A few years back, the term ‘conscious uncoupling‘ broke into the public consciousness, courtesy of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin sharing the process they entered into when calling time on their relationship. No end of flak ensued, and the term rapidly became established within the widely disparaged new-age lexicon.
At the same time, it did raise awareness about the choices we face in a relationship, and in how we treat each other when we end a relationship. But it dawned on me, in light of my own recent experiences, that I heard nothing about what happens when we enter into a relationship before we decide to bring one to a close.
It begs the question: What would it be like if we engaged in ‘conscious coupling?’
What would that even look like?
To provide some context, its necessary to establish the ground from which this article emerges. The truth is, my wife and I endured an immensely challenging time last year, coming to a point midway through the year when our relationship and marriage was on the rocks, and seemingly irreparable. We were both suffering immensely, and we came to a decision to separate, while also committing to a process of self and collective inquiry in an attempt to shed some light on what was ailing us and to chart a way forward.
Crucially, neither of us entered into this arrangement with any set objective; no intention to ‘fix’ or ‘save’ anything; and certainly no hope of any particular outcome, nor any idea what this ‘way forward’ would be. It was vital, in fact, that we let our marriage ‘die.’ It was not apparent, at this stage, whether there was a future for us together, but it was clear that the way our relationship was occurring was not serving either of us. We made a stand for something else to emerge, something that was in alignment with our authentic selves, and in the service of our family.
A few months down the track, after a lengthy process of reflection, self and mutual inquiry, and some invaluable support in the form of external coaching and counseling, we came to a place where we began to discuss the renewing our vows, of establishing a new commitment to each other.
Quite recently, just over a week ago, in fact, we did just that. We held an intimate ceremony in a spectacular place on the Coromandel in Aotearoa (NZ) which holds a special place in my, and now both, of our hearts (pictured). In a place called (fittingly) Cathedral Cove, we held a simple early morning ceremony, attended by ourselves, our two children and cherished family members who acted as celebrant and childminders.
I’m jumping over the details of what occurred between us, and also the process (and processes) we both went through individually and together which helped us to come to this point. Also, incidentally, the story behind the creation of this event, and the magical aspects that occurred, which were all part of the journey we took to get there. Each of these topics warrants further discussion – and I intend to address them in the future. However, for the purposes of this article, I’ll return to the idea of ‘conscious coupling‘ and the opportunity we were presented with, to engage in this, through the promises we made to each other during our ceremony.
Vows of Marriage
When we got married five years ago, we approached our marriage, our wedding, very seriously, and (we thought) consciously. We were aware that relationships offer an opportunity for real spiritual transformation. We understood that if we really want to evolve as individuals, there is no better place for this to happen, than in partnership with each other. We entered into our marriage, in this context.
We made commitments to each other, in the form of our marriage vows. We approached our vows from the perspective of responding to requests made by the other, for what we each wanted. We even partially drafted each others’ vows, which we then read them to each other: promising (to the best of our capabilities) to provide what each of us was looking for.
We then entered into life together. We built a life, a home, and a beautiful family together. Among many magical moments, we also experienced numerous challenges; including miscarriages, health issues, job losses and changes of career.
Things that stretched us both individually and as a partnership. We came face-to-face with each other at our best, and at our worst. We struggled to live up to some of the promises we had made to each other during our wedding, which added to feelings of disgruntlement, disappointment and discontent.
In the recent renewal of our vows, we took an entirely different approach. We learned our lessons. Having seen the best and worst of each other, and been exposed to each others’ strengths and vulnerabilities, we each felt into what we could commit to and could offer to the other person authentically.
In doing so, the commitments we made were reflective of who each of us was. They were more accepting of our humanity and our fallibility, while also acknowledging and honoring the needs of the other.
The original vows we made still stood, but the addition of this ‘appendix’ charts a new path for us and ensures our relationship now exists in a completely different context. For example, so much of the discord between us in our relationship thus far (for me at least) was the feeling that ‘partnership’ was precarious, which meant it was always threatened by any discord that occurred between us. An underlying tenet of our renewed vows is that a spirit of partnership exists by default.
Encountering ‘crisis’ in Relationship
So what’s available, when we bring consciousness to a relationship? When we couple, consciously?
The reality is, relationships are extremely challenging and difficult to navigate. They are often places of great suffering and discord. But they also offer opportunities for healing, growth and transformation.
My wife and I can now confidently vouch for both sides of the coin. It makes what we have been through, feel very important to share – as there is plenty of evidence of the former, less so of what it takes to access the latter.
It is inevitable that all relationships will reach points which, may occur as ‘crisis.’ But at these moments we are presented with a choice: to hold the relationship or ‘the other’ to blame for our discord, or to use the discord as an opportunity for a deeper inquiry, into ourselves and the nature of our relationship.
In his book on this topic entitled ‘Journey of the Heart,’ John Wellwood reflects on this, and by extension, the nature of marriage. He asserts that conscious commitment is ‘a pact between beings, rather than between personalities.’
“In effect, we say to each other: Whatever problems our personalities have together, we will not let that ruin our deeper connection – we will always come back and meet on this deeper level.
We will help each other wake up and become all that we can be. We will keep opening to each other and life itself in and through this relationship.”
A work in progress
We’re only a matter of weeks into the renewal of our vows, but there does seem to have been a profound shift in our marriage, and in our relationship. I attribute this to the journey we took together this year, to the new promises and intentions we made, and the commitment we made for our relationship to exist in a dimension of love, in a spirit of partnership.
We are under no illusion – there will still be more challenges to face, and we have only just started out on this new journey together. We are still capable of being hurt and hurting each other. But we are also more closely connected to the higher versions of ourselves, and the commitment we have made, which supports us.
A good marriage
I will close with a reading we made at both our ceremonies, which beautifully captures the challenge and opportunity which marriage (or conscious coupling) can bring:
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust.
A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development.
But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Previously published on Kevinhelas.com.
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