We’re all here to grow and learn through our relationships.
Living from love is the basis for many spiritual traditions. Relationships can serve as a spiritual practice and a vehicle for living more consciously, with more awareness of our actions (and how they affect others). More than just your partnership, the path is about how you are in relationship with yourself, others, the world, and God or spirit.
When we don’t live from a loving set of core values or intentions, we can easily get blown about in the wind, without guidance or direction. Minor irritations get the best of us and we lose our sense of control, connectedness, and meaning. Whether you lose your temper or act unconsciously from hurt and aggression, little by little you get diminished, and your relationships suffer.
When we choose to view relationship as a sacred path, we remember that we have a choice about what we create, and that we can be guided by love instead of fear or irritation. We also begin to more quickly see when we’re off track, and we find it easier to come back.
So what does it look like?
Qualities of Relationship
In Western culture, we often value doing over being. But how you are in your “beingness” (i.e., your general attitude) affects the quality of your relationships. Honoring the sacredness of the moment, setting intentions, seeing the divine in ourselves and our beloved, and being “choiceful” are practices that we must cultivate, like a garden.
Your beingness affects everyone around you. Are you in harmony with yourself and the world around you? Are you joyful throughout your day? Are you kind? Are you mindful? Or do you lash out negatively from minor irritations? Noticing and being mindful of your beingness is the first step in cultivating inner peace, harmony, and what’s known as “loving kindness” within yourself, and in passing those qualities onto others. Only you are responsible for your inner world.
Honoring the Sacredness of the Moment
When we fail to notice the importance of something shared vulnerably and from the heart, we fail to notice the little moments in life that build intimacy and connect us to the sacredness of life. I often see partners completely ignore a beautifully intimate and vulnerable sentiment, fear, or experience; in that small moment, a break occurs. Repeated small breaks lead to separation and disconnection; sometimes one critical moment is all it takes. When we’re so focused on what we’re thinking and how to respond—or how to defend ourselves—we fail to hear, understand, and connect. We fail to bear witness to our partner’s rich emotional life, and we miss the present moment. Can you see through your partner’s veil of defensiveness to reach through to the scared or hurt part?
At the core of any sacred path are its daily practices—so called because we will indeed forget and fail often. But when we work at cultivating kindness, compassion, mindfulness (curiosity without judgment), forgiveness, honesty, and honoring of yourself and others, we are living from our higher selves. Power Within replaces Power Over and leads to Power With. We cultivate connection rather than disconnection, love rather than fear.
Intention and Choicefulness
If you have a difficult communication for your partner, you have a choice. If you can take the time to remember that you love them, you can then feel into your heart and speak from a softer, gentler, more loving place. Even further, you can send love to yourself, your partner, your future, and your hopes for a positive outcome. If you can think beforehand about what you want that outcome to be, you can frame your words in a way that’s more likely to get you there. Speaking from this place, your conversation will always be better than when you speak from hurt, blame, and judgment.
Transitions are a good point for practicing “choicefulness.” If you come home from work tired and irritable, for instance, you can choose to transition consciously into creating the evening you want with your partner and family.
Seeing relationship as a sacred path includes the belief that we’re all here to experience the world and grow and learn through our relationships. Seeing relationship as part of our psychospiritual developmental journey can include:
• Inspiring your partner to be their best and live their highest purpose
• Seeing and supporting them in their power, light, and goodness
• Lovingly shining a light on the more difficult things for them to see, without judgment, while staying in relationship
• Supporting their purpose in life, even if it doesn’t match your own
Partner as Ally
To the extent that you can move away from using past wounds as a means of gaining power or rewinding your partner, you become a loving mirror for your partner to see themselves more clearly. You become allies in the path of growth. Our spouses can often see things we cannot see, and when they are offered from a place of love and in service of growth, we can more easily receive and utilize them, rather than defend against them. Moving from judgment and criticism to an approach that reflects, “I see you and know you are struggling, and it’s impacting me” allows your partner to feel seen and accepted for their struggles, understand their effects on others, and take in your support. Of course, this takes being able to both give and receive loving, compassionate feedback.
Values and Purpose
What is your purpose here together? My parents were social activists. My mother fought for voting rights in the ’60s and ’70s, and my father worked to develop low-income housing for the elderly and the poor. Together they shared a goal for making the world a better place and fought for important social issues, the underprivileged or marginalized. It gave them purpose and meaning.
While you and your partner may not be focused on saving the world or your community, how might you stand for being the best people you can be in a loving relationship and being a model for your children and those around you? Having a purpose for yourself, your relationship, and your family serves as a guide when the stresses of life get the best of you. What do you respect? What are your shared values? What do you want to create? Can you be appreciative of your differences and the gifts each brings to the relationship and the larger community you touch?
To get an experience of relationship as a sacred path, try out these practices:
1. Slow down, stop, and notice when your partner tells you something important. Turn off the TV, and turn toward them as if it may be the last time you are together. Notice what your partner’s face looks like when she’s telling you something of importance. Feel your body as you witness your partner as they speak in hurt or anger. Can you stay connected while having intense feelings and express them without an intention to harm? Let your awareness come into your heart. Tell them you see them, and you feel them.
2. Next time you feel you or you partner moving into combat, ask yourself, “Do I want to fight, or do I want to have a nice, loving night enjoying each other’s company?”
3. When you come home for the day, take a few moments for yourself in your car, or stop at a nearby park. Let go of the day, feel your body, and take a few mindful breaths. Let go of the stress, irritations, or hurts from the day in your own way. Find something to be grateful for about coming home. Set an intention for what you’d like to create when you arrive.
4. Take some time for each of you to write down your values and mission/purpose, and how you see yourself and your relationship making a difference. Share this with each other, and identify areas of alignment and differences. Discuss how you can support each other and your relationship in embodying your shared and individual values and purpose.
Valerie Sher, a licensed psychologist and Adjunct Professor at Sofia University and JFKU, has been a long-time practitioner and activist in the development of healthy relationships, sexuality, and embodiment. She uses a nonjudgmental, mindfulness-based approach in cultivating self-inquiry and growth and greater mind/body well being. She sees her work as a spiritual practice in her offering and cultivation of presence, courage, and compassion to allow others to more safely explore and change blocks to loving and relating more fully and effectively.