The recent announcement of a Hollywood celebrity couple’s divorce has the popular media singing about their choice of words to describe their break-up: conscious uncoupling. Supposedly coined by celebrity marriage therapists, this term is based on the premise that due to increased life expectancy, humans are not meant to stay in one “coupled” relationship for too long (15, 20, 25, 35, 50.. years). Whether there is any truth to this or not, the basic question to ask even before the “uncoupling” is, “What makes up conscious coupling?”
Despite being in committed relationships, most of us remain under the wrong assumption that such a marriage/partnership requires our partners to put in equal (or at least some) effort into it. After all, this is what most relationship gurus advise, what every column and book proclaims. And so, we set ourselves up with conscious and unconscious expectations of what the other person needs to do, simply because we are putting in the effort. When that does not happen, resentments begin to be built up and harbored; these annoyances begin small, like “why can’t he pick up his clothes off the floor?” to “why does she need to talk on the phone all the time?” and gradually permeate every area of life from extended family to raising children to finances to spirituality. Before long, true intimacy is lost and whether we choose to stay in the relationship or not, we live somewhat separate lives, with no real desire to grow in intimacy.
This cycle stems from the fear of vulnerability, a universal human condition. We are so afraid of being hurt that we close ourselves off to any possible way that anyone can enter our hearts and cause us pain. When we meet someone new and fall in love, it is exhilarating at first and there is every intention to open up to this special person who appears to be the only person that will not hurt us and who will validate us (and in so doing, keep this fear of vulnerability intact).. Like the famous line from a famous movie, we expect the other person to “complete” us. However, when the initial high of falling in love wears off, the effort to continue to validate each other quickly becomes burdensome. And now, there are two quite ordinary humans facing each other in quite ordinary day-to-day things in the quite ordinary way humans generally behave – with obsessive self-centeredness. Everything becomes about “me” and whether or not this “me” is continuously pampered and fussed over.
Conscious coupling (my not-so-original term) is about focusing on one’s own self. Not in the self-centered and narcissistic fashion we tend to focus on ourselves, but to learn to open our hearts to being vulnerable. Relationships are the greatest grist for the mill, from where we can learn to blossom and become fully human and fully divine. Here are some lessons that have come from my own spiritual path that have changed not just the relationship with my partner, but with everyone (all of this applies to a relatively stable relationship free of abuse or danger to ourselves and others in our care):
1. There is nobody that can complete you. You can “uncouple” and “couple” a thousand times, but the completeness you seek is not out “there”. This is because you are already complete; it is just that you do not know it. Seek to find what it is that blocks you from seeing your own completeness.
2. The universe does not revolve around you. And while we are at it, let me also say this – your partner’s world does not revolve around you. Human nature is to be self-absorbed. Thus, his/her universe revolves around him/her just as yours revolves around you.
3. Your biggest “relationship problem” is your expectation. You may want him/her to do what you think is right, but your should/should not is your problem, not his/hers. He/she does not need to be more or less understanding, spiritual, clean, lazy, secure, fat, thin, fit, healthy, loving, kind, yadda-yadda. Let your expectations go and miraculously, your partner will mirror you.
4. Give and you shall receive. Sounds very cliched, but this is the highest truth. Relationships are not a barter. There is no “you walk half way and I will walk the other half”. Be willing to walk all the way. Forget what he/she must do for you. Give without reservation. Give all of your love, all of your care, all of yourself even if you think he/she is not reciprocating. What he/she does is not your business. The only business you need to stay in is yours. Learn to become okay with not receiving in return. See what happens. It is only when you are willing to stretch your heart and mind that the true beauty, the gift and the miracle of Life can be known. Examine your fear of giving to this person you claim to love. Can fear and love co-exist in reality? Your examination of your own psyche will reveal truths that will become stepping stones to growth, true love and intimacy as a couple.
5. Honor your partner. Another greatly quoted but hardly practiced axiom – do unto others what you would have them do to you. Honor him/her the way you would want them to honor you – acknowledge his/her strength, be gentle about his/her weakness. Laugh at yourself in front of him/her, listen deeply to what he/she has to say, respect his/her wishes, disagree with love and laughter when it is called for. At all times, remain secure in the knowledge that this is a fun and growing experience for you both. There is no need to take yourself so seriously.
6. Give in. This last bit is hard for most of us, particularly if we have become accustomed to being go-getters. Everything has to be “my” way, and we use every strategy in the book to have it this way. When we see the silliness of it all, it becomes much easier to not have an opinion about everything. Look at your own issues with giving in. Is it so critical that it be your way? Does everything need you in the director’s chair monitoring every detail? What a relief it is to give up control! Give in, let go and watch your life change in ways you never imagined.
There is nowhere more important that Gandhi’s wise words ring true than in mundane, daily life lived in the context of relationships – be the change you wish to see in the world. The world is but a mirror of ourselves. Changing from within changes what we see. If only we learned this art and practice of conscious coupling, “uncoupling” would be unnecessary and redundant no matter how long we lived.