What is it about relationships? Especially our primary one — you know, "the love of your life"?

What is it about relationships? Especially our primary one — you know, "the love of your life"?

The falling-in-love stage is so sweet. It's when we get to see who we truly are. We see our perfection through the eyes of our beloved. But then after a few years, something happens, something so disturbing and upsetting it can end the relationship.

We wake up one morning and realize we don't have a clue who this person is we fell in love with. And the scariest part is they are feeling the same way.

Fear begins to creep into the joy. There's doubt, insecurity, criticism, judgment, pulling away, blame and, of course, there is anger. The power struggles begin. Who is going to get it their way? Who's right; who's wrong?

This is when we need courage, lots of it sometimes, because when we look into the eyes of our beloved, we see ourselves — all of who we are — the good, bad and embarrassing. And that can be frightening.

I recently ran away from a relationship, took a break, thought he was the problem. I found myself wondering how much was about me and how much was about him. It didn't take long to realize that I was really running away from me, from the uncomfortable feelings that the relationship had kicked up. I wasn't sure I wanted someone so close, so intimate. What if he didn't like what he saw? What if I didn't like what I saw? And what would that mean about me?

You know how they say you can't love someone else till you love yourself? I don't think that is totally true. How do we separate ourselves from another in order to learn to love ourselves?

That's right, we can't. We aren't separate. It is a dance, a flow back and forth — another reason why relationships can be difficult.

But listen, this is the point: Relationships are supposed to bring up all these issues and more. That's the nature of relationships, to bring to the surface our needs, our desires and the parts of us that want to be heard, healed and integrated. Relationships are a path, I think a spiritual path or at least a path toward greater self-awareness and love.

I just read a Facebook conversation about relationships that was filled with idealisms about how loving, open and transparent relationships should be. I think what was missed is that the nature of transparency is to show all of who we are, and that will make the relationship not look ideal sometimes.

It will get messy, painful, infantile and frightening sometimes. But contrary to popular opinion, this isn't bad. It is good because with presence, support and love, we can learn to embrace each other's pain, which sometimes makes us do things that aren't ideal. And in this process of opening to our deepest vulnerabilities, we not only begin to love our partner more but we miraculously find we love ourselves more.

In the Greek myth, Narcissus loves his image as reflected in the pool. But over time, as he looks deeper and deeper into the pool, he begins to see who he truly is and eventually falls in love with his true nature, his divinity.

He then falls into the pool, becoming one with the Beloved — or with divinity itself.

The wood nymph says to the pool, "Don't you miss Narcissus? He was so beautiful." The pool says, "Oh, was he beautiful? I didn't notice. I miss him because when he looked into the pool, I could see my divinity reflected in his eyes."

Ann Barton is a life coach and counselor who lives in Ashland.