Are We Afraid of Bliss & Joy in Relationships?

I was reading an interview with author Marianne Williamson this weekend as I searched for a quote I was wanting to use (if you're new here, Marianne is one of my favorite teachers - I’ve followed her work for some time and think she’s incredibly wise and insightful). While reading, I found a really interesting perspective on what I would call the “spark” in a romantic relationship; the rare, but awesome chemistry you feel when you’re both attracted to someone physically and stimulated by them intellectually. For me, the spark is a reason to be excited and curious; it's a sign of connection. For some though, the spark - while still exciting - is a reason to remember past wounds and be skeptical. Marianne describes it like this:

"There is a current mythology in our culture that anytime we meet someone and have that "enchanted evening" experience, that experience of looking into the eyes of the other and falling hopelessly in love-- that this is nothing more than a delusion; a mutual projection, a fantasy that will only last until reality sets in.

The spiritual perspective is exactly the opposite. It says that this enchanted evening experience was in fact a temporary experience of enlightenment; a kind of temporary gift from the gods to show us the romantic mountaintop, so that we will have such an appetite for it, such desire to return to its bliss, that we will be willing to do the inner work necessary to climb back up there ourselves."


Marianne goes on to say that the “reality” experienced in the first perspective is most typically the moment when we’re triggered by past wounds, deeming it then appropriate to attack, defend, find fault, make conditions, withhold our approval, and so forth. We've all been there, either on the giving or receiving side of the first perspective. Personally, I'm a believer in the second, spiritual, perspective: Seeing the possibility and having not only the intrigue and curiosity, but also the willingness to work and grow to achieve the relationship you are capable of having. 

For another perspective, we'll turn to another of my favorite teachers, Dr. Brené Brown,  who I had the pleasure of hearing from today (Brené is the an expert in the research of shame, vulnerability, and courage). During her talk, Brené mentioned a similar paradigm she'd discovered in her academic research, which she describes as “foreboding joy.” In essence, foreboding joy is the tendency we have to discount or bury happy feelings. In addition to rejecting the good feelings, we also start imagining something bad will happen; when, in reality, nothing is wrong.

“Joy,” she said, “is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. If you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”

Brené went on to say that, after interviewing thousands of participants, she found that the people who had the highest capacity for joy could lean into vulnerability. For these individuals, when something blissful comes along, they use it as a reminder to practice gratitude instead of practicing disaster.

It seems both the spiritual and academic perspectives share a common finding: those who want to experience the feelings of bliss and joy are willing to replace fear with gratitude and growth. Hearing both Marianne’s spiritual and Brené’s intellectual insights on this classic too-good-to-be-true scenario gave me a lot to think about. When it comes to dating, romance, and love; putting yourself out there is indeed a courageous act. There’s always a chance you’ll get hurt. Sometimes the hurt might be a tiny bruise to the ego, sometimes a bigger scrape, and others a horrendous wound that eventually scars - leaving us a reminder of the possibility of pain. When I stop to remember my own bruises, bumps and scrapes; it’s easy to see why it may seem safe to shy away from the spark for fear that we may get burnt by the flame.

However, I’ve found that some of our best moments can be found just past our greatest discomfort, but I think Brené says it best, “I believe the broken-hearted are the bravest among us because they had the courage to love.”