What does it take to stay in a relationship? What makes it really work?

What does it take to stay in a relationship? What makes it really work?

Here’s my thoughts on the short version:
1. A strong initial spark,
2. a willingness from both people to explore and see if you respect and care for eachother
3. The desire to consciously work on it and be completely honest and vulnerable in the process of healing the subconscious,
4. Do that, and become new people together.
5. Dedication to nurturing your love,
6. A strong shared vision to keep your paths aligned and moving forward together towards a shared future.

Beyond that… I’ve never been in a conscious romantic relationship long enough to know… lol

But I would guess that it involves repeating 3-6 over and over again and continuing to choose each other.

I’d like to say that as a conscious being, with conscious communication tools everything is peachy and pollyanna in relationships. But in reality, it can be hard. Especially when you’re dealing with romance, travel and social survivability.

Of course, all relationships have challenges, ups and downs, joys and sorrows. The relationship experts tell us that the more “in love” we fall at the beginning, the more resonance of our deep subconscious pain/trauma there is underneath it all. They call it Imago Love.

When I work with couples, you can sense this Imago love immediately. Even if they are experiencing challenge, you can feel the connection deep underneath it all, the underlying love. In some couples, it’s obvious it’s not there, and probably never was. Although learning conscious communication tools can be helpful to any couple, and there are hacks to ease communication and rekindle passion, to be totally honest, for those couples who don’t have that Imago love, it’s really hard to rekindle that spark, when it wasn’t there in the first place.

I had a real-life experience of how important it is to have ALL of those things in place when Max and I were in the process of dating and splitting up. Looking back on it, we had 2, 3, and 4 down pat, and both became much more awesome people from the process but by the time we hit Spain around this time last fall, things were on the decline…

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Here’s a story from the soon to be released JoyGasm Book (Go to JoyGasm.me/book to get the first 15 chapters, and updates on when it’s being printed)

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“Traveling together had been difficult for a few months, and it was seeming like our desires and dreams for where we wanted to be were very different. He wanted to be in a big city, dancing, going to chic cafes and fancy restaurants, adventuring to a new city every month. I wanted to see more of the world for sure, but I also wanted to hang out in small beach towns, preferably speak Spanish, and explore local culture in a deep way, getting in with the locals, eating cheap and dirty, and exploring what life was like in that place. I wanted to be able to get to know people, and after a few months of a new place every month, I had realized that more than anything I wanted to stay someplace for 6 months or more.

Obviously, we had a massive clash in future/present vision going on.

So with that challenge hitting the fan, what do we do? Well, as two people fluent in non-violent communication, and committed to working on our relationship we both look at each other and try and state our needs, find a compromise, work it out. Easier said than done.

Using the statement “I feel” is meant to turn the communication back towards you, your feelings your needs, and keep that projection in check. But with my sense of freedom being curtailed by our shared travel plans, my emotions were flying high. Both of our basic needs and desires are not being met for how we wanted to live, and more often than not we find ourselves slipping into “I feel like YOU…” insert subconscious pain based accusation here.

After a few weeks of this, we realize this is bigger than we could handle ourselves and seek help from a friend and facilitator of communication. He calls us both out on the improper use of the NVC format and we move deeper into being as conscious with our communication and projections as we can. We commit, again, to owning our crap, and moving through it together. Both of us have been feeling stuck, and frustrated, but we are willing to work it through, together.

Newly committed we drive back into the work, a few weeks of this go back and forth, and I’m exasperated.

It’s so challenging to speak with him. I get SO angry. We’re working together, and we spend days and days (it seems) trying to find peace in our interpersonal/romantic so that we can actually have a working conversation in our work lives. On top of that, the work isn’t working either (aka providing revenue) so it seems pointless… deep to the core of my pain.

One day after a particularly frustrating conversation, I sit down with myself to figure out why this all so challenging, and why the heck this is happening.

As my thoughts wander around, I realize that I’ve been trying to leave the relationship for a month or so now, and every time I start to have the conversation he says “But you can’t threaten the relationship, we have to work on it together.” I hear you Max, and if I wanted to work on it…fine. If I don’t then fuck it. Well.. okay. Not fuck it.

Because I’ve been through this “relationships transition with a boyfriend” a half dozen times or so in the last few years, and I know what it takes to get closure and release someone in a loving and healthy way now. I’ve had lots of practice. There’s no need to be as uncomfortable in this as we are, if we just get clear on what’s happening and be honest with each other about what’s next.

I had thought when we started this thing that since Max was a spitting image of my “list of things I want in a partner” that I might not have to go through this whole relationship transition thing again… But now it looks like it’s staring me in the face. Fuck…

So I start to ponder. What does it really take to stay in a relationship, if this isn’t it?

Here’s my thoughts:
1. A strong initial spark, (nope)
2. a willingness from both people to explore and see if you respect and care for each other (yes, except I don’t respect him sometimes)
3. The desire to consciously work on it and be completely honest and vulnerable in the process of healing the subconscious, (got that one)
4. Do that, and become new people together. (Been doing that)
5. Dedication to nurturing your love, (sort of)
6. A strong shared vision to keep your paths aligned and moving forward together towards a shared future. (I don’t want to live like he wants to live)

I think back to when we met. Co-Boat in Thailand. I remember meeting him and feeling he was interesting. Well… “at least, more interesting than everyone else in that small boat.” We’ve laughed our way through telling that story a dozen times to people, and I remember what he said about me.. “I saw her and thought, who is this crazy woman with a kid, she’s weird.”

Not much of a spark there… in fact, if it wasn’t for the wild adventure of capsizing, bailing out a dingy and almost dying on a day trip, I’m not sure that we would have ended up in a relationship. If we hadn’t “happened” to be going to the same island and co-working space afterwards, he would have disappeared from my life without a look back, and I from his.

Not much of a spark then.

I think back to the times that I’ve fallen madly in love…. That Imago Love the Guy and Katie Hendrix speak of. The sparkling fire within our bodies, the certainty that this was something special. The feeling of being drawn, and inescapably desiring that person. I remember feeling that with Derek, Rafiq and Daniel… I know from the memory of the feeling with the other men, that this time, that spark just wasn’t there…

In fact, after the whirlwind drama and pain, I’d just had with Daniel in Bali, I’d specifically asked the universe for something calmer next boyfriend around. Got it!

So the core of our relationship is “happenstance, similar visions, mutual support, and a willingness to give it a go” and having run with that for a while, we now had “entanglement of emotions, logistics and ‘cuz we said we would” added into the mix.

I think wistfully of falling in love with Daniel, the kind of love that swept me off my feet, how I couldn’t help but walk over to his house, the poetry that had spewed forth from my heart, and the magic and love permeated the field of our moments together. The start of this relationship had none of that.

If I am completely honest with myself, it is a relationship of social survivability. Having moved from Bali to Thailand, and new to a place, Max was the most willing and interested person there, he wanted to hang out with me. When Alex called him Dad 3 weeks in (something he’d never done with any of my other boyfriends), and we’d both blushed and hoped for love that ended in like that, it had anchored it in, and made it more real than it maybe was at that point. On top of that, Max was willing to be loving and kind to me when many of the other Digital Nomads around me looked at the fact that I had a kid and excluded me.

Not really the foundation of a long-term love relationship.

In that moment I know we are over, and I know that moving forward I will make better decisions for relationships. No more dating men I’m lukewarm about.

I know from him and other lovers, that by 6 to 8 to 9 months in, the love and connection, the novelties of getting laid regularly most often have worn thin and the challenge begins in earnest. The challenges are all there to be seen, right from the get go, but the love and oxytocin high blinds you for a few months. Max and I had even named this from the start of our relationship, we knew exactly what we were getting into, and here we are in the middle of the challenges.

I realize deeply that I have been contemptuous of him from the start, I’ve been learning to accept and love the aspects I find challenging about him, but the contempt lingers and underlays everything that we do together. No wonder it doesn’t work.”

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I can’t take back or change the time Max and I spent together, nor would I want to. The love we shared, though not Imago love, was a deep and committed friendship and romance that we supported through strength and determination. I became a much clearer and more loving person through the dedication we had to working out our stuff together. It’s beautiful to see now that Max and I were able to transition our relationship, still maintain a friendship, and co-support each other in understanding our challenges as we work towards moving closer to our vision for what our dream lives look like, even though we aren’t romantically together anymore.

I decided that in the future to merge my life on that level with someone, I would really need to care at the core about who they were, what they wanted, and how we could be together.

When Dan and I met up again this spring and sparked like crazy, again. I thought. “This is what is needed at the core of it, this is the feeling to come back to, to try and find again if shit hits the fan.” A part of me relaxed and loved deeper. We still are. I could tell you stories for days, and…. Dan and I are still navigating how much and what I share about our life with the world through FB. I’ll share more when we get clearer.

What I didn’t realize at the time of the insight with Max was that I needed to apply this to my friends too. To all the people in my world, the ones I was dreaming and creating and visioning with as well. To be meticulous about the quality of the connection. This is strange for a woman who is used to figuring out who to hang out with by “social survivability standards”

1. do they look/feel dangerous, no.
2. Do they look/feel reasonably like-minded. Yes.
3. Are they leaving the country tomorrow or in the next week? No.
4.Do we like each other enough to spend time together for a couple of hours because we have nothing better to do as travelers. Yes.
Okay now we are friends!!!

It’s a new ball game for me to figure out what long term friendships can look like.

When I arrived back in Calgary, I connected with the people around me. I reached out to the people I remembered being helpful, kind and supportive in my life. The people I really liked last time I was here. Some of them replied, some of them had moved on. Great. Got support network. Whew. Social Survivability is taken care of.

As the new year comes closer, there’s a feeling of checking in, how is this whole “having longer-term friends thing going Elena?” Add in some recent relationship challenges, and it seems more important than ever to ask the question…. is the core, the spark, the feeling of it all strong enough to maintain the love through the times of challenge?

Questions I’m asking myself about my relationships…

Is the spark there at the core?
Even if our shared vision never happened, would I still want to be around this person?
Do they demonstrate the skills needed to work on the challenges that may arise?
Do our dreams for the future align?

Six months later, the community has expanded, At the potlucks I see others connecting together, friends forming, connections moving deeper. It’s beautiful, heartwarming, and loving. I notice that I feel the spark with some people, it’s got that Imago feeling, that feeling that it’s amazing just to lay in their arms and be warm and silent, or talkative, or whatever together. The feeling that my heart sparks when they walk into the room. I’ve noticed that I don’t have that with others. Some are interesting to me even without the spark, and some are in between, and some people I’m happy to see, but may never really get to know. Only time will tell. I’m learning that’s okay.

I see people I spark with connecting deeply with others. I watch them go super deep into conversation or cuddles, and that’s great. My heart is warm for their love, whatever brings them joy. I want them to follow their hearts and explore where seems most interesting. I see new faces, and I’m curious about them, wondering who they are and what they be. Some of them spark with me more than others. I’m learning that’s okay.

Maybe we see each other once a month, once a week, never outside of potlucks. Each relationship is different… With a new awareness for some of the projections I’ve been putting on others, and some of the ones I’m finding have been put on me, I find it more and more important to get clear what are the expectations around the friendships I have. Do we want to get together more? Do we have the time? Is it enough to see each other in passing once a month, share some cuddle puddle, and food, and know that we’re still around and still showing up to the same places? I also want to check in, are there places/people with whom I may have miscommunicated, or have I been unclear on what I could give, or needed to receive?

I’m committing to sitting down and checking in on who and how I want to nurture in friendship, love, and collaboration. I’d encourage you to do it too.

Your thoughts, questions, comments, clarifications are always welcome.

<3 E


Also published on Medium.

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Elena

Elena Harder. Courage Catalyst, LifeStyle Artist and Joy Hacker. Elena created JoyGasm to heal her experience of postpartum depression, self sabotage, overworking, people pleasing, and an abusive alcoholic relationship. Since then she’s helped hundreds of others meet their JoyGasmic Self to heal broken hearts, remove negative self talk, eliminate stress, fear and depression, and bring immense joy into daily life. Her current personal records for longest standing greeting hug is 22 minutes, longest continuous solo laugh 26 minutes, and longest collaborative laugh at 1 hour 45 minutes!