When We Keep Showing Up: The Personal Growth to be Gained from Our Relationships by N Paley



“Aren’t relationships the best dharma?” a close friend said to me recently. And from there, I began to pay more acute attention to this theme that was emerging so vibrantly in conversations with others about their lives and relationships in the last while; this framework of viewing relationships (all kinds–romantic, familial, platonic, collegial) as studio space for one’s personal growth.  It’s always been fascinating to me how each phase of one’s life seems to have certain themes to it and when we start being mindful of these themes, they seem to colorfully and loudly start displaying themselves every which way we go; almost as a way of expressing to us, “I’m here! Learn from me! I will keep showing myself, until you’ve dealt with me well.”

There is not one interpersonal relationship out there is immune to challenge; that doesn’t require heavy duty lifting from time to time to make it through to the next resting place. In graduate school, I did my Master’s thesis on the relationship growth that married partners experienced through the trauma of having a child with a serious illness and having that child die and working through grief as a dyad. I learned through hearing couples’ narratives, about the many ways they stayed the course together and got closer and more deeply involved through profound hardship and loss.  Years later, I am still perpetually intrigued by growth and relationships. However, I am currently most interested in how we can grow individually by continuing to show up for our relationships; shifting from dyadic to individual growth but within that relational context.

Relationships are a choose your own adventure experience.  We stumble and fumble through the complexity and uncertainty in our own individual ways.  Some plunge into these expeditions ready to leave at the first signs of adversity while others plug away with a different approach. Some play in the mystery of it all–writing poems, painting paintings; being amused and bemused; while others have a more linear, possibly more black or white lens they look through when conceiving how to move forward individually and together with another.  I believe–abusive relationships aside– if we have that perspective of growth, of relationships as being our dharma, our yoga, our studio space, our opportunity to be better people for ourselves and others, we invite ourselves onto a journey of self-exploration and development.

So I encourage you to ask yourself:

* When I walk into my relationship (s) ‘space(s),’ what personal work am I being offered? 

How do I respond to work, in general? When the going gets tough? This self knowledge will take you far in all areas of your life because, as we all know, difficulties are unavoidable and it’s how we respond to them that makes all the difference.

* Why do I keep showing up? 

What framework do you approach your relationships from?




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