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The spiritual thing to do in a tough relationship.

Updated: Jul 5

Q: How can we tell which of the two is "grist for the mill" on the spiritual path: staying in a challenging or problematic relationship versus leaving?

A: One of the greatest gifts of loving someone is being in conflict with them. Why? Because within every conflict is a dream—and if both people are open to experiencing conflict in a transformative way, conflict is a powerful arena in which to love someone even deeper.

But this question asker is using the word "challenging" and "problematic" which makes me wonder what's actually going on. I think to simplify my response, I'll just use the word abuse in my answer here.

Now, conflict is not necessarily abuse — let’s distinguish these things.

This is a really simple explanation, but: the thread that both conflict and abuse share is power—in an abusive dynamic, the abuser is constantly wielding power over the person who is being abused.

However, in normal and expected conflict between two partners, we see a struggle that emerges from trying to figure out how to share and negotiate power. So, abuse is a power-over situation—one person holds all of the power in the dynamic.

Whereas conflict is about balancing power.

Now, that’s a really simple explanation. I actually don’t like to think of my relationships as balances of power

because it paints a bleak picture for why two or more people come together. I’d more likely say that conflict arises from a desire to maintain connection—when the connection is threatened, the power of the love-potential within the relationship becomes the source of conflict.

What is being negotiated is the power of connection between two people.

So… from this perspective, within every conflict is a dream—a dream of what’s possible between two people.

If you’re in an abusive or problematic situation, the “spiritual thing to do” is to leave. Leaving is the "grist for the mill" because you're likely challenging inner patterns by doing that. Staying is likely "more of the same."

Grace sends us off on paths that lead us to our highest transformation—but remaining in an abusive dynamic

because you want to “surrender” or “accept” the other person for spiritual reasons is not as transformative as someone may think.

More likely, doing that is a form of stagnation— on some level, you’re doing what feels comfortable, even if the dynamic itself is objectively harmful. That may be hard to read but I’m saying this with compassion.

I was in an abusive dynamic with my mother for 28 years, and I stayed in it because it was comfortable for me. It was all I knew, all I expected for my life.

Often, we find ourselves in situations that are actually very familiar to us … ordinary, even. I have recreated the bad dynamic between my parents in every relationship I have ever been in.

So, for me, the discomfort of always being in the wrong relationship was actually, on some level, comfortable.

It was safe to be in situations where I was constantly abandoning myself because self-abandonment defined my upbringing.

So… if spirituality is about self-improvement, personal evolution, and transformation—the SPIRITUAL thing to do is to go against your conditioning and leave the abusive dynamic. Of course, leaving isn't easy for many people because they fear violence. So, I sympathize with the struggle, absolutely. But there's nothing spiritual about staying. ♡

Awake conflict, engaged conflict — the conflict that I want to experience — is actually about restoring harmony.

The real purpose of human love is to expand, to become more fluid, and to become more harmonious.

And the fact of the matter is this: if we can’t find harmony with the people we choose to partner with, we’ll NEVER be able to find harmony in the world around us.

How can we expect a more harmonious experience with life if we can’t even find harmony with the people who are closest to us?

Ideally, we need to allow our closest relationships to become our REHEARSALS to experience more harmony in our lives, to create more harmony with our experience of life.


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