Soulmates — How to Know One

Soulmates engage in growth together

Couples who are becoming soulmates are willing to learn how to keep their hearts open, even when the going gets rough.

They commit to learn to bring out their best, instead of passively giving way to their habitual reactions.

They refuse to simply close down into fear, withdrawal, self-defensiveness, resentment, blame, criticism, or the many other common ways we destroy our own relationships.

In the most challenging case, relationship work means showing up in a new way when both partners are stuck in negativity. It means embracing the upsets and learning how to expand and elevate the situation.

As a Japanese proverb suggests: “The obstacle is the path.”

You are called on to instigate positive transformation. Each partner needs to come forward in times of challenge and expand to the occasion, rather than closing down.

What prevents us from doing this work is the lack of a good model for how to do it. How many couples did you witness doing this when you were growing up?

Did we learn to do the real work of relationship?

We have all heard the saying, “Relationships take work.”

But, we are sadly lacking in useful guidelines, strategies or models for doing that work. We might work at our relationships, getting into long discussions of issues — or, when that doesn’t work, fights and arguments — and, when that doesn’t work, stop talking, distance and build up emotional walls.

All those kinds of “work” don’t work! They are not merely counterproductive. They are actually destructive. Yet, in truth, they all indicate that we have failed to learn any effective communication tools or understandings that enable us to transform, much less resolve, our upsets.

Most of us were raised in families which did not model how to do the work. We have seldom seen it done well, and may not even know a couple that can do it at all. For over five decades, our society has had persistently poor statistics on the lasting success of love, relationship or marriage.

It’s like this. Say that the only tool you acquired growing up is a bent and rusty chisel. As an adult, you have a lovely wooden table, with exquisite grain patterns of a rare hardwood. One day you notice a slight mar on the surface. You get out your rusty chisel and try to fix it, but you get extremely frustrated as you notice things get worse. The harder you work at it with your single tool, the more damage you do. Your lovely precious table is getting splintered. You no longer like it the way you once did. Soon all you can see is this messy gouge. Eventually you may conclude it’s time to get a new table.

This is the real deal. Not knowing how to deal with the inevitable tiffs and spills in love — both small and large — most couples end up unwittingly making things so stressful that, over time, happiness suffers and good feelings evaporate in the face of seemingly insurmountable patterns of reaction. Some blow up. Others shut down. But mainly, everyone suffers. This is all because they don’t have the right tools to work through problems or issues.

It is becoming clear that if we want to beat the odds and succeed in a great, long-term relationship, we need to learn to do the work of relationship. We need to pioneer a new path. We need to acquire the tools that we never were shown when we grew up and were supposed to model how to work with issues in a way that enables love and happiness to thrive.

Let’s start this work now, by consciously proposing a real-world definition for the word “soulmates.” A useful definition…

How do you know if you are true soulmates?

You are real-world soulmates if you’re both doing your growth work in the face of challenges. Work that will enable both of you to work together to resolve differences, to get what you really need in your intimate partnership, and to communicate in ways that — rather than triggering each other — you assist each other to emotionally grow.

You cannot know any of this by the honeymoon phase alone. To know you are real-world soulmates, you need to see how you both show up to work with real-world upsets, sensitivities, differences and challenges. You need to see if you are with someone — and if you are also that kind of someone yourself — who will grow emotionally when there are challenges. And who will reach out to find new tools and ways of communicating that truly honor each other and the love you share.

Some couples start with all the magic feelings about being soulmates — and then it fizzles. Continuing to want a passive solution to love, they conclude their partner was not the “right” person after all. They then look for the next honeymoon high, hitch the next passive ride — until it crashes. They never realize that half the problem was their own lack of good tools to keep love and happiness alive in the face of challenges. They do not see that they need something more than a rusty chisel to handle the issues that come up in long term love.

Other couples do not even think the word soulmate, nor do they believe in magic. But they commit to personal growth and face each lesson that love brings up. After awhile, doing the work of relationship over the years, they can see the solid trust and intimacy they have built, and there is little doubt in their hearts — they are soulmates, in the sense that they are now experiencing a solidity in their love which has never occurred previously in their lives.

The solidity and clarity of this feeling of being “soulmates” is based on the personal growth which enables you, yourself, to stay open even in the face of a challenge, problem or emotionally-charged issue. It is in that openness that these difficulties resolve and love grows even stronger.

Thus the subtitle of one of my books says it all: How to Transform Issues or Upsets into Opportunities to Strengthen Love.

That can initially sound like quite a mystifying mouth full. But if you get it, you understand a paradoxical secret of soulmates. In many ways, the expectations of the normal myth of soulmates is what keeps us from opening to our real-world mate — once we feel closed, upset, disappointed, or any other negative feeling.

But paradoxically, it is in the willingness to open, and re-open again — as often as needed — and embrace the obstacle directly in front of you — that you finally get to a more continual and expanded state, a reliable fullness of love, and the deep core sense of being soulmates.

This is very different than the early sense of openness and expansiveness in the honeymoon, where you get your first glimpse of the feeling of being soulmates. It is based on real world experience, and passing the tests where most couples fail. And you know that. There is no longer doubt.

Soulmates happen, of course, when both partners are simultaneously doing this. Becoming soulmates is not a solitary process. It is the result of two people opening, even in the face of challenges. You know you are with a “soulmate” if you are both doing your soulwork together. Soulwork is that courageous self-opening, expanding and growing as a chosen response to challenges that close down most people.

In doing that work, you evolve yourself and your soul matures. The requirement is being willing to take a challenge to heart and respond to it by learning new tools, strategies or understandings to overcome it. Doing that enables you to succeed in building a partnership so unparalleled that the best way you have to describe that in words is that you are soulmates.

I am honored to witness such work in my intensive marriage retreats where I frequently see couples on the brink of divorce turn things around. They learn to turn challenges into opportunities to strengthen love — and in doing so, grow themselves emotionally. Over the span of two or three days with me in the supportive environment of an intensive retreat, they discover how to communicate and act in ways that enabled their precious love to thrive.

No matter how many times it happens, each time I am thrilled to see how couples fall in love all over again. But this time it is as true soulmates — ones who have the tools and knowledge that enables love thrive, even in the face of challenges. They have become real-world soulmates!