Where is it written that relationships would come into our lives, slay whatever evil dragons we're carrying around with us, and then help us to live happily ever after? Lately I've met many people who have helped me to take another look at our relationships - the people who have passed through our lives and those who have stayed.

Relationships are assignments from the universe and if we are open to them, they can enrich our lives with unimagined miracles. Of course there's always the temptation to stay stuck at the story line, going over who did what to whom but then we miss out on the richness that these lessons bring. If we close down to avoid pain, we delay our growth and life will actually become more painful; even if we don't realize it right away. We suffer from a hardening of the arteries; love doesn't come in. And it doesn't go out. Oh there may be the illusion that there is movement. But if we love one group and not another we've shut down and the love that comes out will be tainted with hidden demands, a bottomless pit of hunger, an ache that never really seems to go away. The love that selects one group for special treatment but condemns another to burn in the hot place is a “love” born of fear and tells us more about where we need healing than it tells us of the rejected group.

The other day I ran into a friend I hadn't seen for a long time. As she filled me in with the events of her life, she seemed more relaxed than she had in years. She talked about the peace she had been experiencing; the support from her female friends. She said she felt happy and after the painful ending of her last relationship 8 years ago, she didn't think she needed to be in another relationship—ever.

And then there are my two wonderful acquaintances who have just ended their relationship with each other. His explanation is that he's waiting for the right person to come along as he didn't want to repeat the mistake he had made in his last marriage. Funny thing is he seems to run each time he meets someone who might fit the role! Meanwhile, her story is that she's tired of people who can't commit and who run from true intimacy. I bit my tongue but it didn't work and so I mumbled something about the many times she had run in relationships. She laughed and replied that one could never be too careful.

I really took another look at relationships when my daughter shared with me a conversation she had with a friend whom she had dated. He wanted her to be more positive and he pointed out that she needed to be more open to people. When she asked him if he were open he replied no but that he had been hurt many times. Who hasn't?!! These young people are in their early twenties and they are shutting down, afraid of getting hurt. The assignment from relationships isn't about putting up walls. It's about bringing them down so that we are the better for having done so.

In her book called Grieving, Therese Rando points out that in the best of all possible worlds, love would not bring pain. However in our world the reality is undeniable—when we love someone we inevitably set ourselves up for pain and grief when that love is severed. Fact is all our relationships will come to an end. Whether the ending is brought about by divorce, separation, relocation, death, falling out of love or interest, the result is still the same—loss of what once was. And while we grieve, the lesson is not about never loving again. Can you imagine a parent saying she no longer loves her son who is living at home because of the pain she experienced when her other child went off to university?

I remember reading a quotation, “Ships in a harbour are safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” Ships sail seas that are rough and seas that are peaceful. That's life. And we take risks, fall and learn about getting up. So if we are like ships what better seas to sail and what better school to learn lessons than relationships?

Years ago I saw a movie called Hope Floats. And in that movie the Sandra Bullock character goes on a Jerry Springer/Rickie Lake type show expecting a makeover. Instead her friend comes on to tell Sandra that she's in love with her husband and he's leaving Sandra for her. Sandra's character is devastated and tearfully tells her mother that all she had wanted was a free makeover. Her mother reassured her that she had gotten a makeover; just not the kind she expected.

Relationships give us makeovers and we never know how they'll turn out but the learning is about what we choose to do with the makeover. Will we see it as an opportunity to grow or will we decide to fold up and shut down?

Marianne Williamson says it well in her book Return to Love: “People who have the most to teach us are often the ones who reflect back to us the limits to our own capacity to love, those who consciously or unconsciously challenge our fearful positions. They show us our walls. Our walls are our wounds—the places where we feel we can't forgive past a certain point.”

Our Assignment: Take a deep breath and set the intention to remove the wall that is preventing you from seeing love in your life!

Dawn Brown, M.Ed. (Counselling) has shared her message of hope with audiences nationally and internationally through her keynotes, seminars, writings, radio and television interviews, and counselling practice. She is author of That Perception Thing!; Choosing Opportunity, and co-author of Expert Women Who Speak ... Speak Out.

Dawn promotes emotional health and shows people how to thrive in times of change. Her message is simple yet effective: While we can’t change the people or events in our lives, we can choose to shift our perceptions of them.

Recently the Director of Student Life Services and head of Career Services at Carleton University, she devotes her energies to Perception Shift, her company dedicated to creating a healthy approach to living. Visit her web site at www.perceptionshift.com