Do I Really Want a Pain-free Relationship?

Do we really want pain-free relationships?

This is a question I asked myself recently after listening to a friend as he shared about the deep pain he felt in a relationship.  He talked about wishing there was a delete button for his memory.  He wanted out of the pain so badly.  My heart went out to him.

And then I listened a little more deeply.

I felt his courage.  I felt his strength.  I felt his willingness to feel his pain so deeply, particularly in the face of a fear that arose in him and sought to numb, deny or delete his feelings.  I felt his vulnerability through my openness.  Love and compassion flowed from me. I felt open to his experience of pain.

In the next moment, without even trying, I had the thoughts, "This pain is too much.  It's wrong.  He shouldn't be in so much pain".  In response to these thoughts, my openness closed.  My empathy contracted.  Something needed to be fixed.  I felt an urgency to offer him ways to transform his pain.  I was no longer listening to him.  It became about what I think and what I can do.  It became about me.  Separate.  Disconnected from him.

And I realized that in my relationship to him in this new moment, where a moment before I had felt love, I now felt uncomfortable and contracted in my body.  It hurt.  I was in pain too.

So, if relationships are a moment-to-moment experiencing of self in relation to other, and pain is an acute reminder of aliveness, do we really want pain-free relationships?