he thought that romantic relationships were, potentially, a modern form of Yoga. When I asked him what he meant by that, Ram Dass explained, “In Sanskrit, the word Yoga means to join individual consciousness with universal consciousness. Relationship Yoga is simply the path of using romantic relationships to come closer to or more united with God.”
On the surface, intimate relationships and knowing God can seem like very different activities. Yet, if done with the right intention, virtually any human activity can be a path towards knowing God or awakening to one’s true nature. Indeed, there are many similarities between a path of awakening and the path of forming a deep, intimate relationship. For example, both involve opening to love, moving past ego limitations, and being fully present to what is happening in the moment. When done effectively, awakening and relationships can even lead to a similar experience of love, compassion, and the desire to be of service to something bigger than oneself.
For a moment, think about the various couples you know. My guess is that you would say that few of them seem to be doing a great job of using their relationship as a path of awakening. Why might this be the case? Well, it may sound easy to see one’s triggers, let go of being right, and selflessly serve one’s beloved partner. However, in the real world of long-term romantic relationships, numerous obstacles arise. When pursuing a loving relationship with another, all the obstacles to your being a loving person tend to eventually show up.
Here’s an analogy you might find helpful. Human beings are like an iceberg. In an iceberg, the top-most part can be seen to all the world, while the great bulk of the iceberg is hidden deep underwater. Likewise, when we first meet a partner, we see just the shiny tip of the iceberg of who they really are. This part that we see is the most polished and “smooth” part of them. Naturally, we fall in love with this vision of who our partner is. Endless songs and movies have been made about this exciting “honeymoon” phase of a relationship. However, the vast majority of who our partner is lurks hidden below what we can initially see. In a long-term intimate relationship, we eventually encounter all those messy parts of our partner—and of ourselves.
When couples begin to see all these previously hidden parts of their partner and themselves, they often think something is wrong with the relationship. It sure doesn’t feel good. Frequently, this phase of a relationship can lead to a break-up–or settling into a form of comfortable distancing. Yet, as a psychotherapist, my view is totally different. I see this “conflict phase” of a relationship as the starting point of a true spiritual partnership. As the obstacles to love in each person begin to arise, the opportunity exists to heal those wounded parts of ourselves. Obviously, this is not easy to do, but with the right intention and methods, such healing can be life transforming.
Not surprisingly, the obstacles you have that show up in your intimate relationship tend to be the same obstacles that arise in your quest for enlightenment. For instance, if your partner complains that you’re often too busy or distracted in your relationship, chances are you’re likely too busy and distracted in your quest for awakening. If your partner grumbles about how you’re very self-centered, chances are good that your frequent self-focus is also an obstacle in your going beyond your ego’s needs and impulses. If you look for it, it’s as if your relationship with your partner provides a mirror for you to better see what obstacles exist to your greater awakening.
Tools to Help You Use Your Relationship for Awakening
Perhaps the first step in the process of using your relationship to see your internal obstacles is to take full responsibility for whatever shows up. Yes, your partner is also responsible for the dance you two create. Yet blaming your partner is never helpful if you want to learn about yourself and see your own obstacles. In my work with couples, I’ve seen that taking responsibility is surprisingly difficult for most people. Our eyes normally look outward—not inward. We may have a very accurate view of what our partner does that’s annoying, frustrating, or destructive, but few people can see such things in themselves. To counteract this tendency, I’ve created two questions that have greatly helped me to see my own blind spots.
The first question to see your own blind spots is not for the faint at heart. In fact, it’s a very valuable humility inducing question. Simply go to your intimate partner and sincerely say something like the following: “I’m interested in seeing any and all shortcomings, blind spots, or difficulties you feel I bring to our relationship. I’d like to hear the full and complete list in as much detail as possible. I’m asking this of you so I can better know and work on these shortcomings. Whether you list these things in writing or tell me verbally, I promise not to say anything in my defense. My intention is to learn as much as possible for my spiritual growth.” If and when you say this to your partner, be prepared for their jaw to drop open. Then, keep to your promise to not defend yourself. Take-in whatever you deem useful information–and ignore the rest. Finally, congratulate yourself for having completed a heroic task.
The second blind spot question is one you ask yourself. The question is, “What specific shortcoming(s) in me may have contributed to the situation I am now in?” To help illustrate how this question can work, let me use a personal example. Many years ago, before my wife, Kirsten, and I were married, she temporarily left me to start dating another guy. At the time, I was devastated. After all, we had been dating for almost 3 years and I was thinking of proposing. I felt hurt, abandoned, and angry. Fortunately, after seeing that blaming her was not helping the situation, I asked the question, “What specific shortcoming(s) in me may have contributed to the situation at hand?” As I sat with that question, the answers came pouring in. Here’s what I wrote:
- I took Kirsten for granted for too long and failed to express how much she means to me. I have a hard time expressing affection.
- I had shown interest in other women at times, thereby making Kirsten feel unsafe and insecure in our relationship.
- I had not communicated to Kirsten my hopes for having a life together.
- I was unaware of what Kirsten was truly feeling, and I failed to make it safe enough for her to fully express what she was feeling and thinking.
- I like to keep all my options open and I don’t like to commit, which led to Kirsten thinking I was never going to commit to marriage.
Although it was painful to “sit with” my various shortcomings, it also felt good to see the truth of the matter. As I admitted to Kirsten how my shortcomings had contributed to the mess we were in, our connection deepened. To make a long story short, she ended up leaving her new boyfriend and we began dating again. Six months later, I proposed. We have now been married for almost twenty years.
When partners in a relationship can admit to their shortcomings and avoid blame, it makes a deeper spiritual partnership possible. If you deny, blame, or distract from your shortcomings, deeper spiritual maturity will forever elude you. Seeing your obstacles clearly is a necessary prerequisite to overcoming them. Whether you want to awaken to your divinity or enjoy the love of a partner, seeing the sometimes dark and messy truth about yourself is a very important step that most people try to avoid. However, what you resists persists, so it’s wise to face your demons so you can finally get past them and deepen into your true nature—which is love.
Jonathan Robinson is the author of 14 books, a frequent guest on shows such as Oprah and CNN, and the author of “The Enlightenment Project.” For a free ebook and audio of the 5 best ways to awaken to inner peace, go to www.TheEnlightenmentProject.net and put in your email address.