My motivation to write an article on the dichotomous relationship between love and pain lies heavily on the most common complaint I hear from couples I coach outside of the BDSM world.  The most common complaint I hear is that most of my clients experience an inability to connect with friends, family, or lovers – sometimes even pets. It presents as an inability to connect, to be vulnerable, and to experience empathy. I’m not talking about superficial connection that revolves around pleasantries, and I’m not talking about not being able to do activities with others. What I’m talking about is the connection that is often called “intimacy,” the connection that makes us feel safe, can make us feel comfortable sharing our bodies with others, and the connection that is a result of feeling seen, heard, and respected in our experiences. 

Of course, there are many communication techniques that can be used to increase intimacy in relationships, but before we can talk about those, we must talk about the dichotomous relationship between love and pain. This relationship can also be compared to the dichotomous relationship between pain and pleasure, sadness and joy, calm and anger, etc.

Until we are willing and ready to open ourselves up to our own pain and the pain of others, the communication tools that are used to increase intimacy will not work, and the result will be communication that is littered with disconnects such as defensiveness, deflection, blame, excuses, analyzing, etc…

Basically, it can be summed up as this: It is impossible to feel joy without opening ourselves up to the experience of feeling sadness. It is impossible to feel pleasure without feeling pain. It is impossibly to feel love and connection without accepting the reality that loss and grief are parts of love. 

Still not convinced? Let me put it this way. Think of someone or something you have felt connected to in your life. Perhaps it’s a person or maybe even a pet. Logically, if we look at the relationship with that object, and we are in truth, we know that one day that bond will end. The fact is that one day you or that person or pet will die – or perhaps the relationship will end without death. However, this is evidence that everything is impermanent. I am, you are, everyone is.

Sure, thinking about the end of our relationships with our loved ones or pets can bring grief and pain, but it is only through acknowledgment of that reality that we can begin to fully open ourselves up to loving in the present moment. If the reality of death and impermanence were in the forefront of our mind, would we have said that nasty comment, would we have picked that fight, would we have acted out of selfishness?

Pain, loss, and grief are all emotions that are insistent in be felt. Why is it that we are OK with feeling happiness but we have an aversion to sadness? Is it possible to escape the pain of loss? Some would say yes – and believe me, a lot of people are very good at creating distractions in order to not have to feel these things. However, those are the people who come into my office not knowing exactly what’s wrong or why they aren’t happy. They wonder why they can’t connect to others, and they wonder what is lacking in their human experience. 

The human experience lies in truth, in honoring all of the states both pleasant and unpleasant. Our bodies know when we are denying ourselves the experiences that are natural in this life. Feelings are natural, pain is natural, love is natural (or at least it was for us at one time before we were wounded), grief is natural, joy is natural.

Why have we gotten so far away from experiencing what is natural? 

How many times have you oppressed someone by saying:

  • Stop crying.
  • Don’t be sad.
  • Don’t worry.
  • This too shall pass.

If we treated pleasant experiences with the same judgment we use when dealing with pain, it would look like this:

  • Don’t be happy.
  • Stop laughing.
  • Why do you have to be so calm?
  • Your joy won’t last forever! (Which is actually true but we don’t ever say it)

The song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” pretty much sums up the societal view that pain is shameful and pleasure is what we should seek – always.

Favoring certain emotions and expressions like love, laughter, and happiness, is indicative of living in a delusional fantasy world, one where reality is blurred.

There is a dichotomous relationship between emotions that are unpleasant and emotions that are pleasant. If we inhibit our ability to feel one, we are inhibiting our ability to feel the other. Logically, this makes sense. Emotionally, it is confusing because most of us don’t want to open ourselves up to being hurt.

News flash: You won’t be able to avoid the dirt of life forever. And if you don’t allow yourself to experience the muck, the sparkle won’t appear as bright.

Here’s an exercise I often give to my coaching clients: For the next week, try opening yourself up to the sensation of emotional pain – even if its only a little bit. After the week is over, continue the practice and notice how your experience of love has changed. Notice if you feel it differently, stronger, or perhaps if you feel more fear. Everything that happens and everything you notice can be a clue into what you need to do next.