Importance of making relationships conscious

Thursday, March 29, 2007

This is the first of a two-part series on conscious relationships. Next week will be "How to make our relationship conscious."

Relationships are funny things. They torment us. They make us say and do things we would never do to our dog. They can make us feel sullen on a sunny day, and they can often energize our fantasies in ways we can't talk about in polite society. Yet everyone I know wants one.

There is research that indicates not everyone should remain in the relationship they have. Couples can -- with great effort -- overcome all kind of marital horrors. Yet couples who become mired in an intractable conflict roundelay are not looking good for going the distance. When there is contempt, their chances are bleakest of all.

Why is it that one marriage can encounter the tragedy of losing a child and survive, and then another, where the husband habitually jokes about his wife's weight problem in public, is destined for the marital trash heap? The answer can be boiled down to this basic law of relationship: Intimacy is the realization that you have a profound effect on the other and treating that knowledge with respect.

Like I said, these matters are complex. Stress happens, and when it enters the marital system, two things can happen. The full diaper can hit the fan and both parties scamper to their corners, stick their thumb in their respective mouths, plaintively wailing, "What about me?!" Or, like the adults they pledged to be when they committed to each other, they come together and work to clean up the tender "baby bottom" of their relationship and dispose of the mess together.

I am reminded of a poetic image that my colleague Lisa O'Connell once shared with me. Before her marriage she had a dream that beside her marital bed were three bowls; one large one in the middle full of water, two smaller bowls, also filled with water, on each side. In the dream, she and her husband would awake and begin their day by dipping their fingers into their respective side bowls, and as the drops of water fell from their fingers into the larger bowl, they would share one thing that they were grateful for about the other.

This dream has become a totem for their relationship. She and her husband, Scott, came to understand the dream this way:

"We always have to give of ourselves to the relationship; the drops of water from the small individual sources of water to the larger one signifies this. The dream also meant to us just how important it is to daily express gratefulness. There is something greater than each of us, which is the relationship, the love we share, the family we create, and we must do the best we can to feed this."

Lisa pointed out that water is often an archetypal symbol for consciousness, adding, "We deeply value consciousness and the water in the dream reiterates for us how we have to bring our own consciousness to the relationship and how the relationship has a consciousness. This gives us permission to look at ourselves to challenge each other to look at the relationship honestly."

So how does a couple effectuate this "conscious relationship?" Next week I will look at the three essential ingredients of such a relationship as well as some suggestions on how to put it into practice.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at For more on the topics covered in Healthspan, visit his Web site:

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