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    Flames Not Games

           An intimate relationship is not a game, although plenty of our socialization encourages us to look at it that way. There are lots of messages we get that condition us to contextualize our relationships as a win/lose paradigm. Playing head games in high school is just the beginning of a long day’s journey into night. And that night is dark and lonely if we’re still looking at relationships like games by the time we’re well into adulthood.
           In a game, there’s a winner and a loser. In a game, we compete to win. In a game, it’s a zero sum deal. That’s fine in football. In fact, that structure is part of what makes the game of football exciting. But in a relationship, that structure can be part of what kills it.
           If you’re in a relationship, and it’s a game, then it’s all about you. It’s all about you getting what you want. That’s called “winning”. And in a game, you can only win at the expense of another. I realize that we don’t consciously think like that when we’re dealing with our partner. But the framework of the game is prevalent in our culture, across the board, from business to the bedroom. It takes awareness, and deliberate, conscious actions, to shift our attitudes and behaviors around relationships away from the game paradigm.  
           Your intimate relationship is not a game. It’s a flame. And if you don’t stoke the flame, it dies.
           So how do we stoke it?
           Stoking is another word for feeding. What we put into our relationships defines how we feed it. Are we feeding it judgement, criticism, anger, fear, scarcity, emotional stinginess, and distance? That’s pretty crappy food. Or are we giving our relationship communication, openness, sharing, love, acceptance, joy, fun, playfulness, kindness, and affection? Are we taking risks in the relationship, or are we playing it safe? Here’s where the game metaphor works. In a game, playing it safe for too long leads to predictable results. The same is true for our relationships. In Lacrosse and in Love, taking risks is essential in getting better results.
           You can only give to your relationship, and you can only give to your partner, what you can give to yourself. I’m not of the school of thought, however, that says you have to first give to yourself before you can give to others. I don’t believe it’s that linear. I hold that you can learn to give to yourself by giving to others, and vise versa; if you are fully conscious of that possibility. In other words, if you cultivate the awareness, and create the possibility, that by giving to yourself, you are also giving to others, and that by giving to others, you are giving to yourself, then you can manifest that. But you have to practice that consciousness. You have to bring that into the light of your thoughts and into the light of your actions. If not, it remains just a concept, and not a practice. You can feed yourself, and your relationships, by giving to both, and embracing the reality that when you give to either, you give to everything.
           Relationships are about sharing. And the most important, the most vital, the most precious element you can share in a relationship, is yourself. If you are stingy with that, then no matter who you are with, the relationship will be unsatisfying and unfulfilling. You must share yourself. You must take that risk of opening up and sharing who you are with the one you love.
           That, of course, means that you have to have a sense of who you are. Many of us get stuck there. I sometimes sure do, although far less than I used to. Doing the work to know yourself is critical in having healthy relationships. And, dare I say, far too many of us do not commit to getting to intimately know ourselves. And then we wonder why our relationships don’t work out. Creating intimacy with another is nigh impossible if you are not engaged in the process of creating intimacy with yourself.  
           You can be on the path of self discovery and self invention while you’re in an intimate relationship. In fact, if you’re committed to yourself and to your partner, you’ll always be on that path. There is no need to “wait” for you to get to know yourself. If you wait for that, you’ll always be Mr. or Ms. Eleanor Rigby. Just be fully engaged in the process. That’s all we can ever be anyway. That’s where the juice is. Be there, with your partner, in that exquisite process, together. Holding hands the whole time.
           Your relationship lives in your sharing. Of yourselves. Of who you are. Of what you want and need. Of what your partner wants and needs. Of what you want to give to each other. Stoke the flame with your sharing. Or watch it die under your stinginess of self.
           The flame needs you. Both of you. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be work, but it will be sometimes. Just like a physical fire, there are times when you are just basking in the beauty and the light and the exquisite glow of that fire. And there are times when you are cutting the wood, carrying that wood to the fire, and stoking and massaging the fire to burn brighter and hotter.
           Enjoy both basking in that fire, and enjoy what you have to do to create that fire. Enjoy chopping the wood as much as you do sitting back and feeling the warmth of it’s combustion. Enjoy the process. If you don’t, you’ll  never truly enjoy the results. Because you won’t get any results. Because you won’t actually do the process. You won’t have a fire unless you take actions to create that fire. It won’t appear by magic. But if you commit to the creation of that fire, if you commit to the relationship, if you commit to yourself and your partner, then the fire will often feel like magic. That’s the beautiful paradox.
           If you feel even a tiny spark of that fire with your partner, stoke it. Don’t choke it. Hold yourself accountable to what you’re doing to feed or famine your relationship, and ask your partner to do the same. Hold yourself, and hold each other, accountable. And hold yourself, and each other, often, period.
           And share yourself. Stoke the fire with the best fuel available: You.


    ©2012 Clint Piatelli, MuscleHeart, and Red F Publishing. All Rights Reserved

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