How is your relationship to relationships?
For most people, it’s highly selfish and egoic.
It’s all about what they can get, versus what they can give. They operate more like entitled, co-dependent children than responsible adults.
Here’s some general advice for life: Don’t be like most people (they’re not very happy anyways).
Because most people have some common paradigms and belief systems that aren’t conducive to happiness, growth, or relationship success.
And if you look at the state of the planet today—both environmentally and economically—it’s not hard to see one of humanity’s worst features at work…
The Exploitative Mindset
An exploitative mindset is egoic. It’s all about selfish, short-term payoff.
It looks at people and situations as mines to be stripped, and extracted of their value. It asks, “What will I get out of this? And how much more can I get?” All without any concern for collateral damage or future consequences.
It looks at relationship as an infinite vending machine of free happiness. And if there’s an interruption in the flow, the exploitative mind says, “Fuck this. There’s something wrong with YOU. This relationship is broken. I’m out of here…”
What’s the opposite of this? Let’s call it…
The Nourishing Mindset
The nourishing mindset understands the concept of cultivation. It sees the bigger picture of work and yield. It knows that taking cannot happen without giving first.
You must feed energy back into the cycle, or it ends in ruin.
So, when the nourishing mindset looks at a relationship, it doesn’t see a mine, or a vending machine…
It sees an infinite garden. And it knows that bountiful harvest will likely come if work and time are dutifully invested.
The key quality of the nourishing mindset is devotion. The heart of which is love, loyalty, and commitment.
A gardener is devoted to their plants. They spend much of their lives in service, nurturing. Even when they’re tired, busy, or juggling other priorities. Because flowers and crops don’t give a shit. They don’t respond to excuses. They respond to actions and consistency.
Instead of watering and fertilizing their crops, imagine if a farmer just walked to the edge of their fields each week and rattled off a list of reasons why they didn’t show up, or put any time in. And they do this week after week. Until, one day soon, they walk out to meet withered piles of dead leaves and limp stalks.
This is exactly how so many of us operate in our own relationships. We let our bullshit keep us from showing up. We sell ourselves and our partners stories and apologies, week after week, expecting things to work themselves out and bounce back…
Until they don’t.
This kind of laziness and tolerance of bullshit is a symptom of the exploitative mindset. We assume the relationship will stay alive and well, to be there for us and keep on giving, without having to change ourselves in the slightest, or offer even a drop of water.
By now, you and I both know the nourishing mindset is the way. It’s devotion, and commitment to showing up, that ultimately allows the garden of your relationship to thrive. Season after season, and year after year.
In a minute, I’m going to suggest ten ways you can step into this, and be deeply devoted to your partner.
Before I do, I want to highlight a core factor in this equation…
Devotion > Ego
Ego is a main driver of the exploitative mindset.
And ego is the main obstacle to intimacy.
It sees things as “Me versus You.” It doesn’t want to take ownership, or admit to being wrong, insensitive, or un-compassionate. It avoids instead of leaning in. Protects instead of shares.
Intimate relationship is a spiritual practice. This is deeply humbling work.
Devotion, commitment, cherishing, and honouring—there is very little room for ego in energies like these.
And the more stubborn your ego is, the tougher it will be to make great relationships work in the long run, because it doesn’t want to release control, or bow and serve.
Ultimately, relationship is a vehicle for growth. And it will trigger your deepest wounds. It keeps showing you the areas where you’re a little (or a lot) selfish, judgmental, shut down, closed off, neurotic, and anxious. But this payoff is yet another reason to be devoted.
Constant conflict and struggle in a relationship may not be a good sign, but neither is constant harmony and happiness.
It’s almost like, if you’re total with it, and doing relationship right, it should be an occasionally yet insanely uncomfortable process.
So, I say, surrender to it and let it open you. It’s the ultimate life masterclass, and it’s totally worth it. You’ll be a way better person for committing yourself to the process.
Disclaimer: I’m not talking about accepting or surrendering to abusive relationships—mentally, emotionally, or physically. I have zero tolerance for that. I’m talking about being in a generally healthy relationship, where your own laziness, pettiness, and old emotional wounds are getting in the way of being more connected, more often. Not someone else’s insults, manipulation, or attacks.
- Have a fundamentally good relationship, and…
- Want to work on moving past your ego’s resistant reflexes, in order to…
- Keep stepping deeper into committed devotion to your partner…
Then here are ten simple and powerful practices I recommend:
1. Feel your feelings, but still be kind
In moments when you’re about to let a fight escalate, or your partner does or says something from a triggered place, let yourself have your emotions…
But still do the right thing. Don’t act from your hurt, or be reactionary for the sake of egoic retaliation.
In the heat of the moment, as far as your go is concerned, the two go-to responses are A) attacking and getting even, or B) shutting down and withdrawing (which can also be another form of getting even, or simply just self-protection).
Both of these reactions are hurtful toward your partner, and create disconnection. When ego takes the wheel, you may want to go after them, or try to be right, which will likely have them feel small, unvalued, and unloved.
And when you give them the distant silent treatment, they’ll probably feel the exact same things, plus deep loneliness.
“Being kind” isn’t swallowing your feelings, or shutting them down and pretending they don’t exist.
What I’m suggesting you do is not dump your emotions on your partner, or pretend like they’re responsible for them.
Feeling your feelings, and lovingly communicating them from the passenger’s point of view, is vastly different from blindly acting them out, and being stuck inside of them.
For example, you might feel angry or frustrated about a situation. Instead of immediately blaming them, and either lashing out or contemptuously stonewalling, you might first pause. And breathe. Then try to break it all down to understand where it’s coming from. Because where there’s reactivity, there’s almost always a wound.
In doing that, you might be able to do one of several things…
– Recognize it’s all your own stuff, the fight isn’t worth having, and your partner isn’t to blame, then move through it…
– Look through the anger to find the specific hurt beneath, then express and address it with care, instead of launching into the useless, instinctive, destructive reaction
– Or absolutely ANYTHING else besides attacking or hiding.
And even if your partner made a legitimate trespass, and crossed a clearly communicated boundary of yours, can you still stand centred, and clearly share your upset with both seriousness and kindness, without resorting to volatility and blame? If so, you’re doing great.
2. Be the first one to get off your position and make a bid for connection
If we get into a disagreement with our partner, or feel hurt by them, our tendency is to clam up and distance ourselves from them.
We silently retreat inside, hiding out and peeking through the blinds, waiting for them to approach and make a peace offering. We’re holding onto a position of some kind, whether that’s being righteous and correct, or wrong and ashamed.
There’s the old saying: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?
That doesn’t mean allowing someone to bully you around and make you wrong all the time. It means recognizing when your ego’s unnecessary disagreements, or drive to be right, are coming at the expense of love and connection.
Couples are willing to ruin their vacations and entire lives over who misremembered a detail from a news article, or innocently thought the map said to turn right, instead of left.
Scoring points should never take priority over connection and mutual respect. If you can sense friction or distance arising, as a result of differing opinions, call it out, as well as yourself.
Step one is feeling yourself getting locked onto a position, and deliberately sliding off of it.
Step two is clearing the slate and making a bid for connection.
“Making a bid” means demonstrating affection, interest, or effort in their direction. It’s an attempt to bridge the gap and create a positive interaction. This often takes courage, honour, and love.
At their core, bids can be deeply vulnerable acts. In the middle of a fight, it’s like a knight setting down their weapon, taking off their armour, and stepping forward, nearly naked, with arms wide open and calling a truce. And this goes against everything the ego stands for (which is: safety and separation).
In practice, this might look like softening into a non-threatening tone, and saying something like, “Hey, I’m watching this rift/friction starting. And more than anything, I really want to feel connected with you right now. Here’s why I got stuck on X position, and it was really dumb. I love you, and I’m sorry. What would you need right now to feel clear with me?”
When we think about the word “devotion,” we usually take it to mean being committed, or in service to our partner.
That’s definitely a big part of the case. But the highest form of devotion is to love and harmony, and the health of the relationship itself.
When you’re acting from this place, you don’t care about who extends first, or how often they do it. You’re interested in serving the relationship, and fostering or restoring connection.
And the more you practice surrender, extension, and communication, the more you’re setting a norm by example. Few of us are well-practiced at resolving conflict with intention and awareness. We learn how to relate by observing relationships around us – mostly in our family systems. And that’s rarely ever a healthy example of how to love.
If you continue demonstrating a new way, your partner will likely admire your approach and be inspired to emulate it. By watching you, they might more easily see how they can get off their own position, and become the first person to drop their ego and move toward repair.
Humour can also be a helpful tool to change the tone of tense moments and introduce a sense of playfulness and safety. But it doesn’t always land well until the root of the disconnection has been addressed, the parts we’ve played have been owned, and a desire to repair is expressed.
So, start there, and don’t leap right to cracking jokes or tickling to avoid the step of taking responsibility first.
3. Journal on your gratitude for them, and verbalize it too
When you’re getting assaulted by stressors from every angle in life, it’s easy to focus more on the threats and forget how amazing it is to have your partner by your side through it all.
Keep this gratitude and positivity alive by journaling about them often. Notice and remember the great and thoughtful things they do for you, or what you appreciate about them.
One important piece of this is how it changes your behaviour. When you’re in a state of gratitude and appreciation for the relationship, your actions, words, and tone are warmer. It feels more effortless to feed into the relationship, and causes your partner to feel valued by you.
Another piece is verbalizing the thoughts that you’re journaling, and not just keeping them to yourself.
Who doesn’t want to hear how much they’re loved, appreciated, valued, and why?
4. Be vigilant about your exits, and seal them off when spotted
Exits are little escape hatches we open to avoid engaging with our relationship fully. They can also be things we’re leaking energy and attention into, which could otherwise be going toward our partner.
In order to be considered an exit, it doesn’t have to be a full-blown affair, or another romantic interest. These can include overworking, watching a lot of pornography, spending a ton of time on a certain hobby, keeping an excessively busy social calendar—anything you might do to avoid being around and connecting with your partner.
Extensive flirting with coworkers and other people is another kind of exit, in the sense that, deep down, we might be chasing the feeling of being single, or the excitement of honeymoon chemistry that comes with the territory of being around someone whose true self we haven’t yet discovered.
It’s a bit like having a mistress, or an affair, without full contact (kind of like pornography, which is a common way that people seek novelty, and channel the unspent sexual energy they’re not bringing to their partner).
The trickiest exits to spot are activities that are conventionally positive, like going to the gym, or meditating. The ego can co-opt anything and turn it into an avoidance strategy. The easier and “healthier” the habit is to rationalize, the longer it can be kept in your blind spot.
We may use these exits consciously or unconsciously. Most often, they will be unconscious, because that’s how most of our aversions and anxieties operate: beneath the surface.
You might find yourself dawdling and taking longer to get home from work, or thinking of more stops to make on the way. Then when you’re with your partner, you may find yourself getting drawn to distractions, checking out, or retreating into your mind.
Having exits is to be expected. The ego loves them. It has them all mapped, including its own vulnerabilities and addictive tendencies. It will do anything to avoid being confronted, exposed, or lose control.
The difference in devoted couples is that they accept and actively look for their exits.
Then, because they value the quality of energy in the relationship, they seal these energy leaks off.
Sealing off exits could look like lightening your schedules at work, the gym, or other commitments, and reallocating those blocks of time to your partner. If you’re allowing your sexual energy to leak all over the place (via flirtation with co-workers, or excessive pornography use, etc.) then you can reclaim that and direct it back into your relationship.
You’re basically finding ways to reclaim energy in your budget and spend more of it on them.
5. Keep a list of how to love them well, and act from it regularly
Demetra and I both keep running lists of how each of us most perfectly wants to be loved. And then we do our best each week to act on these items.
We include things like specific romantic gestures, questions we like to be asked, types of physical touch, or what work around the house we appreciate having done.
We also revisit our lists often. Because our preferences might change each mood, month, or season.
Both of you are constantly evolving and ever-changing. Become scientists of your love. Observe, research, document, experiment, and repeat the process to keep discovering what’s true for you in the moment.
6. Proactively lean into supporting your partner’s healing
We’ve all got baggage we’re carrying around and (hopefully) working on cutting loose. One of the primary functions of conscious relationship is growth and healthy challenge.
Become aware of your partner’s “stuff” and be an ally in supporting them to make shifts in a positive direction.
When you think you see conflict with an intention they shared, or an undesirable pattern they wanted to break, you can gently remind them of it and ask if it’s playing a role in a situation.
Refer back to our second point here, about not taking positions, and be wary of trying to become their coach, or be right about how their mind works (which would be coming from your ego and not your heart).
You’re not telling them what to do. You’re simply holding up a mirror once in a while and asking if they feel the reflection is accurate. Give them the space and agency to live their lives, and continue asking if there’s any way you can support them on their own path, as you walk yours together.
Not all of our issues will disappear in a month, a year, or after some intensive week-long workshop. So, ongoing awareness of each other’s issues also involves being mindful of hitting certain buttons.
Dr. John Gottman calls these trigger points “enduring vulnerabilities.” They’re soft spots we carry around that our partners might frequently poke unintentionally.
For example, maybe your partner is sensitive to feeling left out or dismissed. So, you might be more careful choosing your words when communicating that you need alone time, or want to take a trip with a friend. Rather than doing it sneakily to avoid a negative reaction, or saying it bluntly because you weren’t considering them at the time.
When you operate as teammates in personal growth, your progress is accelerated, and heaps of unnecessary friction dissipates.
7. Don’t score-keep. You showing up and serving is its own reward.
This might be the toughest paradigm shift for anyone to make. Generosity and selflessness are demonstrations of real King and Queenship. Which few people do the inner work to rise to.
Be present and in service for the greater good of your partner and the relationship. Let acting from love be intrinsically rewarding. Where nothing else is needed. No acknowledgement, payback, or praise.
Most people silently keep track of who bought the groceries last time, or who made dinner, or who got a bigger portion, or who got the last neck rub.
Long-standing patterns of one-sidedness and neglect may be worth addressing, but most often our partner’s level of giving is roughly equal to ours. And we’re just thinking like greedy, competitive siblings, making sure everyone gets the same amount of fries and equal value of presents at Christmas.
When you feel your ego clamp down on something, like a dog sinking its teeth into a bone, try deliberately taking the opposite direction.
For example, if you’re dishing out dinner and you catch yourself sizing up the plates, or ensuring yours gets just a little bit more, intentionally give your partner the bigger share. Laugh at yourself, and exhale your stingy pettiness.
Or you might know they’d enjoy a little foot or shoulder massage. But when you imagine doing it, a twinge of resentment arises. Maybe you want to get one first, or haven’t gotten one for a while and think it’s your turn. In moments like these, take a deep breath, and offer your serving touch.
8. Communicate your desires directly and do away with mind reading as a default
It’s quite amazing how many people choose to be stuck in silent resentment toward their partner, because they’re keeping lists of unmet needs and expectations that have NEVER been communicated.
Grow up and come out with it. It’s completely unfair and juvenile to hang onto upsets around things your partner didn’t do because they “should have known.”
An infant can’t communicate. They expect their minds to be read, and people around to be waiting on their needs, trying to service them by playing guessing games multiple times a day. They’re the entitled centre of attention.
An adult (hopefully) outgrows this, and understands that other people cannot, and will not, read their mind. People aren’t going to take the time to stand around you, and hold up different objects in front of your face to see what makes you grunt or smile.
Further still, a functional adult believes their needs matter, and feels deserving to have them met. They also know that they’re the one person responsible for making that happen. If they don’t speak up, and let their needs be known, they can only get mad at themselves for not communicating.
Furthermore, once in a while you can also actively ask your partner about their needs. How are they feeling? Is there any way they would like to be supported? Is there something they’d like less or more of?
You’re not over-functioning here, or behaving like a smothering parent. You’re just being a mindful partner, devoted to your mutual health and happiness.
9. Communicate your emotional availability
In any relationship, each person might be emotionally available 50% of the time.
And that means you will both be emotionally available, at the same time, only 25% of the time.
So, you won’t always be synced up or available. This is where it’s useful to have some grace and patience with your schedules, both outer and inner, and actively communicate your availability.
And when you are feeling available, lead with generosity. Make more bids. Be on-shift to put in the work and water the shared garden of your relationship.
If your partner doesn’t have the bandwidth to fully respond to your bids for connection in the moment, it’s tempting to feel like your bids are useless, or falling flat. But in your partner’s reality, they might feel really supportive and nourishing, even though they still need to keep staying focused on something else.
You’re giving to give. Not just to get. And know it can’t be fully reciprocated in the moment every time.
Leave the score-keeping out of this too—who’s more available, and how often. When you’re on, be on. Show up, crank open your love hose, and drench that soil.
10. Show up fully, especially in the moments when it’s the hardest to do so
When you’re stressed, tired, or sick, you’ll usually have less bandwidth to show up with love, or hold space for others.
The real work is done in these stretch moments. When it’s late, you’re tired and cranky, and you want to tell your partner to fuck off… that’s the real life-y shit.
It’s similar to that moment in the morning when you can’t imagine putting on your runners to get outside, or hitting the gym. A push from deep within is required to break your state, vaporize the stories, and take the highest path.
These are the real tests of your will and character. If you can be devoted in these times, you’ll crush it in every other. Plus, you’ll save yourself a ton of grief.
These are the moods and moments where we’re most likely to stir shit up and create disconnects that linger for days or weeks. Then, our well-slept, more vibrant self has to step in and try to clean up the mess, wondering how the hell it all happened to begin with. Once our higher selves are back online, we’ve got more sense to see things clearly.
To that point, if you really want to amp it up, you can exclusively practice doing your clearings or harder communication work late at night, or when you’re both feeling under-resourced. But ONLY if you’re a real glutton for challenge, and have practiced this work long enough that it will be a “next level” rather than a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
It’s amazing enough just to bring awareness to your mind, and remain open, loving, and connected even when you think you’re tapped out.
I said these practices are powerful, but I didn’t say they would be easy.
Using devotion to take your relationship to its highest potential requires overriding the ego. And your ego has had way more practice white-knuckling it in the driver’s seat than it has relaxing in the passenger’s seat.
On the other side of these devotional efforts, there’s an entire world of new possibilities waiting for you.
It’s like unplugging from the Matrix and waking up in a new reality. You’ll begin feeling states of ease and connection between your partner and within yourself that you didn’t know were possible.
And because the ego is laced into everything we do, as it relaxes, all of these shifts will start leaking into other areas of your life.
Your relationship is really just an awesome sandbox to play in and practice being a better human. By exercising devotion with your partner, you’re practicing and transforming how you live and relate as a whole.
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also love checking out:
– Inside The Male Mind (video course for women)