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Recently, I spoke with a woman who told me a funny story about her marriage that got me thinking about spirituality and relationships.
Years earlier, she had started going to spiritual retreats by herself.
She’d hear empowering messages, experience states that nourished her soul, and learn practices to explore her spiritual life. After the retreat, she’d return home and tell her husband about everything she learned.
“It was wonderful! I learned all about…and I’m going to start practicing this…”
Finally, her husband blurted out, “Are you going to leave me?”
I’ve heard different flavors of this story dozens of times. One partner starts exploring their spiritual side and, instead of helping the relationship, it makes the other partner jealous, worried, frustrated, or even leads them to question the relationship’s bond.
Why is this?
Because as healthy as spirituality can be, it can still seem like a threat to your partner. My teachers often joke that someone’s spiritual practice is like a mistress because it receives your devotion, resources, and excitement.
If you’ve got a mistress (or a mister or a paramour), is it really that surprising if your partner gets uncomfortable?
Fortunately, we can walk your spiritual path and enjoy a healthy relationship, even if our partner isn’t into our specific practices.
If you are feeling emotional distance from your partner, please take these three steps to make sure your relationship doesn’t get ruined:
1. Call out the issue.
Don’t avoid how your spiritual practice is causing a rift in your relationship. Sit with your partner and say something like the following:
“I hear you that I seem more distant. Please understand that I’m spending more time alone with my spiritual practice to improve myself so that I can be a better friend/lover/partner for you. One of the main reasons I’m doing this is to help me be fully present with you when we spend time together.”
Pay close attention to your partner’s answer.
If they express appreciation, that’s great. If they express skepticism or bring up an objection, that’s also great. Why? Because they’re engaged and showing concern for your connection. Acknowledge their concern without getting defensive. Repeat that your spiritual path will help you to be a better and more loving partner.
Get specific about how (when you’re together) you’ll be fully present with your partner. Have a conversation where you both decide what that could look like.
2. Be honest with yourself.
Be honest about how you treat your partner. Since you began exploring your spirituality, have you started criticizing your partner more? Are you dwelling on how they fall short when it comes to inner work? If so, please stop. You can’t be their lover and teacher at the same time.
If they genuinely want to learn, they must have a teacher outside of your relationship. If they don’t want to learn, you must accept that. Trying to convince them will only drive you apart and build resentment.
3. Consider if breaking up is the better option.
Sometimes, as someone in a relationship opens their heart or gets more emotionally grounded, they grow distant from their partner because the relationship is meant to die.
It’s only natural to want support in our spiritual walk. However, that doesn’t mean you can demand your partner’s blind obedience to whatever spiritual path you’re pursuing. At the same time, you shouldn’t tolerate your partner condemning your efforts.
How can you tell if you should leave? Find out whether your partner doesn’t believe in spirituality or doesn’t believe in you. To do this, say something along these lines to your partner:
“I understand you’re skeptical about what I’m doing, and you might even think it’s a waste of my time. But let me ask you, even if you are skeptical of me benefiting from my practice, do you support me taking time and effort to work on myself and develop myself spiritually? And do you support me discovering for myself what practices are worth my time and effort?”
The microsecond after you ask these questions might be one of the most important in your relationship.
Listen to what your partner says. Watch their facial expression. Ideally, the first word that spills from their mouth will be, “Yes.” If not, or if they roll their eyes, you’ve got a problem. Not an oh we’ve got some things to work on problem but an I think it’s time we break up problem.
By not saying yes, your partner is admitting they don’t support you working on yourself and discovering what helps you thrive.
If you read your relationship tea leaves accurately and see that it’s time to move on, remind yourself that you didn’t fail—solitude is a universal stage of every spiritual walk.
If you decide to stay together but need to make some changes, please remind yourself of these three things:
>> Hold yourself accountable first.
>> Repeat to your partner that your spiritual walk will help you be more loving in your relationship.
>> Save your spiritual lessons for yourself and your growth.
The bedrocks of a healthy relationship don’t require sharing a spiritual path or practice.
When you realize you can support, love, and encourage each other, you’ll see you don’t need to grow apart—wherever your spiritual path takes you.