Humans 101

Your Relationship Is a Spiritual Assignment

You will keep getting the same lessons until you learn them

Double exposure orange-filtered photo of a couple kissing against bright sky.
Double exposure orange-filtered photo of a couple kissing against bright sky.
Photo: urbazon/Getty Images

I have long wondered what the difference is between a soulmate and a childhood wound. Why are we so drawn to some people even though we know from experience that the relationship will end badly? How can some people trigger us to go from calm and conscious to a burning cauldron of rage or knot of anxiety in mere seconds?

While there are likely many psychological reasons for this, the explanation that resonates the most with me is that our relationships, or lack thereof, are spiritual assignments. They are strategically and lovingly placed before us by our higher power or the divine to guide us on our path to self-actualization.

“What!?” you might be asking. “So-and-so isn’t a spiritual assignment — he’s a shitshow!” To which I’d respond: “Yes, and…”

Ask yourself: “If my outer experience is a reflection of my inner experience, what is the relationship telling me about myself?” Or, “If this person is triggering me, what does that reveal about my wounds?” You might find answers like abandonment, being unloved, or not being heard.

When we get curious about our patterns, triggers, and reactions, we see that our relationships show us the places we still need to heal. If we didn’t have those triggers, how would we know where to tend?

Positive: Smart. Funny. Sometimes playful.

Negative: Incompetent. Unreliable. Victimized. Needy. Erratic. Moody. Helpless. Critical. Unsupportive.

In a recent workshop, I was asked to write down my father’s positive and negative traits (I was asked to do this for my mother too, but I’m going to focus on my father here). Those are the words that I listed. Not the most flattering list, I know. My teacher then told me that these words described how I perceived the Divine Masculine (God) and really all men. Ouch! Could this be true? I wondered to myself. I’ve always considered myself an aficionado of men.

I reflected back on my previous relationships. I quickly observed that the men I was often attracted to possessed most of the qualities I listed. Not all men, of course, just the ones I sustained longer-term relationships with. In these unions, I always felt responsible for keeping the structure, order, and peace. My partners always seemed a bit helpless — both in life and love. I acted as a project manager for the relationship.

I was creating my own unfulfilling romantic reality.

I managed agendas, coordinated events, made sure that important dates like my birthday were scheduled in their calendar. This was my attempt to ensure that my needs would be met. A friend observed that I took on these responsibilities because I didn’t believe my partner could do it. I wanted to protect myself from the disappointment I would inevitably feel when they failed to meet my expectations. This strategy works for a time. But alas, this inequity does not make for a healthy, thriving relationship. Eventually, I would get frustrated, and resentment would grow because I felt like I was the only one keeping the relationship afloat. I would break up with the man and begin again, hoping for a more favorable result.

Fortunately, I began to develop the self-awareness to see that I was creating my own unfulfilling romantic reality, and I began to look more closely at my patterns. When we view our relationships as spiritual assignments, we see that we keep getting the same lessons until we learn them. I was in the remedial program.

While it was great that I felt competent to take care of myself, I needed to believe that my partner was capable and could care for me, too. I no longer wanted to be the woman behind the curtain, pulling all the strings (trust me, it’s exhausting). I wanted a relationship where we were both contributing to its success. I realized that I needed to heal my relationship with the Divine Masculine and change my beliefs around men. I had to go back to the beginning.

When I was seven, I remember waiting for my father to come home on Christmas day. I had already unwrapped all my gifts. My mom always made sure that I got everything on my list. While I played with my new toys, she would make an epic holiday dinner. The house was festively decorated, and the smell of baked ham wafted through it. Aunt, uncles, grandparents, and cousins would all stop by at some point for either appetizers, dinner, or dessert. The sound of the door opening and closing every couple of minutes signaled a new guest’s arrival. Every time I heard it open, I would rush to see who was there, hoping that it would be my father. It never was.

I always felt thankful and flooded with a wave of relief whenever a man showed up.

His absence didn’t seem to bother my mom at all. She was likely relieved. Often his moody presence would put a damper on the festivities. But I was disappointed. Wondering if he would show up was a recurring theme from my childhood through adulthood (he didn’t show up for my wedding either). He always had some reason to explain his whereabouts, but I recognized they weren’t very good ones, even at a young age.

This was the beginning of a long pattern of me expectantly waiting for men to call, text, or arrive. If I had a date, anxiety would increase with each passing minute they were late. Actually, anxiety would begin well before they were even supposed to arrive as I lamented over the odds that they really would. I always felt thankful and flooded with a wave of relief whenever a man showed up. While most men came when expected, my suspicion about men’s lack of reliability was always confirmed by the few who didn’t.

Sometimes my dad would give me a check for a birthday or holiday gift. While this was very generous of him, I was often told not to cash it “just yet.” Eventually, my mom would take the check and give me the value from her own money. She didn’t seem to have much faith in its liquidity. Thus, I learned at an early age that men aren’t very reliable or responsible — and like my mom, it’s best if I take charge.

When we talk about limiting beliefs, we are often talking about assumptions we have toward ourselves that keep us playing small. Like, “I’m too old,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t have the resources.” But we can also have limiting beliefs about others. I had them for an entire gender! These beliefs kept the men in my life playing small too.

Luckily, I had a workaround. In most of my relationships, I always kept a backlog of men to call upon — plan B, C, and sometimes even D. It was like an emergency savings account for men that I could tap into once I was disappointed enough with my current man. Honestly, this strategy brought me a sense of ease, and it’s been a hard habit to break.

Though once I became more aware of my patterns, I wanted to dismantle my limiting beliefs around men. I wanted a competent man as a partner. This was when my boyfriend was brought into my life (the divine knew I was ready for my next lesson). He’s one of the most capable and responsible people I have ever met — and holy anxiety! I couldn’t wrap my head around his consistency and reasonableness. What would I do if I wasn’t fervently managing the course of our relationship? Was I even needed? For the first year of our relationship, I was always on edge, waiting to be tragically disappointed.

We don’t want someone who completes us — we want someone who heals us.

Despite my certainty that he had some tragic flaw that would soon be revealed, I continued to stay with him. (I attribute this to my therapist and my higher self lovingly telling me to “calm the fuck down.”) I started to realize that my needs could be met by my partner. Men could be responsible, capable, and reliable. My limiting beliefs began to heal. A friend recently told me, “We don’t want someone who completes us — we want someone who heals us.” That’s it — that’s the difference between a soulmate and a childhood wound. The partners we’re not supposed to be with validate our wounds. The ones we are supposed to be with help to heal them. Hallelujah!

I didn’t want someone to confirm my wounds as I had for most of my life. I wanted someone with whom I could come together and heal — and we all have past hurts. I learned that a person can trigger you and still be a terrific partner. My boyfriend brought up a lot of anxiety, but it made me face my fear of being disappointed and abandoned. Author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson has described how two people in a relationship come together like two rough, uncut gems. They rub on one another to become polished and clear. My boyfriend and I are like that. The rubbing isn’t always pleasant, but it is effective.

Sometimes the lesson we are supposed to learn is to leave, sometimes it is to stay, but it is always to heal. Only you know what the lesson is that you need to learn, but you do know it. You just need to find stillness and silence to hear your inner wisdom and have the will to follow it. It won’t always be what you want to hear. Notice if you’re asking around for a lot of advice. As author Erica Jong wisely said: “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”

Here are a few ways to identify your spiritual assignment and learn from it.

Pray

Prayer is our way of talking to the divine. We can use prayer to ask for guidance on how to live our lives with grace and wisdom. Explain your situation to your higher power and ask for guidance on how to move forward.

Meditate

We need to create space and stillness to hear our higher selves. We simply can’t hear her in the hustle and bustle of daily activity. If you don’t already have one, start a daily meditation practice. You only need 5–15 minutes to sit quietly and pay attention to your breath.

Journal

Get curious and consider:

  • What are the issues or fears that this person brings up for me? When have I felt this before (think way back)?
  • Does this relationship fit into a pattern? What happened? Why would this time be different?

Identify your beliefs around the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine

To better understand your beliefs around the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine (men and women), complete this 15-minute exercise. This is the same exercise I completed that triggered my “aha moment!”

Take a piece of paper and divide it into fours. Label the columns “mom” and “dad” and the rows “positive” and “negative.” List the characteristics for each of your parents in each of the blocks. This is for your eyes only — don’t worry about how it will be perceived.

Take about 10 minutes to fill it out, then notice what you’ve written. Is it an accurate representation of how you feel about the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine? What about your beliefs toward men and women? Have you attracted these characteristics into your romantic relationships? Where do you notice limiting beliefs? Where are there opportunities to heal?

Of course, for many of us, healing and dismantling limiting beliefs will not happen overnight — it is a lifelong journey. But that’s okay, we have a lifetime. Our progress may seem incremental at times, but we lean in the direction of healing and wholeness.

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” —Rumi

Join my goddess training at www.facebook.com/groups/goddesswisdom1/ or find me at www.lisamarierankin.com.

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