Last Tuesday Margaret Wheeler Johnson, an angel-faced young journalist from New Orleans, now based in New York City and editing the ‘women’ section* of the Huffington Post (*they call their sections ‘verticals’ but I can’t yet bring myself to accept ‘vertical’ as a noun) published an interesting piece on relationships.
Following the lazy writer’s fashion for quirkily numbered lists masquerading as articles, hers was entitled ‘31Ways To Know You're In The Right Relationship.’
And I, being a lifelong sucker for quizzes, went through the list. Not that I needed a checklist to know I am in the right relationship. I knew that already. But 31 criteria? Goodness me!! I diligently checked them off, all of them, happily confirming what I already knew.
I aced the test. And ended up wondering how Margaret devised it. Did she figure it out, based on her own experience of good relationships (even though she looks too young to have had much of that) or did she do lots of research, talk to marriage counsellors etc…or what?
At first I found myself wondering if there were any other criteria that I, as a psychologist with many years experience in couple counselling, might have added to her list. But then I decided that for me the ‘right’ relationship isn’t based on lists at all. The right relationship is the one you are in now. At a spiritual level, every relationship is the ‘right’ one because we are each other’s teachers and our most intimate partners are the greatest teachers of all. It is from them that we learn most about who we are; it is through them that we grow. The learning and the growing might sometimes be painful. All relationships are destined to change over time, simply because we change over time. Sometimes that change may involve conflict, estrangement, separation and/or divorce and always, somewhere along the time line, it will involve death. But no relationship ever actually ends: it merely changes form. The first man I married eventually became my ex-husband and then he became my deceased ex-husband but at some level our souls are still connected and always will be. It was never the ‘wrong’ relationship even though it ended in divorce.
For that young journalist, being in the ‘right’ relationship probably means that you and your partner get along so well that you have a good chance of remaining partners till death doth you part. Her 31 criteria are perceptive and accurate. Combined, they could be seen not only as a good prescription for ‘success’ in relationship but also as a good diagnostic tool for anyone experiencing problems in this area. Topics, if you like, in a curriculum designed to teach us how to behave with our significant others—something most of us learn through trial and error. Because relationship is not about success vs. failure or rightness vs. wrongness. It’s about learning. There are no mistakes. Only outcomes. Only lessons. When we embrace this we are ready to enter into a conscious relationship, i.e. one in which in which both parties understand their relationship as a path of spiritual growth
I have one of my former teachers, John Welwood, to thank for this awareness. His teachings on conscious relationship have been my inspiration and my guide. As he says in his beautiful and seminal essay ‘Intimate Relationshipas Transformative Path’, “If relationships are to flourish, they need to reflect and promote who we really are, beyond any limited image of ourselves concocted by family, society, or our own minds. They need to be based on the whole of who we are, rather than on any single form, function, or feeling. This presents a tremendous challenge, for it means undertaking a journey in search of our deepest nature. Our connection with someone we love can in fact be one of the best vehicles for that journey. When we approach it in this way, intimacy becomes a path— an unfolding process of personal and spiritual development.” Yes, oh yes.