How to advance your relationship
Relationships move and touch your soul like nothing else can, but the exquisite beauty and pain can be swept away in the current of everyday life. It therefore becomes vital to make the time to pay attention to this aspect of your life.
Children do it instinctively. They choose their favourite toy and then swap it with that of their best friend. This ritual marks the importance of the friendship between the two of them. It indicates trust and generosity. Not everyone would be able to share this treasured toy, only the special best friend.
The ritual of blood brothers sometimes takes place between older children. A pinprick to the thumb and then a merging of each others blood as they press their thumbs together marks the sacred bond they share. Children naturally understand that rituals honour the significance of a relationship. The ritual grants the friendship special or favoured status in their lives. As adults we would do well to follow the example of children and include the use of ritual to acknowledge the importance of relationships in our own lives.
One of the most significant forms of relationship for adults is the romantic love relationship. It can lead to a bonding where you form a partnership that lasts for years or even the rest of your life. It is a source of passion and joy, solace and support. On the other hand, these relationships can be a source of great distress and grief. Even when everything else is going well in your life, if your love relationship is having difficulties, it flavours everything else. Given that these relationships are so important, its beneficial to celebrate and honour this significance.
Life seems to go by so quickly with its thousand and one demands that can leave you exhausted as you try to balance work, family, health, leisure, social life and contribution to the community. Among all this activity it can be easy to ignore the significance of the changes and transformations that may be occurring in your relationship. Relationships move and touch your soul like nothing else can, but the exquisite beauty and pain can be swept away in the current of everyday life. It therefore becomes vital to make the time to pay attention to this aspect of your life. In doing so you enrich and deepen your experience of the relationship, you honour the stage you are going through, you affirm the transformations taking place and you celebrate and share this aspect of your lives with others.
Ending a relationship
The ending of a relationship is usually painful. It marks the end of possibilities, dreams and potentials that existed between the two people. It is healing to take the time to have a ritual that marks the end of a relationship. In doing so you can honour the significance of what you had, give time for the grief that is arising and then let go of the old and open to the new. This process is done over some time since a deep connection cannot be severed overnight. The final stage can be done on your own or witnessed by a trusted friend, or done with your ex-partner if you are on good terms.
The first stage involves gathering and returning any of your lovers belongings. It is symbolic of removing their immediate presence from your life. Then choose a container in which you will place momentos of the relationship. The container must signify the relationship in some way, so paint or decorate the box appropriately. Then place the following into the box:
- Something that symbolises you in the relationship
- Something that symbolises the other person
- Something that symbolises the relationship itself
- Anything remaining from the relationship that you do not wish to keep
- Photos of yourself and your partner.
You must be prepared to destroy or dispose of all of these things when the time comes. Then write a letter to your partner. This can be done in lots of stages as you move through the different phases of separation. Each of the drafts and the final letter itself will be placed in the box. The final letter should include a genuine expression of the following sentiments. If you have to fake it, you are not ready:
- "I thank you for…"
- "I forgive you for…"
- "I am sorry for…"
- "I am proud of myself for…"
- "What I have learned from our relationship…"
- "I now go my way and am willing to let you go yours and I wish you well for the future…"
Next comes the final goodbye ritual. This should only be done when the time feels right. Dont rush. You will know when its time. Set aside a special day. Go and visit some place that once was special to both of you and say a conscious goodbye. Then decide on a place to destroy the box. You might throw it into the ocean, off a cliff, bury it or burn it or otherwise permanently get rid of it. Before you do so, read your final letter out loud and say goodbye out loud. As you then go through the process of destroying the box do so with the awareness that you are cutting the tie with that person. Even if you are remaining friends you will still never experience the relationship in its old form. Something is lost, even if a new form is being created. You are honouring what the relationship was for you and symbolising what you do not want to carry around from it any more. As you walk away from the site empty-handed you step forward into a new stage in your life.
Beginning a relationship
The beginning of a relationship can be exhilarating. Once the initial romantic phase settles down a little and it begins to seem like this will be a lasting relationship, it can be good to take the time to reflect on the nature of the relationship. In your focus on the pleasure of the immediate moment you can neglect to voice your deepest desires for its future. It is at this early stage that you can be laying foundations for the type of relationship you would like to create.
At the same time, because you love the romance and mutual admiration that occurs in the early stages, you can be reluctant to look at the shadow of the relationship. The shadow includes the fears, dislikes and negative patterns that may be present in the relationship. The high dream, low dream ritual can address these issues.
The ritual itself is quite simple but its impact can be profound. Set aside some special time to complete this activity. Sit opposite each other and get comfortable. You will be taking it in turns to speak, listening to your partner without any questions or interruptions. The first part of the ritual is to speak your high dream for the relationship. This means talking about your hopes and deepest aspirations for what you desire and think is possible for the two of you.
The idea is for you to speak for your dream relationship. What would you want it to be like? Speak for all aspects, the emotional, sexual, practical and spiritual. Dont be realistic as you speak because this will create limits and will censor your true self. Go for it. Speak your dream. The idea is that if you speak the dream, you bring it into awareness and into the realm of possibility. If you dont let yourself dream, the dreams can never come true.
Also, as you speak this dream with your partner you will be sharing an important part of yourself that would otherwise remain hidden. You are opening up your deeper self and allowing your partner to hear the things that are important to you. Once you have spoken completely and covered everything you can think of, swap and let your partner have their turn.
Following this it will be time to speak of the low dream for the relationship. This means naming what you would most fear in the relationship. What would you hate to see happening within yourself, your partner and between the two of you? What is the worst thing that could happen? Are there things that have happened in past relationships that you are scared could happen again? What things would hurt you the most? What sort of hurt are you capable of? What have you seen going on in other peoples relationships that you thought was destructive or undermining?
In speaking these concerns you bring them out from the dark and into the light of consciousness where you both can see them. Things have power when they are hidden. By bringing them out into the open you become conscious of the potential dangers in the relationship. You will be more likely to notice and name the first signs of these patterns if they begin to arise in the future. Then you can begin to quickly work with the issues rather than back away in fear. Once something has been named its easier to speak about it in the future.
After you have both had turns to speak then take the time to share your thoughts and reactions with each other. How similar were your ideas? Are you on track towards reaching your high dream? Is there anything you need to do to stop the low dream from taking form? You can complete this ritual with a toast to the high dream and a commitment to stay on the lookout for signs of the low dream.
Deepening a relationship
Once you have been with your partner for some time you may like to have ways to enrich the relationship apart from the usual outings, talks and shared meals. One gentle way is to do a soul gaze together. This is very simple and only takes about 10 minutes. It is a way of bringing closeness and peace into the relationship, or it can bring you back in tune with each other after a time of separation or difficulty. It can be a good thing to do last thing at night.
Sit comfortably across from each other with your knees touching. Then all you do is look into each others eyes without looking away. You do not stare as in the staring contests you may have had as a child, so blink and just relax into the gaze. Notice any feelings or impulses that come up. Is it confronting, embarrassing or unnerving? Do you want to look away or hide? It is not usual for people to look at each other for such an extended period of time, so just keep gazing at your partner as such feelings come up. Until you are familiar with this ritual you may feel like laughing, because self-consciousness is common at first. Keep looking at your partner and the laughing will pass as you become more comfortable with this level of intimacy.
Once you have managed to sit for about five minutes calmly gazing at your partner, then gradually begin to bring your breathing in time with each other. Still keep looking into each others eyes as you do this but with your peripheral vision notice the rise and fall of the chest or shoulders as a cue to the in and out breath of your partner. Stay breathing together for another five minutes. Couples who do this together say they feel peaceful, relaxed, softened and open after the 10 minutes. It can bring both healing and renewed closeness into the relationship.
The following ritual for confiding and connecting is done at least weekly and aims to keep a couple in tune and intimate with each other. This ritual may seem simple but it is amazing how many couples who have been together for some time do not manage to keep up this level of maintenance of their relationship. The risk is that the couple will therefore grow apart and not realise this until it is too late. The confiding and connecting ritual enhances intimacy and can prevent a couple from growing apart.
It is great if you can do this ritual in the same place and at the same time each week, since this helps it to become an instinctive part of your relating together. You definitely need to be away from distractions like television and kids. You can approach it like a treat and go to a favourite café so that it becomes a special part of your time together.
This ritual involves at least a 20-minute conversation where you take turns to share the following things about yourselves:
- What was the high point of your week? What inspired you the most? What was exciting? How did you get closer to any personal goals you have?
- What was the most challenging thing this week? What difficulty did you have to deal with? How did you cope?
- What did you appreciate most in your partner this week? How did they show their love to you?
- What did you do to express love to your partner this week? Did they notice? Remember that people have different ways of expressing love, so its good to let each other into your individual language of love.
- Do you have any requests for change? Are there any feelings or incidents that need to be aired? If you keep up to date with small issues instead of sweeping them under the carpet, you help prevent them from blowing up into big and possibly damaging issues further down the track.
Once you have decided to commit to being in a long-term relationship with someone it can be good to create rituals that help lay the foundations for a strong, healthy partnership. The first step is to create your joint vision for the relationship.
The ritual of vision creation is done in two parts. The first part is the preparation. During this time you each make a list of qualities you would like to have in the relationship. For example, it may be important for you to have open communication or to keep romance alive or to have an adventurous sex life. Write about 20 points down and, when you have done so, rate the items from one to 20, from most significant to least significant. You can do this process over a few weeks so you have plenty of time to dwell on what is important to you in the relationship.
For the second stage its good to go away together so that your vision creation is marked in your memory as a special time. Sit down together and swap the vision lists you have made. Notice any differences or similarities. Then begin to talk with each other about the points and why they have been listed as most or least significant. After this discussion your aim will be to create a joint vision you can both agree on.
Begin by putting all the points down that you already agree on and then negotiate over the others. Listen for the significance in each others points and see if you can find common ground. Rewording or adjusting a point may help make it acceptable to you both. Once you have all the points down, then number them from most vital to least. Then choose the 10 most significant points to become the statement of the vision for your relationship. Write these out in full on special quality paper and decide where you will keep this special document. Have a commemorative dinner to celebrate the creation of this vision. In the future you can refer to this vision when you need inspiration during the hard times or when you want to reminisce together about how well you are both doing in maintaining your vision.
The creation of your vision is done by yourselves but your statement of your commitment to each other is usually witnessed by other people. This is because it raises consciousness to have others there to hear your commitment and it marks the care and support others have for your relationship. The ceremony may be as a formal marriage or it may be a commitment ceremony. Before the actual ceremony you will have to decide what you are committing to in the relationship. What is the fundamental basis of the relationship? Some examples are given below:
- Committed to spending the rest of your lives together
- Committed to nurturing the growth of the other person
- Committed to loving each other forever
- Committed to your relationship being a space in which spirit is expressed
- Committed to your relationship being a space from which to generate contribution to the world.
Deciding on a commitment sets an intention for the relationship. It is like a compass with which you set your course and then refer to so as to maintain your true direction. Once you have decided on your commitment you then need to think about how you can create a ritual that will be a unique expression of the relationship between the two of you. It is good for you both to be able to speak your commitment in front of others rather than just let someone else speak it for you. This makes it powerful and very real for you, even if the thought of doing so may make you nervous!
Also, try to think of a way to embody the unique quality of each other and the relationship. The setting you choose may help set the tone, as will the music and the readings. You may wish to swap special gifts or give something to each of the guests that symbolises your relationship. You might jointly place some symbol into the ocean or a river, indicating that you are launching yourselves together into the flow of life.
Modern life can seem empty and meaningless sometimes with its constant focus on materialism and individual gain. Cynicism and apathy are easy responses to a world that seems to ignore the life of the heart.
Your relationships, however, can be a place of refuge from this emptiness. Here you learn how to give and receive care, how to love and how to grieve. You can be touched and inspired by your relationships. Through them you can learn that you are not insignificant. You have the power to touch the life of another person. Rituals help you to honour this meaning and the depth and richness of your relationships is thereby enhanced. In so doing you step out of the rush and routine of everyday life and celebrate the power of love.
Cynthia Hickman is a psychologist working in private practice in Melbourne. Tel: 0417 103 018. Website: www.users.bigpond.com/cynthia1/