The Wisdom of Taking Emotional Risks In Love

Lessons on love from a bird in a cactus.

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I contemplated pulling myself out of the air-conditioned car to plant my feet on the sun-scorched, Arizona ground. The car’s cool comfort escaped through my dusty, open window as I stuck my head out to check for snakes, scorpions, or any other reason to stay in the car.

As I surveyed the Southwestern scenery, I spied a Cactus Wren near my window gracefully land on a cactus populated by long, menacing needles. I was drawn to the wonder of such a delicate being coming so close to such danger, as one of those needles was longer than the depth of the little bird’s chest. One misstep, or a really clunky landing, and that bird would not fly again. Instinct, and an apparent trust in the training of the past guided the bird’s delicate feet to balance amongst the needle-thin spikes.

Clearly unruffled by its sharp surroundings, the bird had the fortitude to sing a musical line! I struggled to picture myself perched on a spike amid hundreds of other spikes while whistling a tune. It simply would not happen. Of all the targets for this creature to choose, I wondered, why this inhospitable perch of a cactus needle? I doubted it would spend much time on the needle. I concluded that in the landing on such an inhospitable place, that the bird had committed itself to leaving soon in search of a better situation. I was wrong.

Suddenly, the bird did the unthinkable. It disappeared through a small hole in the cactus! Houdini and Han Solo had nothing on this bird. A moment passed. The tip of its beak appeared and cast a slight shadow on the entrance to its home. We looked at each other from our shaded but open windows, surveying potential predators in the vicinity. I felt a kinship with the bird as I had no interest in leaving the comfort of my safe place.

It didn’t take long to realize the wisdom in the seeming madness I had just witnessed. By taking a risk in choosing the prickly cactus as a safe place to land, this bird leveled the playing field with its fiercest predator, the red-tailed hawk. The hawk would have to be simply mad to attempt a charge at such a fortress.

S o it is with our committed, romantic relationships. To have the emotional safety of a deep and passionate, relationship, I believe we must be willing to risk landing our hearts on one person with the intent to commit to that person. Whether this person will ultimately pierce our hearts and cause us pain, or offer us a safe place to land is unknown in the beginning of the relationship. This is the risk and sometimes intimidating world of commitment.

Committed love is worth the emotional risk required to deepen our bonding with our partner. The trepidation often felt in the early days of emotional connection is balanced by the hope that the relationship will be predominantly safe. Those of us taking this risk often choose do so because we long for a safe place to rest and call home. We long to find that person with whom we can build and maintain the proper defenses against the predators who would tear us apart.

Many of us crave the protection of this connection so much that we go from relationship to relationship in search of it, only to find the easiest people to land are the hardest to hold on to. Like the prickly cactus, committed love often isn’t what it appears to be. Consider that if we only landed on the seemingly smooth relationships we would miss out on the healing haven found within the sometimes intimidating construct of committed relationships.

Like the Cactus Wren learning to land on thin, sharp needles, committed relationships involve risk and growing pains. They require us to rely on practice, an ever-growing emotional intelligence, and instinct to achieve balance and make it work. It is a risk to look in a lover’s eyes and ask her to accept all that you have to give — your life and love. It is a risk for a lover to accept and commit. So often two lovebirds sit perched outside the door of a life of passionate commitment because there are many difficult obstacles to be navigated to reach the safe haven. Considering the predators that circle the Cactus Wren, clearly, the risk is greater on the needle than inside the cactus. Like the bird seeking refuge from outside dangers, to experience the benefits of a safe place to land, we must risk the unknown and jump in. Once inside, we will be able to shift from defensive self-protection and fully focus on the relationship.

Committed love is worth the emotional risk required to deepen our bonding with our partner. The trepidation often felt in the early days of emotional connection is balanced by the hope that the relationship will be predominantly safe.

Y et, the risk-taking is far from over. There may be times in committed relationship when a partner strays from the safety of the relationship and causes injury. As a result, the offended partner may feel the need to fly away, or push the other partner out of the nest. It is a risk to forgive and open the heart again to one that has broken trust or been unkind. When we close our hearts to the seeking or giving of forgiveness and love, we block the narrow entrance to the safety of the relationship and keep our intimate partner on the sharp perch, exposed to the continued attacks of predators. Refused entry, this rejected partner may feel the need to find another place to land.

What of the unsettled, insecure partner who leaves a loving relationship? There are relationships where, despite a partner’s best efforts to love and nurture, the other partner, unwilling to invest and commit, is perched loosely at the door, and eventually flies away with the wind to find another place to land. It is likely that the absent partner will find that the desert has many places to land, but none are so safe as the one they just left. Barring abuse, leaving is a greater risk than the risks taken in deepening a love already found.

A t times, love can become scorched and wind-whipped, or injured by a partner’s clumsy landing. Fierce winds will threaten to carry you or your partner away. There will be predators lying in wait for vulnerabilities in your relationship to pounce on your commitment to each other. Avoiding or leaving a relationship is a major risk. It exposes one to the elements, and predators that merely seek to consume and destroy. A committed relationship gives two partners a strong advantage against damaging forces such as pornography, stress, loneliness and predators who seek to lure us away from our place of safety.

Like the bird perched on the cactus, creating a committed relationship may appear frightening. Be bold like the bird on the cactus! If there is a risk to be taken, then risk building a safer place of love rather than risking that love by going after the next wind that carries you away. Once committed, stay engaged in the mindset of commitment. Again, barring some type of abuse, the sharp edges of your relationship are no less painful than those on the cactus next door.

I f you are looking to avoid the sharp and painful edges committed relationships appear to have, then you will likely spend much time perched on the outside of a potential safe haven. There is no protection on the perch. The others who perch with you, but avoid jumping in, will fly away. The partners, who like the Cactus Wren, nest in one place for the long-haul, are the most protected from the predators and destructive elements that destroy committed relationships.

Love is worth the risk it takes to jump in. It is often in the most unexpected places that we find and become a safe place to land.

Self-Enrichment Educator. Narcissistic and Spiritual Abuse Awareness Advocate.

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