As we move into Valentine’s Day, our thoughts turn to our relationships, especially intimate ones. Some of us are in satisfying partnerships; others are struggling. Some yearn for a life partner; others prefer to fly solo. In all cases, we do well to consider, “What makes a great relationship work?”

     A lot of my coaching clients wonder if they should stay in their relationship or leave. I tell them, “How you stay or leave is more important than whether you stay or leave.” We are tempted to judge our relationships by their form rather than our experience of them. If you stay, stay with love. If you leave, leave with love. Don’t let fear, anger, or guilt hijack your life. The “with love” element—for yourself and your partner—makes all the difference in the quality of your relationship and your life.

     My client Barry, a dedicated A Course in Miracles student, told me, “After much deliberation, my wife and I decided to divorce, and we went to a mediator to help us settle our finances and legal details. When we came to an agreement during the session, the mediator was shocked. He told us, ‘In all my years of mediating divorces, I have never seen a couple reach a settlement so harmoniously and quickly.’” Barry believes that miracles are natural when true caring is present.

     If you are hung up on the form or appearance of your relationship, you can be distracted by how it looks rather than how it is. Just because you have a marriage certificate or you are living under the same roof does not mean you are together. You can be sleeping beside someone and feel thousands of miles away. The Japanese say, “Same bed, different dreams.” Nothing is lonelier than walking through the form of a partnership when your heart feels hollow.

      By contrast, you could be thousands of miles from someone you love, and feel totally connected. When you think about them you feel lifted, and when you see them, it’s as if no time has passed. It’s not what the bodies are doing that makes or breaks a relationship. It’s what the hearts or souls are doing.

    Neither does a divorce certificate or a breakup mean the end of a relationship. If you have a soul contract to continue to help each other grow,  you remain connected emotionally. The Hawaiians talk about “aka” cords—strands of energy, like taffy, that keep people psychically connected. You do not break an aka cord by moving out. You break an aka cord by healing unresolved issues and loving more deeply. I know one couple who were married and divorced five times before they felt complete. 

     A soul contract is an agreement you make before birth, with someone who will help you grow spiritually. In some cases, that person helps you grow through kindness and unconditional love, and in other cases through challenge. Most marriages contain elements of both. To master the lessons of relationships, we must deeply appreciate our partner. I have heard, “Many people are good at counting the costs. Far fewer people are good at counting the benefits.”

      If you are having difficulty in your relationship, you are likely focusing on what is not working. You may be attempting to change your partner or waiting for them to change. I coached a woman who had just gotten out of the hospital after being treated for dangerously high blood pressure. The medication she was taking at home wasn’t working.        

      “Is there some situation in your life by which you are feeling extremely pressured, or exerting extreme pressure?” I asked her.

     “I feel frustrated trying to fix my husband,” she answered.   

     “How long have you been trying to fix him?”

     “Forty-two years.”

     “If you haven’t fixed your husband in the past forty-two years, do you think you will be any more successful in the next forty-two years?”

    “No,” she admitted. “I’m starting to see that now.”

     If you would really like to soar this Valentine’s Day, I suggest you make a gratitude list of all the things you appreciate about your partner and your relationship, and read that list to him or her. That will make your holiday far more rewarding than flowers, chocolate, or dinner. All of those items last but a few hours or a week. Sincere appreciation lasts a lifetime.

      While we would all like our relationship world to be easy, often it isn’t. Yet there are huge gifts to be enjoyed through gaining the soul growth that relationships offer us. If you consider your partner your divinely appointed teacher to help you learn what will make your life really happy, you are on to something.

     A Course in Miracles tells us that “a happy outcome to all things is sure.” So let it be in your most important relationships. May your Valentine’s Day be chocolate for your soul.

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