Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Couplehood As A Spiritual Path

Many years ago, a client gave me a powerful quote that has been posted on the walls of my writer's cave. The paper is yellowed with age, but the message remains fresh, powerful and true:

"To 'listen' another's soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another"

--Douglas Steere, From Gleanings: A Random Harvest
Being listened to, really listened to, is a basic human need. Having a caring listener, who is emotionally invested in hearing how it is to be who we are, and who can share and follow us in our life's journey over time is empowering, healing, validating, and nourishing.
Being able to truly speak and listen from the heart to the heart, allows for much deeper feelings, thoughts and experiences to emerge and be felt and spoken. This kind of listening space is very sacred and provides a kind of relational heart meditation for both the speaker and the listener.
When we are in a relationship that is meant to last the test of time, and provide a structure for companionship and connection over the course of our lives, developing the ability to speak and listen from the heart can allow both the relationship and the two individuals who comprise it to develop emotionally and spiritually. In this sense, couplehood can become a spiritual path, if both members of the couple choose to envision and engage in communication from this special, deeper place.
In an interview published in the Ericksonian Newsletter (Volume 29, No. 3), relationship author Harville Hendrix notes, "When we ask listening partners to quiet their minds and focus on the messages of the partner who is sending, they not only listen more accurately and deeply, but they become more peaceful inside. They refer to this as being more centered similar to what is described by people who meditate."
In EKP couple therapy, when I invite a couple to slow down, get grounded, take some deep breathes, and begin to speak and listen from the heart, I witness a sacred safety and co-holding that allows both people to go much deeper within themselves and express much more deeply with one another. Heart to heart communication not only enhances emotional connection between the partners in the here and now, but also allows a space of healing to develop, in which past hurts, traumas, disappointments and misunderstandings can be released, rectified and processed in the here and now.
Hendrix explains, "When this happens, emotional memories, that have been housed in the amygdala are translated into words and relocated in the hippocampus--thus putting the past in the past. This process integrates alienated and isolated aspects into the self, thus contributing to the recovery of wholeness, which is another aspect of healing that is both spiritual and psychological at the same time."
In this sense, couplehood can be a spiritual path, and as Hendrix reflects, "dialogue is a spiritual practice." If those of us who share our lives with a partner recognize this possibility and develop the skills and awareness to slow down, take time and space and speak and listen from the heart regularly with our partners, the quality of both our lives and relationships can increase tremendously.
There is truly no need for fighting, reacting out of old triggers and "othering" a loved one. If we can only taste the possibility of emotionally safe, grounded, heartfelt relating, our relationships can become more meaningful and less limiting or entrapping.