What makes us "spiritual" beings? The concept of spirituality is derived from "spiritus," meaning vitality or the breath of life. When we are connected to that force, like an electric charge, our soul awakes; the more we stay connected to that energy, the stronger and more alive is our soul. Our relationships present a constant opportunity to tap into this power.

Consider spiritual ideals, such as faith, truth, surrender, patience and compassion. As we practice these principals in our relationships, they have a synergistic effect, reinforcing one another and strengthening us.

Faith that we will not disintegrate from loneliness, fear, shame, or rejection allows us to risk separateness from our partner, as well as honesty about our feelings. Faith in a higher power makes it possible to surrender our well-being and self-esteem to something other than another person.

With faith, we gain the courage to be honest at the risk losing the relationship. This builds a stronger sense of self. The expression of our vulnerability allows unconditional love to be present, generating healing and strengthening the soul. Additionally, when unconditional love is present, it is safe to tell the truth. Each time we risk being vulnerable, more freedom and trust grow in the relationship. Our ability to risk grows, and we achieve deeper levels of self-acceptance and compassion. Our anxiety, and the need for defensive behaviors that cause problems in relationships lessen. In this way, we become more present, and our lives become more rich and vital.

Acceptance and the ability to surrender require patience, which comes from faith. If we want to relinquish manipulating and controlling our relationships, we must have the confidence to wait.

Compassion develops from surrendering the demands of the ego, from self-knowledge, and ultimately self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is essential for satisfying relationships, in that we can only accept and have compassion for our partner to the degree to which we accept and have compassion for ourselves. We begin to understand our partner's struggles and become less reactive, making it safer for both to be vulnerable.

Relationship can be an exciting path to the unknown. It is a path of self-discovery and ultimately the divine, as we open ourselves to one another. It requires courage. Our fears and defenses get activated, and we end up hurting the relationship in our attempts to maintain it. But if realize that we are both on a path of mutual discovery, open and honest communication can replace attempts to manipulate and control.

When our attitude is one of acceptance, rather than clinging and expectation, then unconditional love is possible. The relationship becomes a haven for two souls to experience themselves and each other in a space of love, respect and freedom.

As we learn to give loving, non-interfering attention and communicate truthfully, a safe, healing environment of unconditional love is created, where we can let down our defenses. Being in its presence feels exhilarating if we are not trying to hide. Such intimacy supports our wholeness. By risking defenselessness, we begin to see ourselves and others more clearly, and our past conditioning and emotional blocks are released.

We uncover who we truly are, our divinity, in the intimate presence of another - and realize that we are enough, that our wholeness and self-acceptance does not depend on what others think, but on self-awareness. We discover that our defenses, which we thought kept us safe and made us strong, only fortify feelings of inadequacy, and become obstacles to intimacy, growth and real inner strength. Trusting our vulnerability, we hesitatingly walk through our fears. They evaporate and we become stronger.

Such a relationship requires two people committed to a spiritual process, a willingness to experience the pain of working through old programming, and trust that if we are honest with each other, a healthy relationship will flourish, and an inappropriate one will end.

Suggestions for improving the quality of your relationships:

1. Identify and communicate your fears and guilt in the relationship.
2. Clarify and express your wants and needs in the relationship.
3. Lovingly express your hurts and grievances, using "I" statements without blaming your partner.
4. Always take responsibility for your own feelings and behavior.
5. Learn to listen without judgment, but from a desire to fully understand your partner. Try to see the world through his or her eyes. When you don't understand, ask for clarification.
6. Learn to observe each others' defenses from a non-judgmental point-of-view. Track your own defenses. This in itself begins to change them.
7. Be willing to receive feedback non-defensively.
8. Always realize that there are no victims and no villains - that there are two parties to every transaction, and be willing to take responsibility for your own part regardless of whether or not your partner does. Remember growth is for you.
9. Try to always be vulnerable, direct and honest.
10. Work through things as they come up. Don't stockpile resentment, otherwise each postponement becomes a block in the next communication.
11. Be willing to negotiate - knowing that your highest good involves your partner's highest good.
12. Realize intimate relationships require a commitment of time, from a half hour of intimate contact a day in your primary relationship to a half hour a week in other relationships.


Author's Bio: 

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a broad range of experience. Her particular focus is on relationships and helping clients overcome obstacles to leading fuller lives. See DarleneLancer.com.

She's worked with individuals and couples for more than twenty years. Her training includes psychoanalytic psychotherapy, family systems, cognitive-behavioral, dream analysis, gestalt, and hypnotherapy. She has taught meditation and yoga and is familiar with spiritual challenges and crises.

She was an attorney in the corporate and private sectors for 18 years, familiarizing herself with career challenges and transitions. She's taught Stress Management to attorneys and coached clients to successfully reach their personal and professional goals.

She's worked extensively in the field of addiction and co-dependency, both in private practice and at Brookside Institute, as well as numerous hospitals and treatment facilities. Helping substance abusers and their families find recovery has been a rewarding part of her practice. She has a client-centered philosophy encouraging each person to determine his or her own abstinence and treatment goals. She's lectured before the California State Bar Association and has treated many attorneys and professionals with addiction and mental health problems. Additionally, she's familiar with 12-Step Programs.

Both in private practice and as a Senior Mediator in Los Angeles Superior Court, she has mediated Divorce and Child Custody and Visitation Disputes, and is a popular guest lecturer on divorce.

Darlene has developed expertise in treating patients with chronic pain and life-threatening illness. She has also published articles and lectured on chronic pain, disability and care giving. In addition to talk therapy, to alleviate pain she utilizes breath, touch, sound and relaxation techniques.

She maintains a private practice in Santa Monica. Consultation by appointment. 310-458-0016