As children, we are taught that princes and princesses live happily ever after. Unfortunately for most, this fairytale quickly turns into disenchantment with the tough reality and challenges that relationships create along the way. According to research published by Paul Amato (2010), 46% of marriages will end in divorce. By the time we are in our early teens, many of us will have already experienced firsthand the hardship and pain of separation, through witnessing our own parents’ rites of passage, or those of a more-distant relative. Here, not only are partners tormented, but ultimately an entire community is also affected.
As a young teenage woman, I remember hearing my mother cry herself to sleep as she struggled through the pain of separation. Feeling torn myself by witnessing my family in disarray, I was left with a myriad of questions. Having no points of reference on this matter as none of my relatives had experienced divorce, I began looking for answers. Why did couples get divorced? How could such a situation be prevented? And, what was behind the torment of separation?
By the time I was ready to marry my own prince, both my parents and my fiancé’s parents were divorced. This was not exactly the story nor role model I had envisioned as a child. I remember the awkward feelings and conflicting messages that flooded my soul as I prepared the details of my wedding day. I felt as if I was standing at the edge of a cliff, in front of the great unknown, entering a new chapter of my life without a compass. Here, I was asked to stand in the commitment of, “for better or for worse and to death do us part,” while my elders expressed another reality. One part of me was shouting “YES, YES, YES, I LOVE YOU, we can do this together,” while another part of me stood questioning; why should I get married if it ends in this way?
Despite this tearing duality that lived inside, I remember vividly the love that permeated my heart as I gazed into my husband’s eyes and spoke the words, “I do.” Every cell of my body illuminated with, “Yes I am committed to making this work.” We were both young, filled with dreams and vitality, and determined to not repeat our parents’ story. Feeling invincible, we were ready to conquer the tallest mountains.
Having been married for over 30 years, I can attest that we have climbed some of the most traitorous mountains along the way. Yet, each climb permitted us to awaken to something new within ourselves and in our relationship. With each step, we gained tremendous wisdom and clarity as to what was important for us. It is through this journey that I began to awaken to the spirit of what it meant to be in a conscious partnership. Over the years, I have experienced and distinguished four distinct phases of our partnership. They may be categorized as: 1) Attraction Phase, 2) Attachment Phase, 3) Questioning Phase, and 4) Conscious Partnership Phase.
The attraction phase is what meshes every great romance and love story. For me, this phase was depicted by an insatiable thirst for my beloved, an irresistible longing, a flaring passion and love, restless nights dreaming of the next encounter, and an amalgam of uplifting and exciting emotions. It is in this phase that my seductress archetype was in full expression in hope to lure my ideal partner.
Unconscious of what was happening within at the time, I navigated unconsciously the dance of lust. Today, I have gained a greater understanding of the biological dynamics lurking inside that drive our behavior. In fact, this love period is dictated by a flood of hormones that stems from an evolutionary need to reproduce. Here, a cocktail of testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin illuminated my inner world, leaving me feeling lustfully in love.
During this phase, the world as I knew it ceased to exist as thoughts of the other consumed every moment of my existence. It is in this early relationship and partnership phase that I remember a sense of giddiness, aliveness, and unmeasurable sexual attraction for my partner. It was also during this time that my heart stopped when my partner would send me beautiful love letters, kissed me passionately, engaged in lovemaking, talked with me for hours on end about life, or tended to my numerous emotional needs.
While living within this vivid emotional landscape, I also found myself having meaning by simply being with my partner. My existential landscape shouted, “In your presence, I am.” Being with my partner was enough to give me a great sense of purpose.
Despite the romance associated with this phase of relationship, research suggests that this stage can be perceived as utilitarian in that it serves the primal needs to connect and reproduce. Although I absolutely adored the sensuous expression of the attraction phase, I soon discovered that it was short-lived. I was then left wanting something more.
By now married with two beautiful sons, the excitement of the attraction phase had soon dissipated and transformed itself into something significantly more grounded and stable. Passionate sex and attraction tactics made way to a deeper connection. Here, a long-term partnership and friendship took center stage as we developed intimacy through common activities, common goals, family duties, cuddling, and love-making, all of which contributed to solidifying our union. This phase created a structure and level of commitment necessary for raising our children.
During this period, two primary hormones appeared to dominate the landscape of the relationship: oxytocin and vasopressin. Today we know that oxytocin contributes to creating a healthy bond with our partner and children, while vasopressin is known to contribute to supporting monogamy. During these years, I realized that my partner complemented my qualities and that together we were greater than each of us alone. I found joy and meaning in raising our children and contributing to helping grow our respective careers and life visions. Our partnership stood solid in the purpose of doing a fantastic job of raising our children; and that we did!
Love felt very different during this phase of partnership. The seductress self had morphed into the mother archetype, as family duties took precedence. Having a Type-A personality, I dedicated myself to being a fabulous mom. Unfortunately, today I recognize that this was to the detriment of my partnership. It is during these years that many of the challenges in our relationship emerged. My husband wondered where his sensuous partner had gone. Exhaustion had become my norm as a fulltime job and never-ending mother duties took priority.
Today, I can say that one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life was to not honor and cultivate the goddess and seductress archetype within me and within my relationship. My upbringing had taught me that being a mother was the greatest gift of all. I was taught that mothers gave unconditionally and sacrificed themselves for their family by continuously doing tasks and giving to others. It was also during these years that lovemaking was seen as another chore rather than the expression of my husband’s love. By living the mother’s giving persona, I had forgotten how to receive. Despite a deep longing to be held, loved, and cared for, the mother in me only knew how to give. Without this capacity, a healthy flow of exchange between my partner and me was lost.
These times were accompanied by many rejections of intimacy on my part. Each rejection my husband experienced activated in him a shutdown response, which mysteriously resulted in him forgetting the art of seducing. This led into an unconscious downward spiral in our relationship.
During those years, despite my exhaustion and overworked schedule, I longed for the fiery emotions that accompanied the attraction phase. Having no one to talk to, I began believing that something was desperately wrong with me. My libido had plummeted, my energy dropped, and connection to my husband faded. I began to doubt and question my marriage. Why was all of this happening? How could I rekindle my inner flame for my partner? Was something biologically wrong with me? As I questioned my relationship, these times also offered me contradictory experiences as a sense of aliveness emerged from men who attempted to court me at work. This led me to stray into re-exploring the attraction phase and causing greater disarray in my marriage, leaving me even more perplexed and lost. With parents who had failed with their own marriage, no friends I felt I could turn to, and no healthy role models to inform me that therapy was an option, I felt once again that I was navigating blind.
As children grew and familiarity settled further, so did dissatisfaction in my relationship. I could sense that something new wanted to emerge, but what? For years, my partner and I were amazing providers, family makers, great friends, and powerful guides. With children out of college and self-sufficient for the most part, I wondered what was the purpose of our partnership at this stage? Unsatisfied, I turned inward to find myself and to better understand the dynamics at play that was causing so much havoc in my life. By this time, my partner also had looked outside the marriage to reclaim lost aspects of himself and our relationship. It was at this point that the world as I knew it completely shattered.
Our relationship was in disarray and everything that we had worked so hard to build was dissolving: our deep love, our friendship, our intimacy, our family, our home, our extended families, our friends, our dreams, and lifelong aspirations. It was during this tearing of souls that I realized that something had to die in order for something new to be born. I began to understand that our old ways were no longer working. Something had to drastically change. Our “system” had to break down to allow for change to take place and for new growth to emerge. Those who are fortunate to be able to move through such rites of passages consciously can break through into the deeper level of love that is characterized by what I call a conscious partnership.
A conscious partnership is a relationship in which both parties step into consciously choosing each other, no longer bound by ephemeral hormonal influences or utilitarian purposes, but rather for the intention of growth. The partnership becomes a journey of evolution, and each individual is given the opportunity to expand more than they could alone. Deep satisfaction and long-term fulfillment arise as a result.
At this stage, we become conscious of the fundamental drives of the unconscious mind—to be safe, to be healed, and to be whole. We are also aware of the biological factors at play in reigniting relationships. In addition, in this new form of romantic relationship, both partners feel committed to a sense of purpose that supports making this world a better place, be it by enriching each other’s lives or the world at large. For me, enriching my partner’s life include little gestures that bring joy to his world, such as texting him a beautiful image and reminding him of my appreciation for his presence in my life, extending a compliment, giving him a shoulder rub after a long day at work, preparing him a good meal, meeting him with my seductress self in lovemaking, or taking over a task that would simplify his life. It is these little gestures, which are often taken for granted, that keep the magic alive and inherently contributes to making this world a better place.
Here, both parties stand in the joy of cultivating happiness for each other. In the conscious partnership, it is less about making ourselves happy, and more about truly listening to our partner’s love language and what bring them joy. I have witnessed my partner consciously taking the time to make our bed in the morning before going to work even though I had more time than he to do so, come home for lunch simply to spend time with together, or fix something in the house that was important to me. Often these acts are perceived as mundane and yet, in the conscious partnership, nothing is taken for granted. All is sacred and a gift.
As I personally began to understand the elements crucial to the success of a conscious partnership, my soul was no longer bound by an attachment to the outcome of my relationship. A transpersonal nature emerged in which I understood that mutual growth was now the foundation of a new sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. As a result, the relationship grew into a natural feeling of aliveness and love that transcended previous relationship stages.
Another key element of our conscious partnership is the ability for each partner to own their “baggage.” We all come into relationships with wounds and triggers that we often project onto others, and this is even more prominent between partners. The conscious couple understands that these triggers occur and holds compassion for the partner’s experience without trying to fix anything.
The conscious couple no longer blames the other for dysfunctional patterns, but rather engages in a joint dialogue to explore the dynamics that may be hindering their growth as a couple. Conscious partners are often willing to look at their past and current relationship issues because they know that by facing these belief systems, they can evolve into a new relationship-reality.
As I began growing in my new way of being with my partner, authenticity and vulnerability became the cornerstone of trust and intimacy. Hiding no longer was acceptable, nor an option. I began wanting a partner who would be willing to make room for all forms of feelings and who would be able to show up in complete honesty. This was the foundation of my new existence.
At times, I did not like what I was hearing from my partner and found myself triggered and hurt, yet this became the platform for a deeper truth and understanding between us. I realized how I used to mold myself to please the people I loved for fear of being rejected. This included my husband. Today, the only option that seems reasonable to me is radical honesty. This includes sharing parts of myself that are hard to share, and letting my partner do the same. This approach leads to feeling seen, understood, and deeply loved.
With this new way of relating to my partner, I also became fiercely committed to being the embodiment of love. Through my devotion and daily practice, love became a conscious choice. Giving became a deliberate act of unconditional love rather than the expression of a hormonal flare or deep desire. Each act was tended to consciously and deliberately, knowing the joy it would bring to my partner. In addition, with greater consciousness, I no longer held my partner responsible for my happiness. I became the master of my own internal landscape, taking responsibility for my own inner state.
Love, ultimately, is a practice. In addition to accountability and generosity, my new conscious partnership propelled me into presence, acceptance, forgiveness, and to stretching my heart into vulnerable territories. Love was no longer a destination but rather like a string of pearls that were cultivated through little gestures, patience, and a daily commitment to show up in my relationship.
One of the most important aspects that evolved was our ability to communicate our needs to each other. In an unconscious partnership, we often cling to the belief that our partner automatically intuits our needs. With greater awareness, I realized how many times I had become deaf to my husband’s attempts to express his needs or had become condescending and shaming when my needs were not met. In a conscious partnership, you accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication. I also learn to value my partner’s needs and wishes as highly as I value my own. In an unconscious partnership, you assume that your partner’s role is to take care of your needs magically. In a conscious partnership, one lets go of this narcissistic view and devotes more of one’s energy to meeting your partner’s needs.
My 30 years of marriage has taught me that a lasting, loving relationship takes work. In an unconscious partnership, one believes that the way to have a good relationship is to choose the right partner. As consciousness develops, individuals in a conscious partnership realize that each person is already the right partner. Ultimately, as I grew more realistic and conscious of the intricacies of creating a loving relationship that works, I realized that commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change were required. These qualities in themselves are the gifts of a conscious partnership.
Anne-Marie Charest is the founder of Inneru.guru, an organization that helps clients cultivate inner wisdom, authentic voice, meaningful purpose, and bountiful joy through transformational journeys for the wellbeing of self, community, and the planet. She holds a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology and studied the shamanic traditions of the Kalaalit Eskimo of the far north, Greenland. Her Eskimo name is Sanna.