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Conscious Relationships: A Path for Growth and Personal Transformation

by Louise Finlayson

The defining factor of unconscious relationships is the, “What’s in it for me?” mentality. Each partner wants something from their partner, such as love, security, companionship, sex, emotional support or financial support, among others. There is an implicit or explicit co-dependent quid pro quo contract. That is the ego talking. In their book Conscious Loving, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks write, “Co-dependence is an agreement between two people to stay locked in unconscious patterns.” They go on to say, “When we are co-dependent, we do not have relationships, we have entanglements.”

A conscious relationship comprises a path for growth and personal transformation that is seen by some as a spiritual calling. The partners in a conscious relationship are committed to the radical practice of love. They are not trying to extract love, approval or security from their partner, but instead seek to behave lovingly toward each other. In conscious relationships, each partner is committed to their own growth and to the growth of their partner over and above maintaining the relationship, per se. If the relationship is seen as a hindrance to one or both partners’ growth, then the relationship is ended.

In conscious relationships, each partner agrees to take 100 percent responsibility for themselves and their experience. Let’s say Judy and Steve are in a conscious relationship. Judy decides she wants to go on a spiritual retreat for a week without Steve. Steve has an immediate and strong emotional reaction and doesn’t want her to go. Instead of trying to block her from going, Steve might examine his own intense emotional reaction and realize that he is worried that Judy might meet someone more evolved than him at the retreat and leave him. He acknowledges to himself and to Judy that he feels threatened. He willingly looks inside himself to better understand his reaction. Judy lovingly holds space for Steve’s feelings. She doesn’t try to prove her love to him or convince him that she won’t leave him. She is committed to letting Steve experience his feelings without taking offense or making it about her.

Let’s look at this same scenario in an unconscious relationship. Steve feels upset when Judy tells him of her plans to go on retreat. He might use a variety of tactics to try to keep her from going. He might try to provoke feelings of guilt in her for going away without him, for spending the money on a retreat or for being self-indulgent. He might try to entice her to stay with promises of going out to dinner or lavishing her with attention. He may have little understanding of why he is so upset and little interest in exploring his reaction.

They would likely fight because Steve sees Judy as being in charge of meeting his desire for security. Judy might even decide to not go on retreat to appease Steve. Either way, she will likely harbor resentment toward Steve because she has personalized his feelings. She’s likely thinking, “He doesn’t trust me” or “He’s trying to control me.” These themes may recycle throughout their relationship because they aren’t resolving anything. Thus the emotional baggage they come to the relationship with is unconsciously played out over and over again.

Conscious relationships are based on the premise of 100 percent honesty. This means that all feelings and thoughts are welcome, and requires a commitment to accept all aspects of themselves and their partner. However, people in conscious relationships are not superhuman, nor should they expect perfection from themselves or their partners, Conscious relationships differ from unconscious relationships in their commitment to waking up and fully knowing themselves and their partners. They expect to feel vulnerable, fearful, angry or jealous at times and welcome these periods as opportunities for growth.

Lies, big or little, are commonplace in unconscious relationships. This lack of honesty is based in fear. For example, let’s say Steve feels unhappy at work and wants to quit his job. He may keep his unhappiness to himself because he wants Judy to see him in the best possible light. Perhaps he wants her to see him as a dependable provider. He wants her approval. Judy may offer him her approval until she hears of Steve’s struggles at work, when she becomes fearful. Over time, Steve feels burdened and resentful towards Judy because he sees her approval of him is conditional on his income. Judy becomes more controlling and critical of Steve because she feels dependent on him for her financial security. Quite an entanglement. In his book Love is Letting Go of Fear, Gerald Jampolsky points out, “When we expect others to satisfy our desires and they disappoint us, as they inevitably must, we then experience distress.” When we experience distress, we tend to blame those closest to us.

Expressing gratitude and accentuating the positive are important components of a conscious relationship. Dr. John Gottman’s research into long-term, happy marriages confirms the importance of positive acknowledgment within successful relationships. This positive acknowledgment is not of the person’s products, but of their essence. Another important premise of conscious relationships is keeping promises, not just in action, but also in spirit. That requires that each partner is realistic in what they promise and they each take full responsibility if they promise more than they can deliver.

In unconscious relationships, partners tend to focus on their partner’s behavior more than their own. When they disapprove of that behavior rather than looking within, they are likely to blame and accuse their partner. Another strategy used in unconscious relationships is withdrawal and turning away from the partner and there are likely attempts to change each another. Over time, anger and resentment are paired with feelings of neediness and dependency. The old phrase, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them,” comes to mind. Unconscious relationships tend to place a very high value on commitment to staying together, no matter what. Many marriage vows still contain the phrase “until death do us part.”

It is never too late to embark on a conscious relationship. There are many degrees of consciousness in any relationship, and assessing whether each partner is prepared to make the co-commitment to be conscious in their relationship is an important first step. Establishing a path for growth through spiritual practice, therapy or a 12-step program is highly recommended.

Louise M. Finlayson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a transformational coach located at 1525 Western Ave. Ste. 1, in Albany. She leads workshops and transformational retreats, including one in March 2017 on the tropical island of Roatan.  For more information, call 518-218-0707 or visit LouiseFinlayson.com.

his article appeared in the February 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine. Click to read more.