ERP 100: 3 Building Blocks For A Conscious Intimate Relationship [Transcript]
ERP 100: Three Building Blocks For A Conscious Intimate Relationship
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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.
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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is titled “Three building blocks for a conscious intimate relationship”. Today’s episode is episode 100, which is so fun, and I feel really grateful to be looking back on our time together, to be celebrating 100 episodes. Today is actually a special episode, in that I am sharing with you some original research that came out of my dissertation. I’m gonna be sharing with you three of the nine themes that came out of my research. This research was done in 2007-2008, published in 2009, so it’s a few years old.
When I was looking back on it, I got reignited with my passion and my excitement, and also was very interested in how much of it is a part of me. It’s a part of my philosophy, it’s a part of my orientation and my approach to working with couples, and helping individuals with relationship concerns.
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, of course it does!”, yet it’s hard for me always to consciously trace what is from what. I have a lot of education, I have a lot of training, I have a lot of experience, and all of it informs my approach and my orientation with couples, so for me to get reacquainted with this body of work was fun, and I feel excited to share it with you, and feel privileged to just be, again, sharing this conversation with you in general.
I’ve been revisiting the intention of this Empowered Relationship Podcast, and some of you who have been listening to my show have heard me say one of my bigger intentions is to help you improve the quality of your relationship, improve the quality of your marriage, of your connection with your loved one.
Recently I came across an article which I will post on the show notes of this episode – again, this episode is episode 100; you can find the show notes on my website, DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast, and you can find all the episodes there. So click on the episode, and you can scroll down to the bottom, find the section Mentioned, and you’ll find this link.
This article is essentially summarizing a Harvard study. I think the study was over 75 years of research, and they were basically looking at different groups of people and studying what was most significant to their health, their happiness and their overall well-being. A quote from the article:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” And they also go on to say it’s the quality of the relationships, how much vulnerability and depth exists within them, how safe you feel sharing with one another, the extent to which you can relax and be seen for who you truly are, and truly see one another.
I loved this, because it’s essentially what we talk about on this show, and for them to really use that language, “the quality of the relationship”, and the components of that… And later in the article they’re also talking about two fundamental elements: one is love, the other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.
I’ll read a little excerpt here:
“Thus, if you’ve found love (in the form of a relationship, let’s say) but you undergo a trauma like losing a job, losing a parent, or losing a child, and you don’t deal with that trauma, you could end up “coping” in a way that pushes love away. This is a very good reminder to prioritize not only connection but your own capacity to process emotions and stress.”
So basically they’re talking about you wanna prioritize your emotional process, your reactions, your protection, your triggers… Again, this is a lot of what we talk about on this show – all the things that get activated in a romantic relationship and how that can be tricky to negotiate. I’m really wanting you to feel more equipped in how to handle some of those challenges that we might naturally want to avoid. So it’s about not only finding love, being able to nurture that love, but also attending to our capacity, our openness to love.
I just loved this article; I feel like it very much supports the conversation on this show, so I thought I would reference this, instead of just reiterating my intention. And to further support this goal of improving the quality of our connection, our relationships and also our capacity for relationship, I’m offering a free live webinar on 15th March – so if you’re listening to this soon, it’s in a couple days. If for some reason your schedule does not permit that exact time slot, register anyway and you’ll have access to the replay. I think the replay will be available for like a day or two, so you’ll still have an opportunity to be a part of that.
I look forward to sharing time with you, answering your questions, offering you an experience to go a little deeper, and then offering an opportunity to engage in this work more intentionally and meaningfully. To register and join the webinar, you can click on the link that’s on the show notes. Again, today’s episode is episode 100. You can find that on my website, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast, find the episodes there… Or if you’re on your device – your iPad, your smartphone, you can click on Empowered Relationship logo and I believe the show notes will pop up, and you can find the link there.
For today’s show, again, “Three building blocks for a conscious intimate relationship”. I’m gonna share with you my story around what lead me to researching this topic. I’m also gonna be sharing with you three of the nine themes that came out of my research. Under each theme, there’s sub-points. In discussing these three themes, I’m aware there’s a lot of material that I’m gonna just give you the overview of. I’m gonna try to do my best to give you examples and quotes from participants themselves; these are actual live couples that are talking about their relationship, to give this life. And I get that I can only cover so much in a podcast episode.
In the fall of 2005 in Northern California I started my PhD program in Clinical Psychology. Prior to this I had completed a full masters program in Counseling Psychology, as well as an undergrad in Psych. For me, doing this PhD program was fulfilling a long life dream, since I believe even seventh grade, eight grade I had very much desired to become a psychologist and knew that I would get my PhD at some point.
I took a relatively long journey to get there. I had lead team programs and had worked in many different settings in the field of psychology and helping profession, so I had quite a few years of experience under my belt at this point. Personally, I was ready to start a new chapter in my life. I had spent the summer in Montana, working as a wilderness therapist, and prior to that was in Portland, Oregon.
I was also continuing to grieve and process a relationship that had ended earlier that year, and I was very intentional about this grieving process. I went deep with experiencing the loss, the sadness and all that emerged for me, so in a lot of ways it was an incredible transformational time for me personally. I learned a tremendous amount, and more than anything I wanna focus on the questions that I was asking myself.
I was wondering, with all the things that I’d been learning, how come I didn’t have any inkling of the fact that a conscious intimate relationship existed? Again, I had had this background in psychology, but also prior to that was brought up in a really progressive family, and been exposed to a lot of personal growth teachers, transformational teachers, and felt that I had been exposed to pretty progressive thinking and models around relationship and living, and that I would have a better understanding of some of these concepts that maybe your average person.
I don’t wanna go into the full story of my process of that relationship and then what ended up happening, and our breakup; what I really wanna tell you is that it was a profound connection. The intimacy, the expressions of love, the romance, the sensation and the feeling of finding a perfect match… I think we both had thought we had found the one, and really proclaimed that sense of gratitude and connection that we had found this match in one another. So by all measures, we were fully invested, fully bought in and fully committed, and yet what we experienced about 10, 11 months in, a year in, was great conflict and difficulty, and we were bumping up and running into all kinds of challenges and walls and really spinning, unable to come to terms with what we were feeling.
If I look back now, knowing what I know now, there was insecurity, there was fear, there was protection, there was defensiveness, attack, projection… And again, we would go hours and hours, back and forth. It was exhausting, and I think we both were losing hope and felt totally disenchanted and disillusioned, like “How could we be experiencing this?” and ultimately we ended the relationship.
Through this process of turmoil, I was seeking for help, I was seeking answers, and I began reading really important relationship books. I started incorporating some of what I was learning, and I was noticing a shift in the dynamics… Powerful shifts. Yet, I still was finding my way, and I think there was a lot of doubt, and we had a lot of uncertainty, and we ended our relationship and that was what it was. But what I think it did more than anything was expose me to these principles of more conscious, awakened, mature, developed relationship that I had not been aware of previously. It really got me interested in what this looks like.
So even though that relationship ended – and again, the grief and all the things it brought up, for me personally I think was extremely transformational. I felt as though I had gone through the fire of my own awakening around the things that maybe I had been unwilling to look at, and maybe things that were extremely helpful for me to heal and grow around, and I’m happy to share that at some point.
And again, it got me in this place of “What does a relationship look like where couples are practicing this? I have not seen it in my life, that’s for sure.” I hadn’t seen it in my family, I hadn’t seen it in my peers, I hadn’t seen it in media or any stories… It was kind of a mystery to me.
Fast-forward into my PhD program, I was holding these questions in mind – “What does a conscious intimate relationship look like?” If there are researchers and psychologists that are offering these principles of what’s available, and these are popular literature books that are accessible for anyone, then they must come from somewhere. There are couples out there who have created and cultivated, and essentially manifested a relationship based on these principles, and I was interested in that. I wanted to know what are the components of that, what does it look like, how did they develop it, and I got extremely curious.
So part of the requirements of this particular PhD program is that you write a doctorate qualifying paper… You have all these steps to essentially complete a dissertation research project, and this can happen over the span of three to eight years. I think the national average of completing a PhD program is eight years; I don’t know if that’s actually still true to this day, if that’s the current number, but it has been historically.
Okay, let me mark this again a little bit… So professionally I was asking these questions; I was very interested in knowing more about the conscious intimate relationship. I was interested in studying that, and obviously, as you can hear my personal vantage point, was also deeply interested in growing myself and essentially wanting to learn how to do relationship well, how to have a conscious, mature, developed relationship. Because I did not want what I had been experiencing, that did not work for me; I was not interested in that.
I wanted something that was authentic, passionate and growthful, more than anything; I wanted someone I could grow with. That came from a lot of what I was reading, and recognizing, “Oh, right, that’s so important if you think about a long-term, lasting relationship, that for some people could be 40, 50, 60 years”, knowing I’m not gonna be the same person throughout the whole marriage. I’m gonna be individually growing and changing, and I want someone I can grow with.
In my studies in asking these questions, “What does a conscious intimate relationship look like? How do you cultivate a conscious intimate relationship?”, I learned that there were studies that had already been completed and published, unbeknownst to me. Most psychologists who do a dissertation, unless they write a book or further their career in continuing that research and developing that research, the average person is not gonna have exposure to this type of research.
I was excited that there were people that were interested in this topic and that it was actually already building a foundation. Now, this research is a qualitative research that is looking at what are the descriptors, what is involved, what are the components, it’s looking at the characteristics and the process. It’s not already defined, and then you can add a huge sample size and compare and get numbers; that’s quantitative. You want the numbers, you wanna look at how you can compare this to that, and you have a number that you can speak to, and it’s very concrete.
In order to do that numbers, quantitative research, you actually need to have your terms defined. If we’re talking about love and relationship, most people are not gonna have the same definition. So as far as research purposes, this is the first step.
I found ten research studies. These are psychologists in their PhD program that conducted research, ten different people. Within each study, they have participants. They have couples that they surveyed… First of all, they had to get the right couples that matched their criteria; they’re looking for couples that subscribed to this type of relationship, and a conscious intimate relationship is more of a growth orientation, or a full spectrum. There’s also a layer here of people who subscribe to spiritual growth, or psycho-spiritual growth, which in my mind is looking at the holistic growth; every aspect of your being has the opportunity to grow, and that’s one of the main intentions around having a conscious, intimate relationship.
So going back to these researchers, they had to get couples that subscribe to that model or that value, and depending on the length of time they’d been together, and then they’d interview them, essentially. Within each ten of these studies, they had a sample group, or a group of participants, which could be 10 or 20… It’s not huge numbers, because we’re looking at qualitative, so we wanna get the descriptors, we wanna get through the interviews, we wanna qualify what are the characteristics. It’s exploratory.
With these ten studies that I was looking at, that basically were all talking about the same thing, my job to further the field — as a researcher, you wanna look at what’s next, what’s needed in the field to develop and further the topic. For the field, what was needed was really a meta-analysis, which is a study of studies, where I would take these ten studies and look at the common themes across all of the ten studies – where do they match up? What’s consistent across all of the ten studies? So this is a rigorous, qualitative data analysis. This wasn’t my first choice of a research model, but it was what was needed.
I discovered nine consistent themes that were across all of the ten studies of what a conscious, intimate relationship looks like, what it is and how it’s developed. I’m gonna share with you the first three. Largely, it is what helps created the foundation for a conscious intimate relationship.
I suspect that most of you have heard me speak to this if you’ve been listening to my show for a while; you’ve heard me maybe mention some of these concepts, but I’m excited to share where it comes from.
The first theme is establishing a relationship in unknown territory. This has to do with how the couples in all of these studies talked about “old paradigms didn’t work”, where they had maybe seen models of obligation or convention or sacrifice, compromise – that this isn’t what they wanted. It wasn’t what allowed them to experience this more conscious intimate relationship.
One participant said, “No one ever shows us how to create this.” It was almost as though they were talking about having to be in a forest, and bush bucking, creating their own trail. There was no support, no modeling. One participant said he was not able to recall ever seeing a successful relationship that he admired. There was not even one relationship in his mind that he could actually admire in his experience in life.
So the first component is little support. The next is the process of actually creating a conscious relationship actually takes some thought and intention. Some people went into the relationship with this idea of wanting a more growthful, conscious relationship. They hadn’t met their significant other yet. They knew though, before getting into relationship, that this was of high value, this was important to them. Some of you who are listening to this show who have reached out to me and I know are interested in relationship but haven’t necessarily cultivated or attracted the type of partner that you’re wanting, this would be perhaps for you. You’ve been listening to this show, you’re thinking about these concepts, you’re trying to integrate them into your way of relating, and you probably have some desire for a more conscious relationship.
The participants in these studies that entered into their relationship with this intention had done a level of self-work already, whether or not they had gone to therapy or had been a part of workshops… They’d been working on themselves.
They had a real clear vision and goal around what was important for them. They knew what type of partner they wanted, they knew the type of relationship they wanted, and that they wanted somebody to share the belief of having a growthful relationship, the value of that; they were not willing to settle for another — one participant said “an ill-conceived relationship”, like falling in love and maybe being a little blind to what relationship’s all about, and getting all stuck and tangled. That was kind of my story which lead me into this work; I was one of these people.
In 2005 I was still grieving and processing that failed relationship; I don’t think of it as a failure at all, but that could be deemed as a failed relationship. I was very clear that I wanted a relationship that was growthful. I did not want what I had experienced before. I wanted a partner that I could grow with, someone that I could share the process of working through challenges together in a constructive way. I knew that I wanted that, I was extremely clear.
Participants in the research study said exactly the same thing – part of what lead them to this goal or to this desire for a growthful relationship came out of having conflict disillusionment with other relationship orientations or approaches. A participant reflected that before he gained more self-knowledge, awareness and development, he was primarily focused on protecting himself in relationship, and almost all the participants agreed that the notion of an easy romantic relationship was largely an illusion; that love and relationship require conscious choice and effort to cultivate and maintain, and they all talked about experiencing doubts, fears and hardship within their relationship. They concluded that facing these challenges brought them the deeper levels of love and intimacy.
I think this is a difficult one to get sometimes. If we haven’t been confronted with challenge and been able to resolve it and experience what’s on the other side, we don’t know this experientially. It’s hard sometimes to trust, it’s hard to have faith and believe that there’s actual goodness in conflict, because on face value it looks terrible. Why would we associate conflict with anything positive, with anything good? Most of us reject and avoid and want nothing to do with that. We try to mitigate and avoid and walk on eggshells and not go there, most of us. It’s painful. Yet, what I’m sharing with you is all of these couples talked about the intimacy and the growth and the deepening of the love that was gained through working through the challenges. This is actually a paradigm, a way of approaching relationship. We’re gonna try to approach conflict as an opportunity.
The other people – there were some people that went into relationship with this clear goal in mind, this value, where other people were maybe in a more traditional relationship model, and things were not working; one person in the relationship started to shift the dynamic. This change was sequential; that one partner changed, and in turn, the other partner began to change their perspective over time.
Couples in this meta-analysis which was in each of these studies talked about engaging in therapy, workshops, reading… That had a significant impact on their relationship and assisted their formation of this growth-orientation model. One couple spoke about attending a lecture where they left with this feeling of deep connection that they had made, and they saw this as a turning point in their relationship.
Other couples did retreats together, that again reaffirmed this desire to share a journey of discovery, not only in their relationship, but also in their self-discovery.
The second theme is relationship as a journey paradigm, which is similar to what I was talking about in the first theme. The first theme though has more to do with establishing the relationship. This theme has more to do with what that relationship as a journey paradigm is all about.
One couple said, “Our relationship is a process through which we grow and expand. At our better moments we use whatever comes forward in our marriage as an opportunity to expand our sense of who we are and deepen our capacity to forgive and love.”
Couples view their relationship as almost a laboratory for growth and support. One couple said, “We will use our experiences for us, instead of against us. Our goal is to use everything for our advancement, upliftment and growth.” Again, this is a real paradigm shift; if there’s difficulty instead of believing and naming, “Oh gosh, this is bad… Something’s not right, things are not working well; this isn’t what I want”, it’s shifting the perspective and the belief that “Okay, this challenge – there’s richness, there’s aliveness… These events that feel difficulty are actually opportunities to learn and transform.” We’re gonna approach a challenge very differently, depending on our outlook and our paradigm.
One couple talked about trying to meet challenges with skillful softening, and slowing down and opening it up, and being a little more loving and thoughtful about how it gets navigated.
Again, couples reaffirmed over and over again that doing this offered great gifts of expanding their capacity to experience more love and more joy and more happiness.
Many of the researchers within my meta-analysis talked about the importance of this paradigm and meaning-making for couples. One researcher said, “Intimate interactions such as love, connection, passion and any other desired relational experience is a self-created choice that may take various degrees of arduousness to maintain, such as challenging and restructuring aspects of one’s belief system. This differs from a more conventional notion that intimacy, which often is viewed as a passive, uncontrollable, instantaneous romantic emotional exchange or feeling that happens to one’s self, such as those indicated by common clichés – love at first sight, or swept off of one’s feet.”
Essentially, that’s saying what I’ve been talking about – it’s very different and we have to kind of switch our thinking, switch our commitment and our approach towards having the faith and the belief that there is something to be gained and learned through the difficulty, meeting it head on. That’s not an easy thing to do when we don’t know what it looks like, so I’m trying to give you some research of couples who have done this, who are on the other side, what it looks like for them.
This is just one example, but getting a chance for you to think about it, try it on; “Does this resonate with me?” Have you had any experiences – perhaps even with a dear friend at some point in your life – when there was some miscommunication and you addressed it, and you actually maybe felt closer having been able to hash it out? Because almost all the participants talked about in the process of their relationship they had to confront their own shadow, material, unconscious patterning, old wounds and old conditioning; there’s a level of friction sometimes. The purpose of the friction is actually for growth.
One person in one of the studies talked about their process of coming into truth, coming into themselves. They had to work through the unconscious material. They defined it as “where all of one’s emotional wounds, fears and self-loathing, rejection reside.”
In addition to having a growth orientation, there’s two other sub-points to this second theme. Again, the second theme is establishing a journey paradigm. So the first is having a growth orientation, the second is seeing the relationship as a teacher. Partners viewed their relationship as a workroom in which healing and growth could take place. Couples talked about their interactions as sa source of insight and understanding that point to potential areas of growth.
They were looking at whatever seemed as though was an issue or a problem; they associated, “Oh, this is pointing to some area of growth or healing that’s needed.”
One couple talked about “When a partner is in pain, both partners have the opportunity to work with the issue in a productive and constructive way. As partners confront their shortcomings and pain, there is an opportunity to free themselves of habitual reactions and ultimately deepening the experience of oneself.”
Relationship as teacher is recognizing often that we are not gonna get challenged in the same way that we would in a romantic partnership or a marriage. We’re not gonna get activated in the same deep, profound way that we do in our romantic partnership. So it’s a recognition that that’s a unique experience and that what’s getting revealed there is really important to pay attention to.
It’s essentially teaching us about how to grow, providing the curriculum for our development.
The last sub-point to this second theme is viewing your partner as a companion on the path. If you’re both on the growth path, you’re sharing relationship together, individually you’re also in your own process of growing. So you have two individuals growing within the relationship. By this regard, you can see each other as a companion, and that’s what these couples did. In this conscious intimate relationship — not always; this is not about perfection; it’s about how couples continue to work with reminding themselves, bringing themselves back to these principles and these truths. So they expressed seeing and believing in each other’s potential, their strength and their goodness.
It’s almost as if there’s an acknowledgement of your humanhood; there’s almost this sense of brotherhood/sisterhood; we are living and humans on this journey of life together, and you’re sharing it more intimately and deeply than any other relationship, yet there’s still this perhaps humility and this respect and regard for the work we’re doing together, if we’re choosing to welcome and confront some of this challenge that comes up, that we can respect that, that respectively we’re both going through something.
Being companions on the path also took a few other different nuances. One is really expressing that there’s a sense of security, the support base, that we’re there for each other. We wanna support each other, we wanna empower each other.
One couple said, “I’m really for you being you. I don’t wanna stand in your way, even if that means I have to learn some difficult things about myself. I’m asking for you to be for me the same way, even when it’s difficult for you or it hurts you in some way.” There’s this priority for being real.
Some couples talked about the willingness to learn from one another – learn from each other’s strengths and opposite qualities. This could look like — again, I use the example of an extrovert and an introvert in a marriage; while they might have opposite desires socially or how they refuel or fill their cup… Sometimes that can be a conflict. Over time, couples typically will learn the value of being connected and extroverted, as well as the value of being more introverted and having quiet time and reflective time, and that there is an influence on one another, that they begin to integrate different aspects of themselves, so they’re learning from each other.
Other couples talked about the ability to feel confident that they know how to work together. It’s almost as if they were gonna be rafting down the river together. They wouldn’t be yelling at each other, they wouldn’t be criticizing each other around what their approach is, they wouldn’t be power-struggling on whose way is better… They would be working together; they trust and feel confident because they’ve worked it through before. They found a way to work together and they have a level of trust there, and they know that they have the ability to get through a challenge, and that takes some effort to accomplish that good working relationship. You see this in a lot of arenas.
I see this in sports; if you have teammates, they have a lot of practices to work out whatever dynamics or kinks that might get in the way. They wanna optimize their level of efficiency and effectiveness. If they wanna succeed at winning or playing the game well, they wanna trust each other. But they have to practice a lot. Couples that are willing to confront some of these differences.
Sometimes that’s where conflict comes from – you have an extrovert and you have an introvert. There’s no good, bad, right or wrong, it’s just different, and how you negotiate that determines the success. You could avoid it, think there’s shame or blame or inadequacy or rejection, and avoid it and feel really troubled by it, or you could say “Look, there’s something here. What’s coming up in me?” and you might still have all those feelings, but you’re willing to confront it and work it to clear it and get to the other side.
Number three – this is the third theme. Again, I had nine themes that came out of my dissertation, and I’m sharing three with you. The third theme is creating a foundation. Now, this is a foundation for the relationship; it supports the relationship. There’s a couple components that help to do that. One is commitment, and I’ll talk about that in a moment. The second is values and vision. The third is willingness and work, and the fourth is relationship container – having a real practice ground.
I’ll give a brief overview of each of these; again, this is just all contributing to the foundation. You want a solid foundation.
Commitment – I wrote in my dissertation that commonly people have fears about commitment, and these fears often result in restriction and loss of freedom, whereas couples in these studies claimed that their commitments offered them a sense of freedom. They talked about feeling more confident, more free to explore themselves and their relationship more deeply. If there’s a commitment to these practices, there’s more freedom to be fully expressed, so they felt more empowered to do that. They didn’t feel that pressure to change who they are or to conform. Couples also talked about feeling more safe to move beyond their fears. The freedom to take risks, as well as to question and change old patterns and beliefs. There was that foundation of security.
One of the researchers wrote “I don’t think a lot of people will have that understanding, that commitment isn’t something that’s a chain around your neck; that it’s still a very living, breathing thing that has a very strong foundation, that it’s kind of a place you soar from.” I love that.
Values and vision. One of the things that came out of the research was that couples who had developed this conscious intimate relationship really shared a high degree of values, whether or not it was their perspective on life (their spiritual perspective) or their commitment to truth and openness, or even the practice of cultivating character through kindness, compassion and service, as well as the way they relate to each other, of love, honesty, respect and having a sense of responsibility. That this was a real shared vision and value that couples were really committed to; this was a part of their foundation.
One researcher mentioned that couples described a sense of harmony and joy being able to share these meaningful aspects of life, seeing life in a similar way, and that it also gave them a sense of direction when things were hard. Again, if you’re holding the belief that there’s goodness on the other side of the challenge and you share that perspective, that can help give you some reassurance, some support, some nurturing when things feel challenging and hard. It helps remind you of the bigger perspective.
Willingness and work. Again, across all of these studies, developing a conscious intimate relationship, they talked about it requiring difficult and painful work at times, and that it’s helpful to have commitment and a relationship container that holds this space for the couple. But it’s essentially, they were saying, up to each individual to choose to do the work; it’s a self-responsibility that you have to choose.
One researcher was describing the findings in their interviews working with these couples and said, “Partners often wanted to stay contracted in fear, rejecting the opportunity for joy and expansion because it was too scary. The process required a willingness to commit, as well as strength and courage to do the hard work necessary for growth and development of the self and the relationship.” Couples talked about the importance and the willingness to do whatever it takes, rather than avoiding and running from challenges. Again, this is a self decision.
The last sub-point under creating a foundation is relationship container. This is really the safe space, the ground, the foundation, the emotional ground for which to practice from. The couples talked about viewing this relationship container as a safe place to learn new skills, confront challenges and allow healing to take place. We won’t soften if we don’t feel safe, and we need this feeling of trust and safety to be vulnerable and open our hearts.
With safety, partners begin to build that trust, and this trust is thought of as essential goodness (according to the studies), that one partner and the belief that they would not cause intentional harm, and that they care about their partner and the growth of their partner… As we heard one partner say, “I’m here for you being you, even if it’s hard for me to handle at times.”
One partner in a study was saying, “The relationship deepened as we were really able to trust one another in terms of holding the person’s experience. Now there is no concern. A person steps forwards, the other person holds them. Then the next person steps forward, and the other person holds them.” It really just promotes a deepening, being able to be in the relationship unconditionally, in your entirety, and trusting, knowing whatever comes up, even if it may promote some kind of conflict, that the relationship can hold whatever kind of individuation is necessary for each person.
I love this quote, as it speaks to these elements of creating a foundation – the commitment, the vision and the belief of the practice, the willingness to do the work, and the safety of the relationship container. They all work together.
As I talk about these three themes, establishing a relationship in unknown territory, developing a relationship journey paradigm and creating a foundation, combined with me talking about where I was at in 2005… What’s so remarkable to me is before I started the PhD program, all of the upcoming students were on this Yahoo! group and we were exchanging about housing and various questions about the area, and just getting to know each other a little bit. And there were two cohorts in the upcoming year, two groups of students, and it happened to be that I was gonna be in the Bay Area, I was gonna be looking at housing and what not, and it was before the program started. And someone had e-mailed about getting together, being in the area, if anybody wanted to get together. So I made contact and we decided to meet for lunch.
This was the first person that I met before started in any of the students, and he is now my husband. It’s fascinating to me that as I talk about all these relationship principles, I am reminded at how committed I was to this style, this approach to relationship and how we were friends for six, seven, eight months… I wasn’t ready to get into relationship, I wanted to kind of allow all the excitement of getting into a new program, and everybody’s crushing on each other… You know, there’s some attractions that fly, and I just wasn’t interested in getting wrapped up in that; I really wanted to be grounded, I really wanted to be intentional. So we established a very beautiful friendship.
Obviously, we then began dating in 2006, in the spring. What I loved is that I’ve done my work; we’ve done our work. We’ve practiced everything that I talk about on this show, we’ve really worked at doing what I’ve talked about in this episode, even. Fast-forward, and getting a chance to feel the fruits of that and the blossoming of that type of relationship, and also even in this vantage point where we are and what’s ahead of us, knowing that there’s so much more still available… I’m just touched and extremely grateful for having said yes to this, having said yes to the commitment, the willingness to do the work and the faith around that this is possible. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I was really yearning for and seeking for – some confidence in a relationship model that I could emulate, that I could practice, that’s proven, that there’s research, that couples have actually developed it, it worked… Because I wasn’t interested in what I was seeing, what I had experienced; I wanted something more. I wanted some assurance, I wanted the know-how, and that’s the journey I started from and was developing.
Fast-forward, I have been devoting my life’s work to coaching, to educating and offering curriculum to help people set path, to get on this path, work the path and cultivate a conscious intimate relationship. If you’re interested in exploring what this could be like for you, I encourage you to hop on the webinar that I’m offering 15th March. You can register for that on my show notes. That can be found on my website, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com. If you have any questions, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for listening. I appreciate you, I honor your path, and until next time, I hope you take great care.
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