Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The alchemy of healthy intimate relationship

What is the best way to prepare for a healthy, deeply satisfying intimate relationship? How can you attract the right partner? Someone who can accompany you on the path, a fellow traveler who is genuinely interested in exploring relationship as a transformative, modern-day crucible of healing and awakening?

There are many responses to these sorts of questions: workshops to attend, ten “secrets” to attract your perfect soul mate, twelve steps to manifesting your twin flame, tantric practices to learn and master. It can be important to experiment with any approach you feel drawn to and is resonant with your longing.

The suggestion I usually make, however, is not nearly as sexy or compelling, or all that fun or flashy, or even overtly “spiritual”: learn how to take care of yourself. Start there and you will lay the foundation for a rich, meaningful, and nourishing relationship with another. For it is the degree to which you are able to take responsibility for your own core emotional wounding that you will release your partner(s) from this burden, which is not theirs to carry. 

As long as there is a subtle expectation that your partner’s role is to enact the archetype of the “good other” that was missing in earlier developmental times, you will not be able to assume the risk that intimacy demands, lead with your vulnerability, and harness the incredibly transformational energy of the relational field.

Allow yourself to become curious about what triggers you, the feelings you’ll do anything not to feel, and the unique behaviors you engage in to distract yourself from activating emotional experience. Rather than urgently spinning to find relief from this material, instead move closer toward it. Train yourself to enter inside it, touch it, feel it, and come to know its texture. Provide a holding environment where the feelings can be illuminated, be worked through, and integrated in loving presence.

To what degree do you believe another person will fill the void for you, make the emptiness go away, relieve you from feelings and limiting beliefs you do not want to confront, and protect you from the unattended ghosts of your unlived life? As spiritually-oriented people, we are quite sure that we have transcended all this, but please inquire carefully, for its expressions can be subtle. As long as we are looking to our partners to fulfill those functions that were not offered to us as young children, it will be difficult to come into a fulfilling, loving relationship that is not riddled with the pain of projection.

Your partner is here to help and support you, and make the journey by your side as a loving, caring fellow traveler of the path. But they are not here to (re)parent you or take care of your unlived life for you, for this is your sacred work and it would be unkind of them to attempt to take these holy tasks from you. All the long-lost allies of abandonment, rejection, unworthiness, and shame. Rage, jealousy, unmet grief and partly processed loneliness. 
They have all come into the relational field with you, as part of an extraordinary gathering.

When all is said and done, perhaps there is no secret to co-creating a fulfilling, supportive, mutually beneficial intimate relationship, as it is always in the end a movement of the unknown. Healthy intimacy is not something you will figure out one day by way of some checklist or magical formula, but something you are asked to live in each moment, in all its chaotic glory. By learning to take care of yourself, you are creating a foundation upon which the mysteries of intimacy can come alive within and around you, providing a crucible like no other for the great work of aliveness that you have come here to embody.

My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available 

The Way of Rest summer retreat – registration open now (we're about 85% sold out as of June 1)


  1. Hi Matt, just a few incoherent thoughts.
    What about an inner child who wants someone other than me, to help, as well? I can feel in it my bones - it's not merely dependency. The 'help' might be in other areas of life, too.

    Also, I haven't developed a strong inner mother to hold space for the many inner orphans, (one of which says, or screams, she just wants to be happy and to live a normal life - with people in it.)
    Two nights ago I listened to 'Warming the Stone Child -
    Myths and Stories about Abandonment and the Unmothered Child', by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.
    It left me feeling at a loss as to the "how". (I was an unmothered child.)
    For a young child who defined myself by success, or succeeding, and not long after, became a "parentified daughter", I struggle now with feelings of failure and helplessness, of not knowing how to do this, or that I can't, in a safe way. It seems to retraumatise me whenever I try.

    Also, I have been knocked down by relentless abuse in recent years, after many losses, which has depleted my inner resources which I used to have. So,...that's (ie. the abuse) a sign or messenger come to highlight the "unhealed" or needy and self neglected parts of me, but I have tried all I know, until I'm exhausted.

    For me, the How is the missing part, in doing this work. I am very alone, have few support mechanisms, and I don't know how to begin. I have done the self care as much as I could. But I could never face lifelong overwhelming feelings and traumas. If I start, they never stop coming, like a raging river, to the point of exhaustion of holding space for the relentless barrage of negative stuff.

    One learns to meditate slowly, by way of example. Then builds on that. Also, one needs guidance, to learn meditation. Surely the same with this process..

    I've had to take care of every last detail in my outer world, which I admit has worn me down to have the space in my psyche to care for myself. Surely one can't do this in a vacuum... if there are significant traumas. I DO understand that a personal daily practice of living this, is the best way to go; I'm not denying personal responsibility!
    I have ordered your book. It should be arriving soon! Perhaps some of the answers, or pointers will be there.
    Otherwise, your writing has nurtured my soul. I'm frustrated with myself. But, feeling that, just leads to more and more facets of that sad orphaned child.

    1. Dear friend, thank you for your kind note and for sharing a bit of your journey here. This whole area of self-care/ self-regulation and other-care/ other-regulation is a very rich one, that spans psychological, emotional, spiritual, and neurobiological levels. As nearly all of our emotional wounding occurred within an interpersonal context/ within specific relational configurations, many believe it is best illuminated, unwound, untangled, and healed within a relational container.

      Given this, it is an act of kindness to engage this work with an empathic, attuned other, such as a therapist or close friend or intimate partner, etc. If one is working with deeply embedded trauma or feelings of unworthiness or other disturbing feelings and emotions, I highly recommend finding a therapist to work with, if that is possible. These long-term embedded organizing principles are best untangled within a relational context.

      All that being said, therapy is not possible for everyone, for financial or other reasons. And there are things we can do for ourselves. You could check out self-therapy type resources which others have found deeply helpful, if you are called, such as Hayes' Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life or Earley's Self-Therapy, or Segal, et. al's The Mindful Way through Depression or Orsillo's The Mindful Way through Anxiety.

      To speak very generally, the more deeply embedded the trauma, the more important and critical it is to work through within the context of a safe, attuned relational container.

      If it is possible for you to see a therapist, ideally one trained in working with trauma and who you feel a true resonance and trust with, that would be a great act of kindness toward yourself. Yes, it can be very difficult to work through this material on our own.

      If you'd like to send me an email via my website (http://www.mattlicataphd.com) I'd be happy to try to refer you to someone in your area.

      Take care.