Relationship as Spiritual Practice (Part 1)

Intimate relationships might as well be thought of as a context (or opportunity) for spiritual growth. Why not? If our relationships were just about reproduction, humans would have a mating season! We are compelled to seek long-term relationships because there is something about being in relationship that brings us into a higher level of being than just kicking around on our own. Love, lust, or loneliness is just the form that the something takes in our minds, compelling us to bond. If intimate relationship is an opportunity for spiritual growth, being in a conscious relationship is a spiritual practice.

I use the word “conscious” to signify that there is, in fact, contemplation about how one is showing up in relationship and being a partner, as opposed to simply being in relationship with no thought about it. The outcomes of this pursuit—as with meditation, prayer, ritual, mantra, or any other contemplative practice—is both transcendence of the individual self (i.e., loosening identification with one's ego), and individual self-actualization (i.e., harnessing the power of one's ego in furtherance of our goals and purposes in life). For most of us these outcomes are central to achieving deep fulfillment, joy, and peace in one's lifetime. Spiritual practices vary widely across cultures, but usually have some common elements. When my wife and I produced the Bhakti Explosion debut album Lovolution, we arranged the sacred yogic chants to represent a process for spiritual growth, with the following steps:

  1. Clear the Path

  2. Bow to the Light

  3. Open Your Heart

  4. Release Your Fear

  5. Cleanse

  6. Transform

  7. Heal

  8. Be Free of Suffering

The purpose of this article is to apply these steps to your intimate relationship, or to your preparation for a future relationship. May the practices below serve you wherever you are.


If you are single

Get your habitual judgments out of the way. Drop your “list” of attributes that you are looking for in another person. Other people aren’t the sum of a set of characteristics. Pick one thing (e.g., kindness) if it will help you focus your attention, just like focusing on your breath allows you to drop into awareness.

If you are partnered

Meet your partner as he or she is right now. Get present. Really see him or her. Don’t get blinded by your image of him or her. Get curious to discover all the depths that you can’t possibly know. The person in front of you is as mysterious, deeply ineffable, infinitely varied, and transcendent as they were on the day you met them. It is an illusion that you think you know who he or she really is. And even if you do know something “true” about this person, it can change in an instant. Believe it.


If you are single

Seek your great teacher. Your intimate partner will teach you, and you will be his or her teacher as well. Each of you will also be humble students. Also, seek out couples who model conscious relationship. Seek out a relationship coach. What you need to learn may surprise you.

If you are partnered

Honor your intimate partner as guru. Trust that he or she has your best interests at heart. Trust begets trust. Trust yourself: that you have your partner’s best interests at heart. Otherwise, why would you be together? Worship the divinity within him or her. Worship his or her body. Wash his or her feet.


If you are single

Take the armor down, and open up to allowing someone else inside. Yes, you might get your heart broken, but that’s okay; your heart is supposed to get broken open. Yes, live powerfully and fully expressed as your individual self, but get prepared to put your attention elsewhere.

If you are partnered

Love openly your partner’s issues. Don’t try to change your partner. The soil of growth and transformation is acceptance and embrace, not a teeth-clenching wish that a person will change. Your love for your partner should feel to him or her as unconditional as the rain. Rain brings life-giving moisture to everything, without distinction. With this nourishment of your love, your partner has the resource to change and grow without limit.


If you are single

Be free. Be bold. Make moves. If it's the right person, don't worry. Being yourself will never screw it up. Breakdowns, when they happen, are context for new creation. If the relationship is not destined to go forward, that will become clear. Don’t repress your true and authentic self, because that will only come out later anyway.

If you are partnered

Let go of the story that your relationship will, someday, fall apart. Resist the urge to keep your armor at the ready, just in case. Spiritual practice requires faith. Even if all you’ve ever seen in the world is relationships that splinter apart fantastically, it’s a matter of faith to hold the belief that not all relationships must end in ruins; and that your relationship can and will be extraordinary for as long as it is destined to last. Lack of faith is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If every conflict sends you into a tailspin, convinced the relationship is doomed, you will eventually withdraw completely. You will doom your own relationship.

Continue to Part 2

John Hoelle is a couples mediator and family attorney. Learn more about his work here.

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