What Makes a Couple Relationship Authentic?
We believe that authentic couples are operating energetically from the Law of Love. When this Law is fully active, members feel interconnected, operate in integrity, and experience peace, harmony, and understanding in all of their activities. Authentic couples are able to give and receive unconditional love, even in challenging situations involving intractable conflicts. This allows them to evolve and is the underlying principle of LOVEvolution.
Authentic, Intimate relationships are alive, dynamic, living organisms that have their own set of unique needs. Like a child, relationships need to be fed, nourished, and exercised, and they grow, change and evolve over time. Understanding and recognizing the “aliveness” of authentic, intimate relationships requires you to be able to witness and observe their evolution from the outside, while also experiencing them from the inside. This can be a complicated process, as we have learned.
So we created a four-stage map to help track the growth of our couple relationship, one that parallels our individual development: with codependent, counter-dependent, independent, and interdependent stages. We’ve watched our own couple relationship follow these stages during our 33+ years together. We also discovered very early in our relationship that we each had brought a residue of unresolved conflicts and unhealed developmental traumas into our relationship.
We learned to identify our traumas and unmet developmental needs and any incomplete developmental processes from our childhood caused by abuse or neglect. The effects of these traumas surfaced during our early relationship conflicts. We recognized that these issues surfaced because we each finally felt safe enough for them to the surface. During the first year, the “honeymoon stage,” we focused on how much we had in common and we avoided conflicts so we could maintain any bonded harmony between us. Our traumatic early childhood experiences and the unresolved issues associated with them, however, began creating conflicts that we were forced to address and resolve.
At this point, our previous experiences in our inauthentic couple relationships proved to be a critical contrast. We both knew only too well the deep suffering that comes from the people-pleasing, self-sacrificing, and meaningless existence of living from the False Self and a False Life. So we took the “road less travelled” and decided to make meaning out of all our conflicts, traumas and suffering. We converted our relationship into a “LOVE-atory” in which we converted our conflicts into “research projects.” It was here that we learned how to live in two simultaneous realities—one of being “deep experiencers” and the other of being “avid researchers.”
Now we’ll confess that growing up in very dysfunctional families was great preparation and training for this dual life! We both had become skillful at trying to hold onto our True Selves while coping with the crazy family dynamics we saw around us. Having rather “resilient” coping skills, developed because of our traumatic backgrounds, turned out to be a great asset in our relationship!
What We Learned In Our Journey Toward an Authentic Couple Relationship
The most important first step on our journey towards an authentic couple relationship was being able to recognize and accept that we each had brought unhealed developmental traumas, unresolved conflicts, and unmet developmental needs with us to this relationship. The more we were willing to be honest and forthcoming about our unfinished business, the closer we became. And the more that we did this, the easier it became to develop the trust necessary for helping each other to heal these traumas. When we have a conflict, we look at how it might be related to the past, to the present, or to both.
Once we identified this unfinished business, we created a process for contracting with each other to finish the things that were not completed in past relationships. Given that we had both previously been in 20-year relationships and divorced, that Barry had been suddenly widowed, we had a lot of developmental trauma. This was not a casual undertaking!
As part of our own journey, we developed processes for healing the developmental trauma from our childhoods and previous relationships that appeared when we regressed during our conflicts. Here are some things that we learned from our own journey that can help you increase the authenticity in your couple relationship.
Our 12-Steps on the Journey Towards an Authentic Couple Relationship
This is our version of the 12 steps towards an authentic couple relationship, which we learned by working cooperatively to help each other to heal the Developmental Traumas we brought into it:
- Recognize and acknowledge each other’s unhealed traumas and unmet needs. This can be challenging, as it requires self-reflection and skills in self-correction—both byproducts of reclaiming projections. It’s so much easier to be a victim and project our problems on others. Posturing, denial, projections and other defense mechanisms are part of the False Self and the False Life. Taking responsibility for your own life is work, but it brings truthfulness, integrity and legitimacy to your relationship. The more you can express empathy and compassion to your Self and each other, the safer it becomes to be vulnerable and authentic. Including healed developmental traumas and unmet developmental needs in our couple relationship contract as a “higher purpose” is a direct path to an authentic couple relationship. Without this framework, it can feel too risky to expose your wounds to your partner.
- Help each other do deep healing work. This begins by shifting your relationship from a competitive to a cooperative model in which real healing can happen. This step requires mutual understanding, compassion, and empathy skills, and creates a deeper and larger context for your relationship. Begin by agreeing to cooperate with each other in a healing process. There will be times when you both get “triggered” at the same time. These moments require negotiating to determine whose unmet needs are the most pressing and gets addressed first. Your healing agreement includes a clause that you will take turns asking for and getting what you need.
- Be willing to ask for what you want and need 100% of the time. Rather than being indirect or complaining, each partner must be willing to ask the other directly for what he or she want. This doesn’t mean that you must ask 100% of the time, only that you are willing.
- Be willing to tell the emotional truth about your feelings, needs, and behavior 100% of the time. This also requires the risk of being emotionally vulnerable, which removes deep barriers to experiencing intimacy. The best policy is telling the truth even if it might create a conflict. This kind of mutual trust is essential for an alive and evolving relationship.
- Close all the exits. You must both agree to stay engaged during deep conflicts. A no-exit agreement makes it safe enough for hidden fears and traumas to surface, as it eliminates old avoidant behaviors such as withdrawing, busyness, or blaming. Exits can take many forms—working long hours, overeating and drinking, sleeping, or other distancing options that create False Self and False Life patterns. This no-exit agreement includes clauses that prohibit each person from threats of walking away in the middle of a conflict, or escaping into addictions or another relationship. If your partner refuses to create a no-exit agreement, then it is not safe for you to be attempt deeper healing work. In such situations, focus on working internally on your issues to gain a better understanding your own traumas and unmet needs. You can also talk with a trusted friend or a counselor in an effort to find your True Self, and about your challenges in the relationship.
- Practice equality of power, opportunity, and responsibility. Couples can mutually evolve only with a firm foundation of sharing in all areas of the relationship. Those with economic, social, political, and psychological equality can successfully create a spirit of cooperation, mutual trust and respect. Creating equality in a world based on inequality is difficult without a conscious commitment. Couples also must commit to using cooperative, partnership approaches that are not just based on equality, but on the principles of balance between areas of shared power, opportunity and responsibility.
- Redefine intimacy to include all mutual experiences, including conflict. Choose to define everything that comes into your relationship as “intimacy.” This includes the intimacy of recreation, the intimacy of regressing, the intimacy of healing developmental trauma, the intimacy of being separate, and the intimacy of passionate conflict. Intimacy also includes the holding and comforting each other, sexual connection, and the intimacy of being interdependent.
- Respect each other’s psychological and physical boundaries. Communicate clearly about how to share your common space. Identifying your boundaries and areas of freedom within your shared space is an important way of maintaining your independence while also respect each other’s uniqueness. This is a place where it is essential to tell the truth 100% of the time.
- Develop regular common spiritual practices. These practices can take many forms. They may vary from more formal activities such as prayer, meditation, or attending church together to informal practices such as walking or exercising together. The intention is creating regular committed “islands” of intimacy. The outer world stops during these regular connections and helps you sustain the exchanges of unconditional love. These precious moments nourish your souls and support coping with the stresses of daily living.
- Keep relationship agreements and renegotiate changes. Whenever circumstances in your agreements change, it is important to renegotiate it directly with your partner. Broken agreements undermine the trust and good will in a relationship, especially this happens often and unilaterally.
- Resolve intractable conflicts at their source. This is one of the most powerful and affirming components of an authentic couple relationship. It brings tremendous intimacy and what we call “soul-touching” to the relationship. Everyone craves but is afraid to ask for this kind of support from a partner.
- See each other as separate persons with both positive and negative traits. This is the benchmark of an individuated, authentic relationship. Accepting your partner as he or she actually is, rather how you want or fantasize them increases intimacy. It also helps resolve your relationship conflicts.
Suggested Next Steps
Here are some steps to help you move forward on your journey towards an authentic couple relationship.
- Take and score the couple self assessment inventory.
- Identify areas where you scored low.
- Examine more closely the items keyed to codependent or counter-dependent stage behaviors – #’s 1-14.
- Look at the resources on this site that can help you improve the score that are keyed to these items:
- Read books like Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap or The Flight From Intimacy.
- Read posts on topics related to codependency or counter-dependency.
- View podcasts on aspects of codependency or counter-dependency.
- With or listen to the interviews of us (audio & video) on these topics.
- Take and score the additional self-quizzes: How Codependent Are You? or How Counter-Dependent Are You? They will help you identify specific issues to target.
- Read testimonials from others who have used these resources.
- Take our online course, Freaked Out 101, to help you identify and heal your childhood traumas.
- Select the resource(s) that draw you the most.
- Read the information contained in that specific resource.
- Use the free resources on this website.
- Consult with Barry or Janae.