Remember the Jerry Maguire line, “You complete me”? Hearts fluttered, people swooned. Why? Because it spoke to an old-school relationship paradigm that we must need a partner in order to be whole.
But you know what’s more swoon-worthy than Tom Cruise uttering those words? You knowing that you complete you and then entering a relationship with an equally self-aware person.
“A conscious relationship is one where each person is aware (conscious) and in-tune with themselves first and foremost,” says author and relationship coach Carrie Jeroslow.
“Each person comes to the relationship with the belief that they are already whole. This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in their life. It just means that they are not looking for someone to complete them. They take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and actions.”
This is the opposite of how couples would behave in “unconscious” relationships, which, according to Bridgit Dengel Gaspard, LCSW, are typically rooted in codependency.
“In an unconscious coupling, partners expect each other to take care of them in an unconscious attempt to heal their early childhood wounds that left them feeling unlovable, which is an impossible task,” she says. “But they are in so much pain they give themselves permission to act out, which fosters corrosive unhealthy exchanges.”
Whereas in conscious relationships, according to Gaspard, each partner is already engaged in a proactive relationship with themselves and is accountable for their own vulnerabilities, emotions and preferences.
“They each then have the capacity to bring awareness to their caring partnership and share the goal of mutual respect.”
On the flip side, those in unconscious relationships are often unsure where one begins and the other ends, and they ultimately “merge in the blame game.”
“They refuse to be present and accountable for their part in the dynamics and patterns of behaviour and confuse destructive relationship turbulence for passion,” she says. “However, in a conscious relationship, the partners are not only open to listening, but are committed to it especially when they disagree.”
So what else defines a conscious relationship? Read on to discover the five essential truths you can practice right now to cultivate a conscious relationship and bring more consciousness into your love life.
Learn to self-soothe.
Whether you’re in a relationship or single, Jeroslow says it’s imperative to carve out a self-care practice where you can nurture and soothe yourself, so you do not depend on your partner to do it for you.
Soothing self-care practices are basically anything that makes you feel good, whether sweating it out at a gym, cooking, meditating, taking a warm bath, dancing, or all of the above.
“This time can also serve as an opportunity to reflect and process any triggering reactions you might have had,” says Jeroslow.
Maybe that means journaling out your feelings or talking with a professional. Just do you!
Practice communicating all the time.
Communication might be the backbone of every successful relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. This is why Jeroslow says it’s a skill that is learned through doing it a lot.
“It can be scary to talk about your deepest feelings, but it’s an imperative practice to help feel connected with your partner and understand what is going on underneath the surface.” There are numerous resources online, including the Gottman Institute, that can help ignite and support those intimate and tough conversations that need to happen. But sometimes, it can be as easy as asking your partner how their day was, remaining present, and actively listening to them.
You might want to ask: “I noticed that you got upset when I said _______. Do you know why that might have happened?”
Being curious is always helpful when it comes to communicating with our partners.
Learn and embrace the Magic Relationship Ratio.
This is a technique proven by decades of research by the Drs. Gottman, according to Gaspard.
“They’ve found that for every negative interaction during conflict, there have to be five (yes, at least five!) positive interactions,” she says. “Keep that ratio going in all of your relationships regardless of conflict level, and enjoy your flourishing relationships.”
Those five positive interactions can range from expressing affection to giving undivided intentional attention to empathizing and apologizing to making jokes. Observe your interactions with your partner. Are they more negative? See how you can boost your positive interactions with each other and highlight what’s going right with your relationship rather than what’s going wrong.
Take responsibility for your own feelings and take time to reflect and understand why.
“Intimate relationships reflect the deepest parts of ourselves back to us,” says Jeroslow. “Therefore, instead of lashing out at your partner, a conscious partner turns to gratitude for bringing up something you are ready to heal. This can be an incredibly transcendent and empowering experience for both people.”
Next time you have a conflict with your partner, take a moment before responding and try to figure out why you’re defensive or triggered by their behaviour. What does that say about you and your patterning and wounds?
By taking full responsibility for your feelings and projections, you and your partner can come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other.
Cultivate a relationship with yourself.
Both Jeroslow and Gaspard agree that cultivating a powerful relationship with yourself is the strongest practice you can do to help facilitate a conscious relationship.
“Start by growing your own awareness muscles, and mindfulness is a great tool,” says Gaspard. “It helps you stay in the present moment as you focus on your breathing and notice your thoughts float by and notice your physiology, including how you feel physically and emotionally.”
Also, dig deep into who you are. What do you like about yourself? What don’t you like? What are your core values? How do you want to show up in the world? Where are you not living out your integrity?
And remember: a conscious relationship doesn’t happen overnight.
“It is not an overnight fix. It is a life-long adventure,” says Jeroslow.
“When you adopt this mentality, you realize that self-growth is an adventure, and there will be highs and lows, great times and challenging times and while sometimes you will see all the benefits of your inner-work and sometimes it will feel like you haven’t made any headway. But you set yourself up to ride the waves of life and marvel in where your path takes you.”