Relationships as Spiritual Practice

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Original post on elephant journal September 19, 2011 by Jay Gaddis, “Relationship as Spiritual Path.”

One of the biggest chances for us to practice, and, arguably, the only reason to practice in the first place is, for stronger relationships–with ourselves first and foremost, but also with our partners, friends, family…and even folks we’re not all that close to. Jay Gaddis focuses on how much we can learn from our relationships, particularly our intimate ones.

Relationship remains one of the biggest pain and pleasure points for us humans.

Instead of seeing relationship as a place where I can feel good and get my needs met by “other,” I am inspired to see my marriage (and relationships in general) as a path to my own freedom and wholeness.

When we change the context of relationship to include this view, it opens up a whole world where we can grow deeper individually and together.

Instead of seeing the pain and challenges of relationship as potential road-blocks, each “obstacle” becomes an opportunity to grow.

Seen in this light, relationship frees us from the habitual need to have our partners, family members, or co-workers “be a certain way” in order for us to feel safe and okay.

In the American Dream, the white picket fence, two-car garage, and marriage are ingredients to a successful, healthy, adult life.  Marriage supposedly adds to a person’s happiness.

Hmmm…

Yet, these days with the high rates of divorce, monogamy ain’t so sexy and could even be waning in popularity as evidenced by articles like “Married with Infidelities” by relationship columnist, Dan Savage.

Conventional marriages don’t work and fall flat for a lot of reasons.

In my opinion, here are a few…

  • We’ve had little to no formal training or guidance on how to do intimate relationships.  Our parents, role models and teachers have had serious limitations in relationship and we have learned by watching them.
  • Many of us have a tendency to think that once we find the one, he or she is going to make us feel more complete or more okay. Yet we quickly see within a year or two that this isn’t the case and then are not sure how to deal.
  • If we are not careful, we could ignore the big challenges with marriage:  living in one house, raising kids, and all the other complicating factors that make long term partnership or monogamy with kids very challenging. Then, once we find out how hard it can really be, we don’t necessarily want more work in our lives, so we “check out.”
  • We might look to our church or religion to offer an explanation or justification for our intimacy trials (and either get nothing or get really outdated advice/guidance), rather than simply learning how to do intimacy.

These are all reasons why most folks rightfully bail or fall asleep in their relationship.

Up until I met my wife, I was a big fat “No” to the American Dream-marriage/kids thing. It sounded like a nightmare. I swore I’d be a “free man” my whole life.

I was a NO because every relationship up to that point had failed. When the going got tough, I bailed. I made the women whom I dated wrong and I didn’t know what to do, or how to see my blind spots, nor was I open to feedback. I didn’t know relationships could be amazing beyond the honeymoon phase because I had never experienced that. And being a typical dude, I was resistant to therapy or other forms of help/support.

When I finally did get help and started to see my own blocks to the love I claimed I wanted, I started to see the benefits of “working through” relationship challenges. I started to go well beyond my previous intimacy stuck places and feel nourished by relationship. I started to love more and more of myself.

Soon enough , I was a Hell Yes! to marriage and kids. Major 180.

So, when my wife and I wrote our vows, it was clear that after four years of intense dating and two break ups, if we were going to do this, it had to be about individual and mutual growth. We had to see our marriage, and kids that would follow, as a path to our own wholeness.

We already loved each other, had a ton in common, and were very aligned in many ways, so taking this next leap was a no brainer.

When we see marriage and monogamy as a transformative path, it takes on different meaning and motivation. It changes the game from “settling” to a daily practice of noticing where I am opening and closing to love.

This view helps me treat my family like an exquisite organic garden where when I “check out” for a day or two the weeds begin to take over. The more the weeds take over, the harder it is to keep the soil rich and fertile which support yummy plant growth.

With my wife and kids, each day is vibrant, alive, awake and full of practice opportunities to go deeper and relax into more love.

Then, when I leave my home, every person I meet is a relationship practice opportunity, which makes this practice open to anyone anywhere.

Yes, marriage ain’t for everyone. But we are all in relationship with someone and if we are honest, most of us want to experience the feeling of being more connected and less alone.

So, if we take relationship as the path and each other as the guru, perhaps we’ll move along in a way that informs us and opens us to the love that we claim we want.

Jayson Gaddis, MA, LPC, CGT, former overly serious Buddhist meditator, is now a relationship psychotherapist devoted to helping people awaken through relationship and intimacy. He’s a husband and part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two kids. Jayson writes his own highly personal blog, and has also written for Integral Life, Primer Magazine, Recovering Yogi, The Good Men Project, and MadePossible. You can find him at The Practice of Love or http://jaysongaddis.com


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