Learning to Build Loving Relationships: Some Advice From Pigeons

Image by Gerd Altmann

Building a loving and respectful relationship with your partner can be a beautiful and important way to create more peace and contentment in your life. But how do we build this kind of relationship? I have pondered this question often throughout my life, especially since my parents modelled a different type; theirs was a relationship marred by a lack of communication and games of manipulation and control. My personal experience is not uncommon; over the years, I have met many others who have faced similar questions and challenges. The truth is that it is hard to break established patterns of behaviour. In trying to learn another way, I have often sought guidance from Mother Nature. As I share in this story, in the corner of my garden, I recently discovered two expert love counsellors, a pair of pigeons, who have given me sound advice.

Every morning a pair of pigeons perch themselves on the colour bond fence that encloses my garden. They rest with their wings just touching, leaving a small gap between their rusty brown and grey coloured bodies. Enjoying the gentle warmth of the Sun, they preen themselves, cleaning their feathers with beak. They also take it in turns to preen one another, nipping gently at each other’s wings and necks.

I stop my morning chores to watch them. As I do, I sense I am learning important lessons about how to build tender, respectful and strong relationships. Indeed, pigeons are Mother Nature’s experts in love. Generally speaking, when they find a partner, they mate for life. Their unwavering devotion is one reason why they are often interpreted as a symbol of love and good fortune.

My loved-up pigeons have shown me how to sit alongside of my partner in our relationship. You can be close, very close, but you also need to leave enough room to breathe and grow as people. The precise distance needed between lovers I believe depends on the needs and personalities of each person. As an empath, I am highly-sensitive and need time alone on a regular basis to fully integrate experiences and feelings. Over time, I have learnt to appreciate my needs and I am fortunate that my partner respects them also. As I came to know him, I also realised that he needs space to achieve his goals as a person.

Learning to honour each other’s space be a slow and at times, painful lesson as I discovered, especially if you are recovering from trauma, heartbreak and abandonment. At the beginning of our relationship, I swung between keeping my partner at arm’s-length and wanting to cling to him. Over time, I have worked on the cause of these behaviours; I learnt and developed these responses from my complex relationships with my family, and in particular with my father, who was often absent during my formative years. Early on, when I felt challenged, overwhelmed or unsafe in my relationship, I often resorted to attention-seeking behaviours, such as making indirect requests for my partner to reaffirm his love and affection for me. These almost always failed and I was left frustrated and doubting if he was truly committed to our relationship. Doubt breeds judgement and conflict. What I needed to learn was to be vulnerable. I had to grow awareness of the negative stories playing in my mind and then practise communicating what I was experiencing. Initially, I was afraid to share my darkest thoughts and feelings because I thought they would repel him, but sharing them has only strengthened our relationship, as it has enabled us to resolve misunderstandings and misguided expectations and dispel judgement. I have also learnt the power of deeper listening. When I dwell in fear, I misinterpret his words, actions and intentions, but when I remove fear’s filter and listen to his actual words, his messages was crystal clear.

My pigeon friends remind me continually that it is important to look after your own heart, mind and body. In all of my close relationships, I find it easy to lose myself. I often want to help and support others, and at times, I go over the top. In my past romantic relationships, I was the girl who simply gave too much and often to men who didn’t value and respect me. Inevitably, I got stung. When these relationships ended, I was left feeling unappreciated and often drained, as I had given away my energy and much of my resources. Looking back I now see that these men served me as great life teachers. Eventually, I was forced to address one of my deepest issues, which was that I had to come to define myself almost exclusively around giving to others. This lesson came in my early 30s in a hard way when I faced burn out; I was spent in every way. At this point, I had to confront my self-deprecating and dismissive attitude towards myself. This mindset had motivated me time and time again to overwork myself to the point of exhaustion.

Nursing myself back to health meant reviewing all aspects of my life, including how I lived day to day. I began to address my unrealistic expectations and tap into my creativity again: I wrote, draw and painted, I moulded and carved. Eventually, as I learnt to take care of myself, I found myself making larger changes in my life, such as graduating from my PhD and starting my own business. I now find myself entering a new and more respectful relationship with myself.

My bird love advisors have also shown me how to build a deeper connection through learning to receive. While we are ultimately connected to all things, we can draw people into our inner circle and bind them to us by establishing and maintaining flows of giving and receiving. When we give and receive openly and freely, our actions become supreme demonstrations of care and love and these help our relationships thrive.

For a long, I could not receive. To survive a difficult home environment, I made a pact with myself as a child: I must do everything myself. I believed that if I took care of everything, I would be safe, won’t get disappointed, and be a burden. However, later in life, trying to do everything on my own was a primary cause of depression and burn out. I felt like so disconnected and like I didn’t have a place in the world. As I finished my PhD battling a serious health crisis, I realised that I needed support but even then I struggled to ask for help. I would limp along until people recognised I was in trouble and offered to help me.

When my partner came along the lesson intensified. He offered to do things for me, showered me with gifts and offered to help me financially when I needed it. Immediately I tried to block his generosity out of guilt and shame. I should be able to provide for myself, I would think. And remember, you just can’t rely on anybody else. No one can be trusted. I am sure that I offended my partner quite a few times in the beginning, but as he came to know me, we worked out ways to tackle my issues around receiving. From my side, I realised that in order to build the relationship I wanted, I had to break my childhood agreement. I had to learn to ask for help. Now I understand that my partner loves to give and when he does freely, this makes him feel good. I have also had to learn how to relinquish control. Surrendering control has given me more freedom in my life and made me a happier person and this is because I am learning to trust and build faith in others again.

So, I guess the premise of this short tale is that when we need help in our lives, we can whisper our problem to Mother Nature, and she will listen attentively and then send us a messenger to teach us new ways of being in our lives. In my case, I look only to the corner of my garden and observe my friends, the pigeons, to gain advice about how to build more balanced and loving relationships in my life.

Lisa is an Australian researcher, educator and artist and holds a PhD in Archaeology. www.ancientexplorer.com.au

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