The Gifts of Relationship

Back in 2008, I’d started writing a blog post based around the assertion that “relationships are the new ashram”’ In other words: you can spare yourself a navel-gazing trip to India in order to dive into self awareness and personal growth of epic dimensions; your best opportunity for such growth is hanging with the person you happen to be with.

When I was really musing on relationships and moving through the dissolution of my own marriage, I asked my therapist at the time: “What does an ideal relationship look like?” He took a second to gather his thoughts and replied, “once a commitment is made, the main theme in a healthy relationship should be about personal growth. The fundamental concept also has to do with purpose. If the purpose of partnership is to have the other person make us happy, we are in for a rough ride because they will inevitably disappoint in one way or another. If the purpose of life is the fulfillment of consciousness – and we are intentionally, consciously using partnership as a way to confront and work with our limitations and complex personality structures – ah! – then we have a chance.” Just like my therapist suggested that a romantic partnership is the way to grow, so it is with our co-founder relationships.

Listening to Jules and Joanne, The Grommet’s co-founders, I was reminded of the truth of relationship: they are our best chance at conscious growth because they are a mirror for what comes up for us – our shadow and our light, our projections and our assumptions. Being in partnership shows where our (inner) work needs some inner working. In a sense, you are the result of your practice, and the reflections you get while interacting with others can give you keen insight into your edges.

As James Hollis puts it: “The paradox of relationship will always be that rather than solve our problems for us, relationship brings us new problems, new complexities, but that we also grow immensely from these problems, these complexities. In short, the greatest gift of relationship proves to be that as the result of encountering each other, we are obliged to grow larger than we had planned.”

The most successful partnerships are based on a rich bed of trust. It’s the kind of trust that you’d equate with a well-performing baseball team: everyone shows up in their role and there’s trust that someone is going to catch the ball on first. There’s no second guessing, no conversation needed. It’s a well understood and well-oiled machine of beings in union around the same goal, values, focus. That level of togetherness takes lots of practice and a level of commitment from each individual.

To have a working relationship or friendship that’s “soulmate” status is a complex gift. As Liz Gilbert reminds us in her book Eat Pray Love, your soulmate isn’t your perfect fit. “A true soul mate,” she writes, “is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.” Soulmate relationships are crucibles for our deepest inner work to happen if we remain open and committed to the permise and practice of showing up and doing our work. The rewards of that alchemical fire is the emergence of your inner gold.

But it certainly isn’t easy. David Richo writes in How to Be an Adult in Relationship that “The commitment to work through problems as they arise is the only sign that we truly want full intimacy.” A large part of that commitment is our willingness to be vulnerable in our work in the presence of another. That level of work can only happen when you feel trust and loving presence. He posits “The Five A’s” and their importance in the practice of being adult in relationship with others and yourself. These are attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing. Together, they are the components of love that make a relationship a truly caring connection.

The five A’s are based on mindfulness, and their opposites are based on mindsets of the ego such as fear, demand, expectation, judgement and control. The difference looks like this:

  • being attentive vs. ignoring, refusing to listen, being unavailable, and fearing the truth.
  • being accepting vs. trying to make someone over to fit our specifications, desires, or fantasies.
  • being appreciative vs. criticizing.
  • being affectionate vs. acting selfishly or abusively.
  • allowing vs. being controlling, demanding, or manipulative.

Each of the five A’s are forms of loving presence. Becoming mindful of how you are being in relationship is the path to embodying these more fully so that you too can be a loving presence for the one’s you’re with. (My animal companions have always had that loving presence in spades. They make the 5 A’s look easy.)

In looking at this list, where do you find yourself most often in your relationship with your co-founder (and yourself)? What happens to the feeling tone of your working partnership when you’re acting from mindfulness or from mindsets? When I am operating from the mindsets of ego, I leave no space for the person I’m with to feel safe, heard, loved and able to flourish. I leave no space for their heart to show up in full. I can create more injury than a space for healing and connection.

Self awareness as a prerequisite and a path of continued personal growth and discovery in relationship. It’s what allows partners to weather storms and sea changes. It allows partners to witness and support each other in their own process of becoming. It also allows each individual to tend to the hearth of the relationship.

Self awareness is what enables us to become healthy adults in relating to others. We’re able to notice when we’re projecting unresolved injuries, such as the face of a parent, upon our partner and therefore able to recognize our own work. Self awareness allows us to practice being a loving presence for our partner to feel safe to do their work in relationship.

What’s possible here is a maturity in relating that can’t be done from a place of insecurity or self-centeredness. If we operate in relationship from this place, then we have no chance of succeeding. When we can embrace what the mirror of relationship reflects back to us, and seize our work as a perpetual practice, we can then receive the greatest gift of encountering each other as Hollis notes, and we are obliged to grow larger than we had planned.