believe that’s true, but the more I think about it, the more “uncomfortable” I am with that word “safe”. It goes without saying that a healthy relationship should be both physically and emotionally secure, but I fear that in striving to feel “safe” all the time, many of us slip into a stagnating comfort zone that certainly is not healthy for personal growth and relationship nurturing.
4. Does passion consume you or propel you?
So often we hear people describe that honeymoon period of their relationship as having a “spark” or an all-consuming passion. It’s this passion in our relationships that is the combustible accelerant that harnessed properly, can propel us to growth, but left unchecked, can burn out of control and consume us—taking with it our identity, and ultimately, our relationship. I love the part where Elizabeth Gilbert says your soul mate will “break your heart open so new light can get in.” Gone is any notion of “comfort” here—The business of love is “messy”, and if you’re willing to be vulnerable and stick around through the discomfort, you might just be surprised what is found hiding inside you.