It’s been said that relationships are the most powerful place for spiritual practice. There’s no doubt that healthy relationships brings us fulfillment, but let’s face it, relationships can also be extremely difficult.
In this podcast we are going to explore wisdom and practical tips that can help you cultivate healthy relationships.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “Dare to Awaken Podcast.”]
Welcome to episode number 17 of the Dare to Awaken Podcast: Healthy Relationships. So welcome back to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining me. This is Travis Eliot. And relationships are a hot topic, almost like when we talk about food, because we can all relate. We can all relate to the fact that we have to have food and we can all relate to the fact that we have relationships in our life. In this podcast, I will be honing in a little bit more specifically to healthy relationships with our significant others, our partners, but, really, the insights and the tips and the wisdom that I’m going to share with you, on some level, are applicable to all relationships, whether that’s your child or a co-worker, a friend, a loved one. It can really be transferred throughout all those various manifestations of our relationships.
So, similar to life, we have highs and lows within our relationships, and many times it’s about being on the same page with our partner, which also can come and go. It can expand and contract. There was a story of a couple on their wedding anniversary where a woman tells her husband– she says, “Last night, I had this beautiful dream where you gave me this stunning diamond necklace. What do you think that it means?” And the husband, with a smile on his face, says, “You’ll know tonight.” Her eyes light up with excitement, ready for what’s coming. And that evening eventually arises, and the husband comes home with this beautifully wrapped present. And the woman thinks to herself, “Could it be the necklace that I dreamed about?” Delighted, she unwraps the box but only to find a book titled The Meaning of Dreams.
So, clearly, the husband missed the cue. He missed the hint from his wife. And, often, conflict arises because of miscommunications, of essentially not being attuned to our partner, to not listening, to not being present. So we have this saying that says clear is kind. And it’s very important within our relationships to be extremely clear. So this is a tip. Be crystal clear with your wants and your needs because how is your partner going to know what to fulfill if you’re not clear with what you need? How are they going to meet those expectations? And I know for myself, I’ve been in relationships where the other partner, they didn’t communicate what they were always feeling and they suppressed stuff and they had a hard time expressing what they were feeling. Maybe in some instances, they didn’t even know what they were feeling because they weren’t really attuned to their own self. And so, naturally, this creates a type of conflict and a dysfunction within the relationship. And those relationships, they ended.
So it’s very important within our relationships that we always express and never suppress because when we fester something, it only festers. And then one day, out of nowhere, it explodes. It explodes into rage and anger and conflict. And if it makes you feel any better, Jesus and the Buddha, they also had difficult relationships within their life. And this is why we call it a nuclear family, right? We have these explosions that happen within our families. So also be compassionate with yourself that when conflict and when dysfunction and imperfection arise within your relationship, that you’re not alone, and that this is very much a universal experience. Remember, there are highs and lows within our relationships just like there are in all aspects of our life.
I’ve often said, “If you really want to know if your yoga and your meditation practice is working for you, then take a look at your relationships.” And if you notice that your relationships are becoming more healthy, if you notice that you’re starting to see yourself more patient, more kind, more clear, more compassionate, more understanding, then you know that you’re definitely on the right track. Your yoga practice is actually working. So this is a great litmus test to understand whether you’re on the right track or not, to look at your relationships because they are going to reflect back to you how it is that you’re doing and how it is that you’re progressing, not just on your mat or your meditation cushion, but in the reality of your relationships where all sorts of things are arising. So, inevitably, it’s about being able to see things from different perspectives. And this is one of the great ways that we cultivate a healthy relationship, is not by just seeing things from our own limited vantage point, but seeing it through their eyes and their eyes and their eyes so that we begin to grow our understanding, why people may think or feel or act in a certain way.
There’s a story of three young men who approached St. Francis asking his blessing to become hermits so that they could discover God. St. Francis smiled and he instructed the hermits to do as they wish. He gave them his blessing. But he said, “Under one condition. I want you to go to a cave, and instead of being in separate caves, I want all three of you to reside inside of the same cave for an extended period of time. And each one of you will take turns playing the role of a father, a mother, and a child. And every few months or so, you’ll rotate. You’ll change positions.” And of course, naturally, conflicts arose as these three young men were in the cave doing these different roles. But as they continued to rotate those roles, over time, they were able to establish a sense of harmony because they were more capable of understanding the needs of one another because they had played that role. They could understand that particular vantage point.
Human relationships are the perfect tool to sand away our rough edges revealing the essence of divinity within us. And although difficult at times, there’s no question that love and connection from our relationships are like oxygen for the soul. There is a Harvard Grant Study that followed 268 undergraduates for 75 years, collecting various data points along the way. And as researchers comb through all the data, the one single factor that reliably predicted quality of life was love. Participants could have money, a thriving career, health, but if they didn’t have loving relationships, they were not happy. So, clearly, all you need is love. Love is what matters. But, of course, it has to be unconditional love. And in our society, very often, it’s contractual love. We love somebody, but we expect something back in return, whereas unconditional love is like the sun. It just bestows its light, its warmth, and energy without ever asking for anything in return.
Stoic Cicero said, “Who is there who would wish to be surrounded by all the riches in the world and enjoy every abundance of life and yet not love or be loved by anyone?” Our relationships is where we get to find this oxygen for the soul. You could even say that the one reason that we’re all here in this human experience is to perfect our ability to love and also to receive love. But having a healthy relationship with others, it needs to start with having a healthy relationship to ourself. The circle of unconditional love is going to be– is going to be broken if it doesn’t also include ourself. That’s why I say not only do we have to perfect our ability to give love but also to receive love and to love ourselves in a non-egoic way. In a way that feeds the big self, not the small self. Most likely, if we are toxic and negative and abusive towards ourselves, we’re also going to see that manifested around us, especially within our relationships.
In fact, when two people come together, when you get into a relationship with another person, you have two pain bodies that are coming together. And the pain body is a term coined by Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual teacher, and it’s really that unconscious trauma and drama that we carry within us. It’s a manifestation of the dysfunctional ego. It’s all of our stuff that we’ve been sitting on, that we’ve been burying underneath us. It’s there in that unconscious part of ourself and yet is showing up over and over in many different ways within our relationships. And we don’t even know it, but it’s sabotaging us. So one of the best things that we can do to thrive within our relationships is to thin away our own pain body so that we become more conscious of our old traumas and dramas and repressed emotions and the old wounds that we carry. And as we become aware of that, we begin to thin it. So it becomes less thick and has less of a negative impact on us in our lives. And, of course, we can thin it by doing practices such as meditation, mindfulness, therapy, inner deep reflection, journaling, yoga.
You have to make sure within your relationships that you’re always aware of your own ego and where your ego gets triggered. Because you can stop a– you can stop a conflict, you can stop a whole chain of karmic events simply by not reacting to somebody else’s reaction. Boom. There’s nowhere for that relationship to go anymore because your ego is not being triggered. Your pain body is not showing itself. It’s not your job to fix others, but it is your job to fix yourself. You can’t control other people. No matter how much you try, it doesn’t work, and it never goes well. And the more that you try to control another, the more it blows up in your face. So instead of wasting our time and our energy into trying to control other people, what if we spent all that time and that energy working on ourselves, doing our own work? And maybe by doing that, then we start to see less and less of these negative patterns showing up.
Many times, people change partners, they end one relationship, they jump into another, only for the same stuff to keep manifesting and arising. So the last thing that we want to do is to see that same thing showing up over and over and over and over and over again. One of the ways that we sabotage relationships is by being overly needy, controlling, clingy. But we need to be able to provide for ourself what we often seek from others. When we already feel complete and whole and connected to unconditional love, then we don’t put that unrealistic expectation, that pressure, on another person. So now the relationship becomes more healthy and less dysfunctional because we’re not projecting these unrealistic needs on this other person. That’s a tremendous burden for somebody to carry, to have to fulfill for you. Whereas if you can generate that yourself, which you can, then it allows that person to be free and allows that person to have a more pure connection to you. And then we can allow people to evolve, to change, to transform.
Anyone who stifles you from growing and feels threatened by you changing in a positive way is contaminating and polluting the relationship. And, of course, this goes both ways. There’s many instances where somebody starts to change, they start to grow, they start to evolve in a positive way and the other person’s not ready yet, so their ego, their pain body feels threatened by the other person, And then this creates an imbalance and a dysfunction within the relationship. But you will never have a healthy relationship when the love is conditional or contractual, where both partners are keeping score. I did this, but you didn’t do that. And they’re doing this in their mind. And then when the fight breaks out, they break out that scorecard and it makes it even worse. But a healthy relationship is built upon the foundation of unconditional love. This is the holy grail to a healthy, happy, joyful relationship, but this requires attention on a regular, consistent, and ongoing basis. You see, the things that you feed become stronger, whereas the things that you neglect become weaker. Or as the author Ursula Le Guin puts it, “Love must be remade each day, baked fresh like bread.”
Now, it’s natural for there to be those highs and lows, for things to expand and contract. So sometimes within the relationship, it’ll just feel like it’s expanding and all that love is there and everything’s effortless and easy and you’re feeling the connection. And then other times it’ll feel like it’s contracting and, for whatever reason, it’s not there. And in the same way that our heart beats, expanding and contracting, and our lungs expand and contract with breath, and we have the expansion of day and night, the expansion of seasons that come and go, it’s inevitable that this too will also arise within our relationships. So in those periods of contraction, where maybe that doesn’t feel as good as the expansion, have the wisdom to know that this is just part of it. You feel the fullness of things and then you feel the scarcity of what you might feel in those more expanded moments. Same thing happens where as things contract, we’re much more likely to have conflict within our relationships.
Conflict is inevitable in our relationships, and most likely if there isn’t any conflict, then this is probably a warning sign that something is not right, where maybe one partner is suppressing. Maybe one partner is not expressing what they’re feeling and therefore the conflicts never come up, but you know it. The couple knows on a deep level that something is not right. So the Gottman Institute– I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them when it comes to relationships. They talk a lot about this notion that couples that thrive together are couples that know how to fight well together. And so they encourage partners to set up rules, that when there is a conflict, that there are going to be these certain parameters, such as no name-calling, no interrupting, no blaming, no cussing, no yelling, no sarcasm, no defensiveness, no generalization. Saying, “You never do this. You never do that.” No mocking, no intimidating gestures, no walking out of a talk without having an established follow-up time. So that means not slamming the door as you storm out of the room or out of the house. So, really, it’s these guidelines that are meant to encourage and reinforce respect.
There was a study done of 200 couples in the USA who were married for 40 years or longer. And what they found that they all embodied was this quality of respect, whereas the four worst behaviors that would end relationships would be criticalness, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. So just shutting down. Shutting it down. And then, of course, during really heated moments within an argument or a conflict, you can also agree that you’ll separate. You’ll agree to disagree in that moment. If you’re not getting anywhere at a certain point, it’s okay to say, “All right. We’ll come back to this tomorrow, same time,” and to separate. So you go out for a walk or you go and exercise. You do whatever you need to do to shift your chemistry so that you cool down the limbic system in the brain. You shift away from stress. You get rid of all that rage and all that anger. You channel it through the exercise, through movement, and you get that out of your nervous system so that then the mind begins to settle. The emotional rage and anger begins to dissipate.
And now you can see things clearly as they are and, therefore, act and speak and listen deeply from that more wise, compassionate, kind place. And as you come back with that clear head, each partner can find some sense of resolution. Of course, sometimes, it can take a little bit of time. Maybe it doesn’t happen in 24 hours. Maybe it takes three or four days. But it’s very important that you don’t allow this animosity, this unexpressed angst to linger around too long because it doesn’t do anybody any good, especially if you have two parents and kids in the house. It’s certainly not healthy for the children.
Another thing that can help is really using wise and mindful speech, which they talked about the rules, right? No cussing, no yelling, no interrupting. Our speech has tremendous impact. In fact, have you ever noticed that the word sword and word are so similar to each other? And in the same way that a sword can slice through an opponent, so can a word. So we have to be very mindful with how we use our words, just like we would with a sword.
So there’s an acronym called THINK, T-H-I-N-K. T stands for, is it true? Is what I’m saying true? So no generalizations. You never clean up. You never clean up after yourself. You never do this. Well, maybe half the time they do and half the time they don’t. So to be mindful. Is what I’m saying true? H stands for, is it helpful? Is this going to help the other person or is it going to hurt the other person? I stands for, is it inspiring? Is my speech going to uplift the situation, to uplift all that are involved? Or is it just going to create more negativity and more toxicity? N, is it necessary? Is this the right time for me to say this? Is this the right environment for me to say this? Am I calling this person out in front of other people? Am I bringing this up at the end of the day, where there is a lot of stress, people are tired? And is it necessary? Or is it my ego that wants to say something in an act of defensiveness? And then, lastly, K, is it kind? So you’re speaking in that way that is kind and compassionate. And this is mindful speech. This is a way to establish a healthy relationship with your partner.
And then, of course, it’s obvious, but another tip is to have time together, to spend time together, to have time once a week where you’re going out on a date, where you’re leaving the kids at home. You’re feeding and you’re growing the garden of your love as opposed to neglecting the garden and letting it wither away. Psychologist Arthur Aron found that couples strengthen their bonds when they do new and exciting activities together. So my wife, Lauren, and I, we can attest to this. We’ve been to boxing together. We go on a weekly trail run together. Sometimes we’ll do a yoga workshop. We will meditate together. We do things together. And when you do things together, again, you’re strengthening that bond. Find time to get together.
And then last tip is touch. Touch is said to be the most powerful of all the senses. So whether you’re standing in line waiting somewhere, use that time to touch your partner. If you’re a parent with your kid, don’t be scared to give your kid a warm embrace, a warm hug, to hold a hand. And then along those lines, I’ll finish with this from Spencer Michael Free, who writes, “‘Tis the human touch in this world that counts, the touch of your hand and mine, which means far more to the fainting heart than shelter and bread and wine. For shelter is gone when the night is over, and bread only lasts a day, but the touch of a hand and the sound of a voice sing on in the soul always.” Thank you guys so much for joining. Much health, much wealth, much love to you. May we dare to awaken.