The Four Phases of Conscious Partnership
“Love, ultimately, is a practice. In addition to accountability and generosity, my new conscious partnership propelled me into presence, acceptance, forgiveness, and to stretch my heart into vulnerable territories.”
As children, we’re taught that princes and princesses live happily ever after. Unfortunately, for most of us this fairytale quickly turns into a challenging reality; by our early teens, many of us have experienced first-hand the hardship and pain of separation and felt its effect on our psyches and our communities.
As a teenager, I remember hearing my mother cry herself to sleep as she struggled through her divorce. I was left with a myriad of questions:
Why did couples get divorced?
How could such a situation be prevented?
What was behind the torment of separation?
By the time I was ready to marry, both my parents and my fiancé’s parents were divorced. Awkward feelings and conflicting messages flooded my soul as I prepared for my wedding day: I felts as if I were standing at the edge of a cliff and embarking on a new chapter of my life without a compass. One part of me shouting, “Yes, I love you! We can do this together!” while another part of me stood questioning: Why should I get married if it could end in pain?
Despite this tearing duality, I vividly remember the love that permeated my heart as I gazed into my husband’s eyes and said, “I do.” Every cell of my body vibrated with my commitment to making it work. We were both young, filled with dreams and vitality, and determined not to repeat our parents’ stories. Feeling invincible, we were ready to conquer the tallest mountains.
Now, having been married for over 30 years, I can attest that we have climbed some very tall mountains indeed. Yet each climb awakened us to something new within ourselves and in our relationship. With each step, we gained tremendous wisdom and clarity about ourselves, each other, and our relationship.
Through this journey I have awakened to what it meant to be in a conscious partnership. Over the years, I have experienced and distinguished four distinct phases of our partnership:
This is the phase that yokes together every great romance and love story. For me, this phase was depicted by an insatiable thirst for my beloved, irresistible longing, restless nights, and uplifting emotions. My Seductress archetype was in full force.
Unconscious of what was happening internally, I unconsciously navigated the dance of lust. Today, I have a greater understanding of the biological dynamics that drive our behavior. In fact, this love period is dictated by a flood of hormones that stems from an evolutionary need to reproduce. Here, a cocktail of testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin illuminated my inner world, leaving me lustfully in love.
During this phase, the world as I knew it ceased to exist; thoughts of the other consumed my every moment. I remember a sense of giddiness, aliveness, and unmeasurable sexual attraction for my partner. It was also during this time that my heart stopped when my partner would send me beautiful love letters, kissed me passionately, engaged in lovemaking, talked with me for hours on end about life, or tended to my numerous emotional needs.
Within this vivid emotional landscape, I found meaning by simply being with my partner. My existential landscape shouted, In your presence, I am! Being with my partner was enough. It gave me a great sense of purpose.
I adored the sensuous expression of this phase, but I soon discovered that it was short lived. I was then left wanting something more.
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By this point in our relationship we were married with two beautiful sons. Passionate sex and attraction had evolved to a deeper connection. A long-term partnership and friendship took center stage as we developed intimacy through common activities, common goals, family duties, cuddling, and love making, all of which contributed to solidifying our union. This phase created a structure and level of commitment necessary for raising our children.
During this period, two primary hormones appeared to dominate the landscape of the relationship: oxytocin and vasopressin. Today we know that oxytocin contributes to creating a healthy bond with our partners and children, while vasopressin is known to contribute to supporting monogamy. During these years, I realized that my partner complemented my qualities and that together we were greater than each of us alone. I found joy and meaning in raising our children and contributing to the growth of our respective careers and life visions. Our partnership was solid in the purpose of raising our children.
“Giving became a deliberate act of unconditional love rather than the expression of a hormonal flare or deep desire.”
Love felt very different during this phase of partnership. My seductress self had morphed into the Mother archetype. During these years, many of the challenges in our relationship emerged. My husband wondered where his sensuous partner had gone, and exhaustion became the norm as a full- time job and never-ending mothering duties took priority.
Today, I can say that one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life was not to honor and cultivate the Goddess and Seductress archetypes within me. My upbringing had taught me that being a mother what the greatest gift of all and that a mother gave unconditionally and sacrificed herself for her family.
During these years, I saw love making as another chore rather than an expression of my husband’s love. By embodying the giving mother, I had forgotten how to receive.
These times were accompanied by many rejections of intimacy on my part. Each rejection activated a shutdown response in my husband that resulted in him forgetting the art of seduction. This led us into an unconscious downward spiral of our relationship.
During those years, despite my exhaustion and hectic schedule, I longed for the fiery emotions of the Attraction Phase. Having no one to talk to, I began believing that something was desperately wrong with me. My libido had plummeted, my energy dropped, and my connection to my husband faded. I began to doubt and question my marriage.
Why was all of this happening?
How could I rekindle my inner flame for my partner?
Was something biologically wrong with me?
As I questioned my relationship, men attempted to court me at work. This led me to stray into re-exploring the Attraction Phase and cause greater disarray in my marriage, leaving me even more perplexed and lost. With parents who had failed with their own marriage, no friends I felt I could turn to, and the belief that therapy wasn’t an option, I felt once again that I was navigating blind.
As our children grew and familiarity settled further, so did the dissatisfaction of my relationship. I could sense that something new wanted to emerge, but what? I turned inward to find myself and to better understand the dynamics at play that were causing so much havoc in my life. By this time, my partner also had looked outside the marriage to reclaim lost aspects of himself. At this point, the world as I knew it completely shattered.
Our relationship was in disarray and everything we had worked so hard to build was dissolving. It was during this tearing of souls that I realized something had to die in order for something new to be born. Our old ways were no longer working. Something had to drastically change. Newly conscious to this rite of passage, we chose to break through to the deeper level of love characterized by, what I call, Conscious Partnership.
A conscious partnership is a relationship in which both parties, no longer bound by ephemeral hormonal influences or utilitarian purposes, consciously choose each other with the intention of growth. The partnership becomes a journey of evolution; each individual is given the opportunity to expand more than they could alone. Deep satisfaction and long-term fulfillment arise as a result.
At this stage, we become conscious of the fundamental drives of the unconscious mind—to be safe, to be healed, and to be whole. We are also aware of the biological factors at play in reigniting relationships. In addition, in this new form of romantic relationship, both partners feel committed to a sense of purpose that supports making this world a better place, may it be by enriching each other’s lives or the world at large.
“With greater consciousness, I no longer held my partner responsible for my happiness. I became the master of my own internal landscape, taking responsibility for my own inner state.”
As I personally began to understand the elements crucial to the success of a conscious partnership, my soul was no longer bound by an attachment to the outcome of my relationship. A transpersonal nature emerged in which I understood that mutual growth was now the foundation of a new sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. As a result, the relationship grew into a natural feeling of aliveness and love that transcended previous relationship stages.
Another key element of our conscious partnership was the ability for each partner to own their “baggage.” We all come into this world with wounds and triggers that we often project onto others, and this is even more common between partners. The conscious couple understands that these triggers occur; they have compassion for their partner’s experience without trying to fix anything.
The conscious couple no longer blames the other for dysfunctional patterns but rather engages in a joint dialogue to explore the dynamics that may be hindering their growth. Conscious partners are often willing to look at their past and current relationship issues because they know that by facing these beliefs systems they can evolve into a new relationship reality.
With this new way of relating to my partner, I also became fiercely committed to being the embodiment of love. Through my devotion and daily practice, love became a conscious choice. Giving became a deliberate act of unconditional love rather than the expression of a hormonal flare or deep desire. Each act was tended to consciously and deliberately, knowing the joy it would bring to my partner. In addition, with greater consciousness, I no longer held my partner responsible for my happiness. I became the master of my own internal landscape, taking responsibility for my own inner state.
Love, ultimately, is a practice. In addition to accountability and generosity, my new conscious partnership propelled me into presence, acceptance, forgiveness, and to stretch my heart into vulnerable territories. Love was no longer a destination but rather like a string of pearls that we cultivated through little gestures, patience, and a daily commitment to show up in my relationship.
My 30 years of marriage have taught me that a lasting, loving relationship takes work. In an unconscious partnership, one believes that the way to have a good relationship is to choose the right partner. As consciousness develops, individuals in a conscious partnership realize that each of them are the right partner. Ultimately, as I grow more realistic and conscious of the intricacies of creating a loving relationship that works, I realize that a good relationship requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change. These qualities in themselves are some of the gifts of a conscious partnership.
Photo by Ethan Robertson via Unsplash
- Self Cultivation,