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Why Mutuality is Important in a Successful Relationship

Phil and Maude in fieldThe direct experience of mutuality is a critical aspect of a peaceful and conflict-free relationship. It is the sense of being in the relationship, rather than just being our individual selves. In fact, “rather than” is the wrong connector here; it’s really “at the same time as.”

Yet, many people do not recognize or acknowledge this aspect of their relationship. This is not surprising, as the mutuality we speak of is a transcendent experience; one of those areas which require a suspension of normal boundaries, and a stepping into, an allowing of another dimension.

This doesn’t make any sense if you think of identity as residing in your body, bounded by your skin and probably created by brain activity. Concussion or anesthesia will switch it off for a while. Any number of documentaries and neurologists espouse this model.

But that is a very isolated view of identity. We are not an isolated universe, disconnected from everything else; we are part of the entire world. A little reflection will show that we identify with our gender, our culture, our family … the list is long.

Our experience is that we, as a couple, are a tangible experience in addition to that sense of self. I can be myself and part of that at the same time. It is a fluid identity.

This may sound quite far fetched, and yet it is attainable by many. Each party must have a strong sense of themselves, while at the same time allowing the us, the we, to be equally true. This is only possible when there is complete trust in the other. It does not take away from the individual self, it adds a self; one existing in union with another.

Imagine you and your partner are lumps of modeling clay. When you are completely open and undefended, there is no risk, no cost to getting close because you know and trust that you are not going to be attacked. So as these two lumps of clay are squeezed together, the boundary is shared by both lumps equally. Even though it appears as a different shape from both sides, each lump knows the other lump has an understanding of the boundary that complements its own.

Here’s a story neither of us has told before. It was in the early months of our relationship, and we hiked to a hilltop gazebo in Toro Canyon Park with the coastal range in the background and no other person to be seen. We had what we can only describe as a transcendental or psychedelic experience of unity. We were both hit by an overwhelming sensation of oneness, filling us with peace and joy. The moment was completely mutual, obviously so, and required no words for us both to know that.

It was also completely non-drug induced. Many psychedelic events have this quality, as do sexual encounters and the experience of merging they often provide. This connection and the consciousness of a mutual self has remained and become a foundation of our relationship.

We guess that every relationship is blessed with the experience of intense connection in its early days, yet in the course of many relationships, big and little hurts can occur, whether from failings, criticism, or merely neglect. These things may slowly erode this connection and cause distance and estrangement. The more there are, the harder it is for people to practice the openness needed for a deep connection to happen because to open yourself up is to expose yourself to possible attack.

When you feel this loss of connection, don’t assume either it’s your partner or that it’s you; that is something to be found out. Examine first for yourself what it is that you are feeling and why, and then talk with your partner. It is important to speak personally, communicating that you are feeling something causing a sense of distance that you know need not be there.

Trust that your mutuality still exists and that your partner values it as much as you do. Speak of your commitment to each other and find words to share that you are on the same side. If your core values match and you are both committed to your relationship, then you can jump past this hurdle. Being in physical contact always helps in these exchanges.

This place of mutuality, where you both meet and merge, where you both exist as separate and together, will carry you through many difficult situations. It will always bring you back to the reasons you are together. It is this way for us, and has been for numerous couples we have interviewed, healing unnecessary distances within the partnerships. It brings you in touch with the very essence of intimacy.

Photo credit: Andy Samarasena, Studio SB Photography

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Happy Thanksgiving

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." John F. Kennedy
Vintage postcard
Vintage postcard: back
From Maude's vintage postcard collection.

Successful Relationship Reading Corner

In this week's blog we discussed our unique perspective on Mutuality. Here are some articles presenting different but interesting perspectives. 

Joanne Davila: Skills for Healthy Romantic Relationships This is a transcript of a TEDx talk. "Mutuality is about knowing that both people have needs and that both sets of needs matter. With mutuality, you’ll be able to convey your own needs in a clear, direct fashion that increases the likelihood that you’ll get them met."

The Yoga of Relationships "When we learn to treat others with relational skillfulness, we are practicing yoga. The ultimate goal of Yoga is union—union with the divine essence in ourselves and in the world around us. Like a wave in the great ocean of existence, human beings have the capacity to melt our sense of separateness and experience oneness with everything and everyone."

The Meaning of Mutuality This is an academic paper with a very fascinating treatment of mutuality "This paper explores relationships characterized by mutual intersubjectivity, in which individuals relate to one another based on an interest in each other as whole, complex people. Traditional psychoanalytic theory and object relations theory have emphasized a line of development marked by increasing internal structure, boundedness and use of the other as a need-gratifying “object.” Today, many women are concerned with growth through relationships founded on mutuality."


Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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