• Bill Petrie

What is Conscious Relationship?

Couples see me for many reasons.

There may be issues around intimacy. There may be conflict around finances, parenting, socialising, or values. There may be disappointment.

They may have grown apart and feeling that they are no longer ‘in

love.’ There may have been a betrayal of trust.

Often, they are desperate.

But, very often, much can be done!

Now, although each couple is unique, there are also often

commonalities. In over thirty years of working with couples, I

have noticed some kinds of problems that tend to come up time

and time again and I’ll be exploring some of those here - together

with insights and solutions that may help you on your way.

The approach I’ll be taking is what I call ‘Conscious Relationship’ -

a relatively modern development.

Traditionally, the focus of relationships has been on the roles

that each person has to play and these roles have been very

carefully prescribed. And, that suited most people because each

person knew exactly what was expected of him or her and that

created a solid sense of security.

In the 1950’s in the USA, for example, there was a clear

expectation that the husband provide financially for the family

and that the wife looked after the kids and the home. That may

have worked then but most couples today have a much more

complex and varied set of expectations!

And - whether it be via our parenting or from society at large -

there are many other social influences too.

We tend to dress according to social trends, to wear our hair according to fashion, to marry in way that is supported by our society and to be promiscuous to the degree that is tolerated by our culture.

Social influence is enormously powerful!

And, so is our biology!

In fact, if we look at things through the lens of evolutionary

psychology, many of of our expectations are still largely

determined by our biology. Like all other apes, we seek mates. We

strive for security. We desire sex. We raise and protect our

families. And, we raise our children by cooperating with others in

communities and we protect those communities from ‘others.’

We are naturally driven to these things and very often we don’t

realise that it’s largely our biology at play.

So, much of our lives - including our relationships - are very

significantly determined by our biology and by culture.

Now, I’m sure that this is not news to you! But the thing that is

really interesting in all of this is that both the biological drives

and the social conditioning - are very largely unconsciously driven.

In most cases, couples allow their biology and their culture to

determine much of their lives without even knowing that this is


And, that is fine for many but some people long for something


They want to become more conscious.

They want to know who they are and they want to know their partners deeply. They want to be true to their hearts. And, they want to become most fully who they really are.

For such couples, Conscious Relationship is the way to go.

Now, Conscious Relationship is not everyone’s cup of tea. I respect

that and I work happily with many couples for whom this is not a

priority at all.

But, here I’m talking about Conscious Relationship and some of

the common problems that are dealt with along the way. And, I

hope that will see just how helpful this insightful approach can


So, what are common problems that I see in my practice?

Well, we could start with two of the more obvious - sex and

money. And, we will mention these. But, I want to start with ‘falling out of love‘ because so many couple come to couples work feeling bereft because they just don’t feel the same about each other any more. What they don’t realise is that this happens to us all!

Most of us in the modern world get married when we are ‘in love.’

And, of course, it’s wonderful. We feel complete, happy, joyful, and

alive. We would give everything to our love and we discover so

much commonality and have so much fun.

Who wouldn’t want that?

But, there is a huge downside because being in love is a deeply

unconscious state.

In fact, it is so unconscious that the great Psychologist - Carl Jung - called it a “socially-condoned psychosis.”

All of us who have been in love know that we eventually fall out of

the enchantment and find ourselves wondering what went wrong.

Things were wonderful but now the passion of the first bloom has

wilted and we are left feeling disappointed and confused.

Despite all the ‘happy-ever-after’ messages that we have received

from popular music, from Hollywood films and from thousands of

romantic novels, we will eventually fall out of love.

It’s just what happens!

And, it’s painful, worrying even deeply disillusioning. But there is

a silver lining!

The spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, once asked the participants in a

group that he was running what they thought love really is. Most

members of the group had strong ideas. But, one man - an elderly

Japanese gentleman - remained silent. In the end, he couldn't keep

quiet and he began to talk about how, when he had gotten

married in Japan, his hope was that - by the time he died - he

would have learned something of what love really is.

This is a profound view and a life-time learning of what it means

to really love someone is central to the practice of Conscious


After the joy of being ‘in love’ comes the chance to learn about love that endures. And, a part of the road to becoming more conscious involves learning to open our hearts to this love - this kindness and compassion - not only towards our partner and our children but also towards ourselves. In a relationship, it comes across as a deep caring for the wellbeing and happiness of our partner - a caring and love that can last a lifetime!

And, we need this love because it’s hard for us to accept life as it

is - to accept that there are no perfect relationships, no perfect

partners, no perfect life - not for anyone.

In fact, life often does not live up to our fantasies and desires. We want things and we can’t afford them. We’re desperate for ‘me’ time but we have to go to work. We’re feeling depleted but our children

need us to take care of them. We wish were slimmer, fitter, better

looking, smarter, wealthier than we are. It is the nature of the

human condition to be at odds with things as they are - at least,

for much of the time.

And that applies to our relationship too!

You might want your man to be strong at a time when he is

struggling. You may want to make love more often than your

partner does. You might wish that your partner was more

romantic, that he or she earned more, that he or she was more

affectionate, or one of a thousand other things.

The reality is that – at this moment – your partner is exactly as he or she is. And, that can be hard to accept. But it is very important to do so because it’s the only reality there is!

It can also be hard for most couples to admit to themselves that

they have a problem and that they really could do with some


Resistance to reality runs deep and I find that, very often, people

choose to ignore their intuitive felt-sense - the background

discomfort - that is telling them that something is not quite right.

Take financial difficulties as an example. Most couples who have

gotten themselves into these difficulties, knew – somewhere deep

in themselves – long before they chose to do anything about it -

that something was wrong. And, they ignored it only to their later

deep regret.

The truth is that - even though it’s hard to face some parts of

reality - the sooner you do, the sooner you will be able to deal

with any of the problems that you might have.

Relationship counselling really helps with this.

Accepting challenges and learning to deal with these brings peace to your life.

Unfortunately, many relationships experience anything

but peace. A complaint that I hear from men over and over again

is: ’she’s always going on at me!’

These men feel that the women in their lives criticise them

relentlessly and they get very angry and tend to close down

emotionally or counter-attack.

So, let’s illustrate this with an everyday example in the life of Sue

and John.

They are in the middle of a fight:

Sue: ‘You can’t be serious! You want to go and cycle with your

mates again! You’re just so damned selfish. Look at all I do for

you and for our family and you want to leave me looking

after the kids again!’ It’s just not on!

John: ‘Listen, I work hard for us. I bring in most of the money for

this family. It’s important that I stay fit! Besides which, I

deserve some fun time with my mates.’

Sue: ‘Oh God! You're just a child! Who do you think looks

after the kids when you’re out playing on your bike! Why

don’t you put your big boy pants on for a change and take

your responsibilities as a father seriously?’

John: ‘Listen! I do my bit and maybe I’d be keener to stick around

if you weren’t criticising me all the time. You never recognise anything positive that I do!’

And so it goes on and on - each defending his or her position

with no resolution in sight.

Unfortunately, the problem is not going to be solved unless John

and Sue find out what’s really going on for them. And, they won’t

know what’s really going on unless they listen to each other very

carefully indeed.

Imagine that Sue and John did listen to each other - really listen -

they might well find something like the following:

• Both feel unappreciated and unloved.

• John feels that Sue doesn’t appreciate just how hard he works

to provide for the family.

• Sue feels that John doesn’t appreciate all the hard work that

she does for the family in addition to the fact that she also


• Sue is beginning to believe that John would rather spend time

with his mates than with her and this hurts her and makes her

feel unwanted and unappreciated as a woman.

• John feels shamed by Sue and he also feels that Sue doesn’t

appreciate just how important some ‘boys time’ really is.

• And, there may also be numerous other issues lying under the

surface – financial concerns, boundary issues, sexual issues,

and much else besides.

So, there is likely to be - a whole range of problems but the

problem that I want to focus on right now is John’s perception

that Sue is criticising him ‘all the time.’

Interestingly, scientific research on relationships sheds some light on why this is such a common complaint.

One of the most consistent findings of this research is that

women are far more likely to flag up problems in a relationship

than are men.

How often have I heard - in couples work - an interchange like the