But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.Kahlil Gibran, from ‘The Prophet’
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
One of the paradoxes we all live with is that we are both separate and relational beings. We are alone and together. Unique and the same as every other human.
As an individual you will have your own dreams, values, goals, aspirations and understanding of your purpose on this planet. Maybe these things are crystal clear to you or perhaps they are not at all clear. It could even be that you rather not think about them and ignore them altogether. Whatever your clarity or your choice, you have your own direction in life and your own way of being.
Choosing a relationship means holding both your own purpose and direction together with those of your partner. Becoming a couple means bringing together two people who are on their own life’s journey and who may well be pointing at different places on the compass. In itself this can be a huge challenge that can even drive you apart as a couple unless you have consciously approached this topic.
An additional complexity emerges when you start a family because now you have a new purpose and direction – that as parents. As I see it the relationship itself has purpose and direction that enfolds the two people who started it.
Relational Mindset – My Story
I was a late developer as a relational being. I moved through several longer term relationships and left them all in hugely damaging ways. I regret the pain I caused to myself and even more to the people who were very close to me.
Coming again to the brink some years ago in my current relationship I clearly saw that I needed to change something or I was going to repeat the same destructive patterns. I had to accept finally that I was very immature when it came to being together with someone and it was time to grow up. Only when I changed my thinking about relationships was I able to really build the kind of relationship I have beeen longing for all my life.
One idea that helped me was this about the three stages of the journey to maturity.
- dependent – survival depends on others caring for my needs
- independent – I take care of my own needs and direction in life
- interdependent – I take care of our needs through co-operation
It became clear to me, applied to relationship, my thinking and acting was stuck somewhere between dependence (looking for a partner who would take care of me) and independence (wanting a partner who would not interfere and would leave me complete freedom to take my own path in life).
This is not to say, of course, that one stage is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another and relationships can function at any stage. Just like individual maturity, life gets more complex and challenging – and consequently more risks and more rewards.
A dependent relationship, for example, can function where both in the couple cannot imagine life apart and take care of each other’s needs. For me, when I found myself here, the cost was that I sacrificed my own dreams and wishes in the interest of harmony. It also gave a lot of pressure in the false belief that I was the only person who could satsify all my partner’s needs. I gave up integrity for the relationship and eventually the only way I could escape the sense of being trapped was to run away.
Relationships between two independent people can also ‘work’ provided there is enough space given by the other and where the goals of each don’t conflict to any great extent. I found myself in several of these relationships which were great as business-like partnerships but where we gradually moved further and further away from each other until being together no longer made sense.
Now I have reached, what I see as a mature relationship with my wife. We recognise we are individuals within a larger context of our couple relationship (which itself exists and is held within an even larger context of communities). We are clear on our direction as a couple and from that place we have built our individual direction.
There is no sacrifice and we keep compromise at a minimum.
I am not alone – no matter how appealing that sometimes appears to be – I exist within a complex set of relationships and these, in part, define my direction and purpose in life. I have come to recognise that I can only thrive as an individual when we thrive a couple. My relationship gives me grounding and is my source of power. It is my starting place … and my ending place.
Arriving at Maturity
I cannot claim that we have reached 100% maturity in all things. Dependency is still engrained in a few areas and in others we maintain separation and independence, for example some work projects we pursue without reference to the other. And this is fine.
When it comes to foundational things, such as our life goals, values, major lifetsyle choices then we have alignment and these are generated together. When deciding on most topics we consider the impact on the whole family system and we consult. We may have different perspectives but we can listen and accomodate them – so there are no conflicts on these bigger questions. What we do as individuals is guided by the needs of the couple relationship and the family – and these needs support our individual needs. We continue to grow together, noticing and addressing those areas where we want something different.
How to Build a Mature Relationship
How did we get here and how do we maintain it?
I really don’t have the answer to this and I think every couple has their own path to arrive at maturity. There are several factors I think can help you along the way.
Develop patience. Maturation is a time bound process and will move at the pace you are able to handle. It is not something you arrive at but rather a journey of becoming. In a committed relationship there is no rush, there is no end goal.
Radical Communication. Maturity means having the courage to tackle difficult topics. Talking and listening in a relationship is not a luxury, it is essential. Share yourself with your partner from the deepest place of your being that you are able to access and listen with curiousity and care. Talk about what you want from the relationship, your dreams and your fears. Explore together what this relationship means to you practically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually. As lovers and as parents.
Take decisions from love not fear. Decisions made from love will have a quality of expansion, abundance and care for all those impacted by it. When made from fear, decisions tend to contract you and keep you stuck. It is hard to mature from this place.
Silencing the ego. Our egoic self is bound to the past and to maintaining our sense of self. Like fear, it keeps us stuck and makes it harder to move forward and grow. It takes us into right/wrong thinking which rarely contributes to deeper connection and maturity.
Experiment and explore. Feed your relationship intelligence through seeking new and rich experiences. This is a wonderful catalyst for growth and maturity. Meet people together, visit new places, read books and watch movies you would not normally be drawn to.
Give space to each. Just as in Gibran’s wonderful poem at the beginning, maturity does not respond well to clinging or possessiveness. To be at your best in the relationship requires you have personal space to grow.
Ultimately each relationship will find their own shape and way of being. The potential journey of growth and depth of connection is infinite and it is your choice how far you travel together on that path.
How did you get to where you are as a couple? What tips do you have to share?