Are you wondering what exactly a conscious relationship is? It has become such a prevalent phrase lately that many recognize, yet still may not know exactly what it truly means. If you’re someone who feels you still don’t have the full grasp on what a conscious relationship is and how to go about having one, then this article is for you!
At the most basic level, a conscious relationship is one where both partners are fully awake, completely present, engaged, and aware. You are both committed to practicing mindfulness in your relationship and to be on the path of healing your individual wounds. You are true creators of your relationship, not just two people who are letting a relationship happen to them.
Because you celebrate each other in every moment of your life together, not just on the stereotypical couple’s holidays, your relationship is pulsing with positive energy.
A relationship is only as good as what you put into it. Your partnership is a true living entity that requires nourishment and the right conditions for growth. Without these, it will surely wither, just as any other living thing.
And while each of us will have our own unique experience and definition of it, these are the core elements of a conscious relationship.
The 10 Core Elements of a Conscious Relationship
Having self-awareness is pretty much the first and foremost crucial component to being in a conscious relationship, for without it means we are not coming from a conscious place.
This self-awareness goes beyond the surface level of merely knowing what we’re thinking and feeling. For a relationship to flourish, especially at a deeper level, we must be aware of how our own past conditioning and wounding is affecting us and how we’re showing up in our relationship.
When self-awareness is missing, we are operating entirely in default mode- aka the Ego- and will not fully understand what it is we are feeling or be able to clearly see our own behaviors.
We will be doing things like blaming, projecting, reacting and succumbing to other major defense mechanisms fight, flight, freeze or fawning.
Communication is essential in any kind of relationship and never more so than in an intimate connection. Both partners must feel safe to express themselves and know they’ll be heard, speaking their truth and allowing their partner to voice theirs.
Partners can aspire to have good communication or even think they already do, but without learning the proper skills and techniques, your default mode of operating (aka our EGO) will take over, especially in heated interactions.
Since communication goes two ways, we must learn skills in both receiving and delivering. Both are crucially important in how our conversations will unfold and the impact it will be able to have. Every single discussion with our partner has the potential to be a turning point in the relationship. Whether for the positive or negative depends on how these skills are implemented.
Some essential skills in receiving communication are engaged deep listening, mirroring, acknowledging, understanding and validating our partner. Often these can be so foreign to us that they seem really uncomfortable when we first start to try them out. But as with most things, with practice it becomes more natural.
Most of us have become so conditioned to protect and boost our own Ego that we have an artillery full of defense mechanisms to whip out in a moment’s flash. Some of these would be defensiveness, demeaning, dismissing, interrupting and ignoring, shutting down (freezing) or fleeing.
The problem is while these may bestow us with a momentary false sense of security, they do not build connection with our partner. Instead, they build walls to keep our partner out as we would any other threat.
The essential skills in delivering our message to our partner are loving speech, directness, honesty, framing statements so that they begin with “I” (assuming responsibility for our feelings) rather than “you” (blaming, criticizing).
When we are not communicating from a place of consciousness, we will resort to tactics like manipulation, blaming, accusing, criticizing, stonewalling, flooding, passive-aggressive behaviors or expecting our partner to simply read our minds.
Authenticity refers to being real and transparently honest with our partners, sharing our feelings, even difficult ones, instead of holding them in. This means not always simply putting on a happy face to appease our partners or telling them what we think they want to hear.
Hiding our feelings does more damage to the relationship. First, it prevents true intimacy. We may think we’re sparing our partner- or ourselves- when in reality, we’re actually closing a part of ourselves off to them, and in essence, pushing them away.
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with our partners is the key to cultivating a deep intimate connection. Think about some time in the past where you or your partner allowed vulnerability. What was that interaction like? What did you feel like after? In my experience, those are the times when I have felt the closest to my partner, as well as the most heard and understood or the most compassionate towards him.
“When you allow yourself to be truly seen by your partner, you give him or her the opportunity to know the real you. In turn, you feel more loved for all that you are, and your partner will also feel safe to express their feelings.”
Hiding our feelings also is not effective because we can never truly hide anything, especially from those closest to us. Because feelings demand to be released in order to find healing, they will always seep out in another way, even though we may think we’re keeping them to ourselves.
If we don’t express them verbally, they’ll show up through our body language or other pleas for attention. We’ll notice we’re becoming snappy with our partner, withdrawn, or passive-aggressive. We’ll find countless ways to keep acting out on them, all while believing we’re successfully keeping our partner in the dark.
Bottling up our feelings is also damaging to ourselves. When we do not acknowledge our own feelings, by keeping them stuffed inside, they will wreak havoc on our bodies, first causing queasiness, tension or headaches and later manifesting into conditions and diseases.
Research has shown that inflammation in the body, particularly in the gut, which is the root cause of so many other health conditions, is largely caused by relational discord.
Also, in not allowing our feelings, we aren’t allowing ourselves the gift of the full range of our expression and deny our own happiness. And because this is a protective mechanism, doing this so easily becomes habituated in us until we don’t even think about what we’re doing and then we wonder why we feel so empty, disconnected from ourselves and unhappy in our lives.
Being authentic is just one side of the coin. On the flip side is honesty. We must commit to being transparently honest with our partner, even when the truth is especially hard.
This first requires that we be honest with ourselves. Have you ever stopped to contemplate how often we are not honest with ourselves? This is where we can bring in the practice of self-awareness.
We have to be willing to accept our partner for who they are, where they are without trying to change or push them. It is never our job to change someone else. We can only work on ourselves. Ultimately, it is up to them to change and grow even if what they are doing at the moment is detrimental. And we have to be able to accept that they may not want to do that, or are not ready yet, even though it is hard and hurts.
Part of acceptance is being able to accept that our partner may be in a different place than we are, or even on a different path altogether. When we refuse to accept it, we stay in resistance, which only makes us suffer more.
That is not to say we have to put up with anything that they are doing that is affecting us. Of course, we don’t have to and should never put up with abuse or having our rights crossed. This is where having our own personal boundaries comes in. Being able to define those and assert them firmly but with love is the essential skill here.
It is essential that we appreciate our partner throughout our relationship. Just feeling appreciation isn’t enough, we need to tell them and show them every day. Who doesn’t love to feel appreciated? Nobody likes to feel taken for granted and it can lead to resentment and disenchantment in a relationship quickly, yet it is so common that it is often portrayed in sitcoms.
Even when we are feeling frustrated with our partner, finding a way to appreciate them will not only make them feel better, it will make us feel better, too. Then we may find they are responding differently to us and doing less of what makes us feel irritated.
In his book, How to Love, the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of the importance of maintaining reverence for our partner.
“There is a tradition in Asia of treating your partner with the respect you would accord to a guest. This is true even if you have been with your loved one for a long time. The other person always deserves your full respect. Reverence is the nature of our love.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn
Be understanding and appreciate where your partner is on their journey even if they aren’t in the same place as you. We all have to go at our own pace and that pace will not always be equal, to each other or even from one year to the next within ourselves. One year we may make great strides in our consciousness and healing journey and the next year things seem stagnant. It is all okay.
Ultimately, we have to accept full responsibility for ourselves. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t count on our partners for certain things, but to first provide for and take care of our own needs without placing all of that expectation on our partners. We release the sense of attachment to the expectation, so that when we receive something from our partner, we can do so fully with appreciation. This plays into not taking our partner for granted.
So, what exactly do we need to take responsibility for? In a conscious relationship, we take responsibility for own needs, feelings, behaviors, perceptions, actions, and contribution to the relationship and household.
What does this look like? We don’t expect our partner to make us better, but instead take responsibility for our own healing journey and the inner work we need to do. We do not expect our partner to make us happy or believe we have to make them happy. We accept and acknowledge our own feelings, rather than blaming our partner for them.
We take responsibility for our actions, behaviors, and how we perceive things instead of claiming our partner caused us to do them. And we take responsibility for ourselves as individuals and contribute meaningfully to our shared life together, not expecting to always be rescued or taken care of by another.
We also take responsibility to look out for our own best interest. This includes having enough respect for ourselves to speak up, declare what we need, set and maintain healthy boundaries instead of self-abandoning.
In a conscious relationship, we understand the necessity and value of space. This means we give our partner space, as well as ourselves, to be as well as grow without smothering. The benefit of this is we then have the opportunity to reflect, which is crucial for self-awareness.
Space also enables us the time for breath and the presence to respond to our partner instead of reacting, key to the communication aspect of our relationship.
8. Heart-centered Love
When we can love from our heart space, our relationship will look and feel vastly different than what we’re used to relationships being. This is because we are loving our partner from our true essence rather than from the place of our Ego.
Having a heart-centered love means we have our partner’s best interest in mind, instead of coming from a place of selfishness and seeing them essentially as an object to meet our needs. We see and treat them as a true friend and offer them our support and encouragement.
We practice lovingkindness and presence in our relationship, put good will and commitment first. Presence leads to understanding and compassion, essential for true love.
We show up with full integrity. Integrity is defined as ‘being whole’, and means that all parts of ourselves have been integrated, which is the ultimate goal of being fully conscious.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~Thich Nhat Hahn
With commitment, the entity of the relationship becomes a home in which both partners feel safe. When our partner knows that we are devoted to creating a genuine, lasting relationship together, we build a foundation of loving trust.
If one or both partners aren’t entirely committed, it creates an undercurrent of distrust that will permeate every aspect of the relationship. This is where so many seemingly irrational accusations and fights stem from.
Is it fairly clear how all of these components must be interacting for a relationship to be functioning in a fully conscious manner?
By now, I’m sure you can see how these all interrelate and build upon each other. Authenticity, honesty, acceptance, appreciation and skilled communication automatically build trust in a relationship. Trust is the foundation of any relationship.
Trust can be either strengthened or broken in countless small ways every day in the course of our relationship. It’s about each and every way in which we honor our partners by keeping our word, our promises, not taking them for granted, respecting them and their feelings and being totally honest in all areas.
“Trust is built in very small moments, which I call ‘sliding door’ moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner. One such moment is not important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship- very gradually, very slowly.”
~ John Gottman
When any one of these elements is breached, the trust can crumble. We can destroy in a moment of unconscious behavior what may take years to build. So then, can you imagine the state of a relationship where one or both partners are perpetually breaking the trust by not honoring these other elements of conscious relationship? Likely, there will be no foundation whatsoever, which is why so many seem to be so easily disposable.
Having willingness is one of the most important traits to having a successful relationship of any kind. The rest of the characteristics can be developed, but first we have to be willing to allow it and to invest the effort. We have to be willing to embark on the healing journey and to be uncomfortable during the process.
If we aren’t willing, none of this will be possible. We aren’t allowing growth. We’re too stuck in our comfort zone, which ultimately means we’re subtly living in fear of the potential change it can bring if we engage in a different way or of having to look at ourselves in a deeper way.
Just as one cannot have a lush garden without sufficient watering, nourishing of the soil and removing the weeds, so too must we water and feed our relationship if we want it to, in turn, nourish us.
Simply wanting to have a conscious relationship isn’t enough, we must create it. This requires effort along with practicing consciousness, a willingness to be open to new possibilities and ways of thinking, and to be okay with being uncomfortable at times.
But the rewards for all of this are vast. You will enjoy a relationship that is intensely alive and full of passion and deep connection and the potential to be truly fulfilling and last a lifetime.
Lastly, we must be sure to maintain compassion for ourselves as well as our partners on this path. We will slip up and have many moments of unconsciousness. So will they. To expect perfection is to revert back to the same conditioned thinking that this path is hoping to avoid in the first place.
To always be moving towards more moments of consciousness is the point of this all, and when you can realize you were practicing consciously, give yourself gratitude and acknowledge your movement in the right direction!