Conscious relating can be a powerful personal development practice. However, it can also be a challenge – here are some great strategies to consider
Some days it seems like the idea of ‘conscious’ relationship is making its way gradually into the mainstream.
Other days, when I watch a movie, or overhear a conversation in a café, I realise that a lot of people are still running on some very old and unconscious patterns when it comes to relationships.
So what do I mean by ‘conscious’ relationship?
Well, for me conscious relating begins by recognising how our own psychological material is shaping our view of the people we are connecting with. It begins with choosing to drop any old patterns or programs that don’t serve us. It also implies that we don’t use relationship to make ourselves happy. Rather we see relationship as a journey towards becoming more whole within ourselves.
For some people that might sound like too much hard work. Perhaps if everything is fine in the context of having a normal relationship and getting on with your life, maybe don’t read this article.
For those who have had deep challenges and rewards from relationship, the chances are that your relating is already spiritually initiating you into deeper levels of self. If that’s the case, here are a few principles I’ve picked up after a decade or so of experimenting with a more conscious attempt at relationship. I’ve also been picking the brains of the most interesting teachers I’ve found on the subject.
1. Have a clear, shaped purpose for the relationship
Now it’s all well and good to decide that you want to use your relationship as a vehicle to becoming a more complete being, but if the person you’re dating just wants a happy life and some babies to post pictures of on Instagram – you might find that you have a more difficult time than necessary.
The people that I know who do this well, despite having challenges just like anyone else, have a clear understanding and agreement of why they’re in a relationship in the first place. If your values, purpose, and vision match, the journey ahead has a much better chance of actually being synergistic, rather than two people who are doomed from the start to pull in opposite directions.
One of the most potent things I hear sounds a little like, “We’re each committed to our own growth first.” Or, “We’re both committed to opening deeper in love itself, and the relationship is a vehicle to help us achieve that”.
Regardless of how it’s phrased, when we enter intentionally into relationship as a pathway for self-discovery and spiritual evolution, it takes things to a deeper level and gives us a different set of benchmarks to decide whether the relationship is ‘working’.
2. A commitment to individual sovereignty
This one goes against the standard relationship advice that often seems to be based around compromise. The more I have learned to take care of my own needs, to take responsibility for my own journey and not project my expectations on to the other person, the more ‘conscious’ my relationship dynamics have become.
This is a tricky one. For many of us the concept of ‘boundaries’ is not something we were raised with. As children we are often taught to do things to please our parents. To kiss the auntie who comes over whether we feel like it or not. To smile and pretend to be happy, even when we aren’t. In short, most of us aren’t raised to honour our own needs and desires. We are trained to put others’ happiness before our own.
First, this self-negating behaviour tends to lead to resentment.
Second, problems arise in adult relating when we buy into the concept that someone else can ‘make us happy’.
Of course this is a psychological impossibility; all self-help teaches us that our happiness is an inside job. However, the vast majority of media we consume from childhood tells us that out there is one person who will come along and fulfil all of our needs. Strangely this has never actually happened, but many of us navigate our lives in the expectation that it will!
3. Question the existing assumptions about relationship models
More and more people are experimenting with polyamory, open relationships, or ‘monogamish’ types of dynamics. Maybe this is because many of us saw the way our parents’ relationships worked out. Maybe we decided we didn’t feel like following the same pattern.
However, many people are still in relationship agreements that don’t suit them.
Maybe it’s the commitment to never have sex with anyone else. Perhaps it’s simply the assumption that one person is supposed to fulfil all of the different dynamics. However, by and large we have bought into the idea that romance-based, heterosexual, long-term, monogamous relationship is ‘normal’.
For those who largely dwell within this paradigm, it might be a surprise to find out that before the Romantic era of art, music, and literature, the idea of finding ‘the one’ to complete us was basically non-existent.
Our culture is shaped by the stories we tell
One of the greatest ‘love’ stories in our history is Romeo & Juliet. For those who forgot, the basic plot is that two teenagers fall in love. They know each other for four days, get married, and commit suicide.
Needless to say, this model doesn’t really stand up well to scrutiny. Nor does the standard romantic drama sequence where the guy finally realises ‘she’s the one’. He then proceeds to run through the airport in the final scene to beg her not to catch that plane so they can be together happily ever after.
So am I saying that there’s no point in romance? Not exactly. What I’m saying is that we can create any sort of relationship agreement we want.
One arrangement isn’t better or ‘more right’ than another. There’s nothing wrong with monogamy if it’s a conscious choice. What makes it ‘conscious’ is that we learn from our experiences. We design relationship containers and agreements that work for us in reality, rather than just doing what everyone else is doing just because we’ve never questioned it.
4. Conscious community
One of the first things my long-term polyamorous friends all state is, “This is a lot easier when you know other people who are doing it.”
The same applies to anyone trying any kind of new paradigm relating. You can’t go it alone. Ideally, you’ll find or build community with other people who share similar views of the types of relationships they want to experience. After all, the world is set up a certain way. It encourages a certain type of relationship and a certain level of consciousness; for example, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, etc.
If we want something different, then we need to surround ourselves with others of a like mind who can support and encourage us as we explore a bold new frontier. In addition to this, having other people outside of the couple who can reflect back to us what’s happening inside our relationship is a powerful way of fast tracking our growth and moving more quickly through triggers and wounds that arise.
One of the ideas I picked up living in conscious community is this; the dynamics between a couple are not private. They affect all of us. In the regular world, so much of the crap that goes on between two people stays behind closed doors.
This is why relationship counselling is so useful. It shines light on the patterns that are running from the point of view of a third, unbiased party. This is also why men’s and women’s circles are useful. People can voice things that are going on in their life and be heard by others in a relatively unbiased way.
At the very least, making friends with other switched on people who can give you unbiased reflections on your love life, is essential.
5. Dedication to the inner marriage of masculine and feminine
Above all, the individuals and couples whom I see relating well in the world have figured out one piece: each of us – regardless of gender – has a masculine and feminine aspect inside us. The relationship between this ‘inner couple’ will have more impact on our external relationship than anything else.
Despite this being obvious, much relationship advice, and a lot of the sacred sexuality scene, is firmly rooted in the rigid gender roles of the 1950s.
David Deida’s book The Way of the Superior Man typifies this approach. The advice is basically that if men are on purpose and women are able to be soft and open everything will work out fine. Not surprisingly, many couples who have tried to live by this in real world relationships have found that it doesn’t work. It’s not wrong as such; it’s just incomplete.
What I see happening now – in more cutting edge sexuality workshops and conscious relationship circles – is the realisation that every person will need to break past the gender conditioning they grew up with and embody both their masculine and feminine aspects.
Carl Jung was across this back in the early 1900s. It seems a hundred years later, we are beginning to put it into practice.
Progressing toward the maturation of our own inner masculine and feminine means we are no longer dependent on the other person to make up for the traits we ‘don’t have’. We begin to regard ourselves as complete beings who connect with others to share and grow in love and consciousness, rather than to simply procreate and survive.
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