6 signs you’re in a conscious relationship

For many years, I didn’t know what a conscious relationship was. I thought that relationships were relationships and if they didn’t work out, it was probably the other person’s fault. If it wasn’t the other person’s fault, it was just not “meant to be.” I didn’t think relationships required conscious effort and work—if it was the right relationship, shouldn’t it be easy?

Learning about conscious relationships helped me understand what it was I wanted from my relationships. In the book Conscious Loving, Gay and Kathlyn speak to co-commitment as the goal of a conscious relationship, which is when:

“Two or more people support each other in being whole, complete individuals.”

I don’t think it is possible to be in a conscious relationship 100% of the time. Maybe for some people, but not for most of us. We all have our moments. One thing that a conscious relationship does for me is helping take those moments (you know, the hard moments), and look at them as an opportunity for learning and growth.

Here are 6 signs that you are in a conscious relationship, or 6 things you could start practicing to cultivate one:

1. You say the things that are hard to say

In Conscious Loving, Gay and Kathlyn speak about “learning to tell the microscopic truth.” For some of us, we may have been punished for telling the truth growing up and may have learned it is safer to withhold our truth.

We usually know when something unsaid is getting in the way of our relationship. Remember, the truth is not judgment, the truth in Gay and Kathlyn’s words is “a clear statement of feeling, of body sensation, or of what you actually did.”

Telling the truth may mean releasing our expectations of how our partner will receive our truth. Telling the truth can mean taking a risk but it also means we are committed to not letting things left unsaid come between us.

2. You take 100% responsibility for your reality

During conflict, it is not uncommon to find ourselves convinced that we are right and our partner is wrong. We may come to realize though that focusing on our partner’s faults without taking accountability for ourselves only leads to a bitter power struggle.

In a conscious relationship, both people are focused on their reality.

Neither person is fighting for the victim role. When we tap the fears and feelings that are at the heart of conflict, the possibility of greater understanding arises. This requires that we be vulnerable, aware of our own experience, and ditch the need to be “right.”

3. You don’t rescue, you empower

According to Gay and Kathlyn, when we rescue we are disempowering the person we love. In their words:

“Rescuing is when you interfere with people’s power by doing something for them that they ought to do for themselves.”

There is nothing wrong with helping the person we love, but for some of us, this can come at the expense of the power of our partner. When this pattern arises in our relationships, it is often unconscious. When someone stops to ask whether or not our help is going to empower or disempower our loved ones, we are making a conscious decision to support their learning and growth.

4. You can self-soothe

There will be times where our partner will be able to support us through our big and uncomfortable emotions. There will also be times when we need to show up and hold space for ourselves. The hard truth is that our partners won’t always be in a place to tell us what we need to hear or give us a warm and reassuring hug.

Learning to self-soothe can be especially important for those of us with an anxious attachment style. As the late David Schnarch said, in his book Intimacy & Desire:

“If you can’t regulate your own emotional temperature, you’ll regulate everyone around you to keep yourself comfortable.”

Recognizing the times when our partner is not able to soothe us and making the decision to do what we need to do to soothe ourselves is a sign of accountability.

5. You know when to walk away

Stan Tatkin talks about how we have parts of our brain that are specialized in survival —he calls them our “primitives:”

“Our primitives are naturally geared to wage war. Whether it’s a little battle or a big battle, they’re ready to defend us, whatever it takes.”

If we are triggered and primitives are running the show, there is no way for us to have a productive conversation with our partner. For some of us, these can be the times we say or do things we will regret later or that may cause harm to our partner.

If we are triggered and primitives are running the show, there is no way for us to have a productive conversation with our partner. For some of us, these can be the times we say or do things we will regret later or that may cause harm to our partner.

Checking in with ourselves and knowing when it is best to walk away (even just for 15–20 minutes) and give ourselves time to calm down is the hallmark of a conscious relationship. It takes stepping outside of ourselves and making the decision to walk away when everything in us is saying “stay and fight.”

6. It feels good

Conscious relationships can take work but they aren’t all work. They should also feel good. It is important to remember what feels good for one person may not feel good for another. A conscious relationship may have its moments of struggle but it is not defined by struggle.

We can usually feel in our bodies when a relationship is not right. It is that subtle but relentless tug that we tend to talk over and rationalize away. I usually know that my body was trying to tell me the relationship wasn’t right when the relationship ends and I feel relieved. This one is hard to describe because good is unique for all of us. If you really listen, though, the answer is usually there.

When I read about conscious relationships I often think that the person writing about them must have it all figured out. I just want to state that I still have no idea what I am doing. I am not in a perfect relationship and doubt I ever will be. I have stopped equating the concept of a conscious relationship with a relationship that is better or more complete than any other kind of relationship. Conscious relationships are imperfect and messy, too, just as we are as humans.

If anything, it has helped me view my relationship as a work in progress and something that I am an active participant in. I am no longer at the mercy of fate or the universe sending me my “soulmate.” We all deserve to feel safe and secure in our relationships and for some of us, it is not something that is going to come easy for us. For some of us, we are going to have to practice and that’s okay.

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