On Transforming Your Relationship to Open

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If you’re in love you’ll know, they said. And sure enough when I fell in love I knew. I couldn’t and didn’t want to be without him. I was 18. Two weeks of yearning, burning and when he left, the pain came. So intense I thought it might kill me.

Because with him I was desirable. Without him I was an empty car crash. Twisted, useless and broken. There was a hole where my heart used to be. I filled the pit of my loss with tears over a period of months and mourned to every lyric of Aerosmith’s What it Takes (because nothing says love like a hard rock ballad when you’re a teenager).

It was love. Beautiful but weighted with the knowledge that it wouldn’t last forever. It generated desperate need but was fragile and could be choked off by need itself. It was insecure making and led to jealousy because without him, it felt like I would die. It’s what Hollywood preached and I was a true believer.

Over the years I fell in love with a few men who left their mark and as I grew older, I matured and my relationships grew longer. But still each time they ended, the pain was terrible. And then when my husband and I decided to open our relationship I knew that more love meant more joy, but also a greater potential for pain. The last big break up was my divorce 7 years ago as my husband and I decided we were better off with our other partners. But losing his love crippled me…

The popularized version of love focuses on The One person, that particular special person who will complete us and satisfy us. It stems from a scarcity mindset which means that when we find them, we say that there is not enough of them to go around and we want all of them for ourselves. It’s an either/or situation which does not allow for another’s gain without another’s loss. It is the cornerstone of jealousy, possessiveness and insecurity.

The situation becomes one of entrapment. And on both side there are the fundamental conditions; desperation, dissatisfaction, anger and a sense of impending doom.  The car crash is inevitable but you fight to avert it. The more you struggle, the worse it gets. Your relationship dulls your senses and does nothing to enrich you or the world around you.

In a relationship such as this, there are several positions of commitment which people use to prolong their state of togetherness.

  1. Commitment to yourself aka ‘What makes me feel good?’ In this position the other person becomes an object to manipulate. Smart people can play the relationship game for a long time in this commitment position. This is the stuff of many many sitcoms because let’s face it, the power play is amusing (even if now, it makes me want to throw up).
  2. Commitment to the other person. In this position your life focuses on trying to take care of another person who is wholly capable of taking care of themselves. It demeans and diminishes. It is portrayed as selfless and yet is one of the most selfish things you can do.
  3. Commitment to the duration of the relationship. The winners of this game are those who can make a relationship last a lifetime by compromise and sacrifice. It is not about an empowered life. There is no grand prize waiting for you when one of you dies. 
  4. Commitment to the relationship itself. At this stage people focus on the relationship itself. Romantic dinners, getaways and candlelight. It’s all good. But it will die soon enough if there is no purpose to it, no guiding principle. Unless of course you can find a purpose above and beyond the relationship…

Any breakup in these four positions of commitment will be grief ridden. Because in all these positions you are attached not only to the other person and the relationship, but to the form of the relationship itself. Love is destined to become the car crash, because it is also a position of attachment.

I said. “You need to know I’ve got a new boyfriend. We’ve been going out for 5 months. But if you don’t want to talk about it we don’t have to.”

My mother drew a deep breath and said “I want you to feel you can talk to me about it. But I’m scared for you. I’m scared about your relationship. Because I believe that opening it devalues it.”

“You mean because I’m not wholly invested in the relationship itself?


“You’re right.” I said. “I believe the individuals in the relationship are more important than the form of the relationship or even the relationship itself. I’m invested in living in integrity. And that’s got nothing to do with my open relationship.”

“But what about your children?” She said.

“Our commitment to being parents is solid. That is part of who we are as individuals.” I replied.

Yet, a transformed relationship doesn’t have to be open, it is simply one which can transform.

In 2009, Peter Coghlan came on to Britain’s Got Talent, and started performing a belly dance in drag as Mama Trish, an act he’d been performing for 26 years. To Simon Cowell he was a joke. And Simon’s biggest surprise was not that he got through to the semi final, but that he had been with his wife for 36 years.

It was a sign to me, that he and his partner could be committed simply to being their empowered selves. Committed to living and loving in integrity. Allowing each other to follow their own path.

A transformed relationship is where you a free to look what works for the relationship, rather than at what makes you right or wrong.

  1. You surrender to the relationship and trust it. Completely.
  2. You surrender the fear that you will not survive without the other person.
  3. You also surrender your perceived right to determine the course of the other person’s life in any way.

And if your partner becomes interested in someone else, you can derive joy from it because you experience their joy as an addition to your relationship, not a loss.

I believe that a transformed relationship exists according to each individual’s commitment of growing in integrity. For those individuals (monogamists or polyamorists) who live with a commitment to their own integrity, the sexual or romantic component of the relationship might end at some point, but the transformation has the potential to be joyous instead of painful.

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

Richard Bach, Illusions

Because this is love without attachment. It is love without the car crash.

Understandably, many people choose instead to remain in the untransformed state where love hurts. But it is a choice. Love without pain seems weak, ‘new-age’ and worthless if you have never experienced it. It is not the life or love we have been told we should experience. It is not the stuff of hollywood.

And yet, when you love without pain you commit to creating empowering relationships, relationships that make the world work instead of relationships which lead to conflict and war. You can say ‘I love you’ without needing or expecting it in return, but simply as a joyous truth.

Thanks once more goes to the excellent work of Ron Smothermon and his book Transforming 1