The other day one of my buddies inboxed me with a question about finding balance with a partner whose life experience, core values and worldview is very different from theirs. Obviously the details of our discussion remain between us, but the principles I shared on the subject are for everyone.
What does a healthy and balanced relationship look like?
Well in order to answer that question we have to start with what a relationship is. A relationship is a system of interactions that emerges once an intuitive connection, that is, a symbiotic bond forms between two parties.
A relationship is a type of life form. For all intents and purposes it’s like a baby that has to be protected and nurtured to adulthood. Principally (or “spiritually”, if that’s what you wanna call it) bonding with someone is no different from physically bonding with them in the sense that unions bear offspring.
The easiest way to describe this system of interactions is as an autonomous and growing body of rituals that both parties perform in service to each other, which is born from appreciation, vulnerability, communication, honesty, humility, observation and conscientiousness. In practice these things ultimately lead to trust and adoration.
See, a relationship isn’t just the feeling of excitement you experience in and around the courtship phase, nor is it cohabitating, or the excitement you feel whenever you’re hooking up with someone exclusively or semi-exclusively. In reality a relationship is a body of rituals that people perform in efforts to take care of each other and themselves as extensions of each other.
Okay, so think about it like this…
You perform rituals to care for yourself everyday. These rituals include things like bathing, brushing your teeth and grooming your hair. If you care for yourself properly then you’re mindful of the food, substances and entertainment you consume, and you also try to exercise regularly and stay hydrated, etc.
A relationship is just like that, but the focus of effort isn’t solely on you, it’s divided between you and another person — one who splits their focus between themselves and you.
Instead of thinking, saying, feeling “Here’s what I need for ME to feel good and be happy” it’s more like “Here’s what needs to happen in order for US to keep working and advancing as a unit towards happiness, fulfillment, security and sustainability.”
When a mutually symbiotic connection forms between you and another person they become an extension of your true self. In this sense, taking care of them is fundamentally no different from taking care of you and vice versa.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky though…
In a healthy relationship your focus shouldn’t be on the other party specifically, but instead on mapping out and maintaining the system of interactions between you, that is, the system of rituals you create and observe in efforts to care for one another. You’re supposed to nurture, build up and build out this system of rituals so that once the system matures to autonomy it can take care of and provide for both parties.
Again, a relationship is a living, sentient being. If both people focus on maintaining balance within the relationship then the system of rituals will mature and ultimately make both of their lives easier and more fulfilling as it continues to evolve.
Skipping ahead a bit here, but the most important reason to focus on the system of interactions as opposed to focusing on your mate directly is because relationships only work if they’re based on mutualism. When one party performs acts of service and/or creates and maintains rituals that serve to protect, preserve and provide for the other all by themselves (which is what happens in narcissistic-abusive relationships, which we’ll get into shortly) it’s called “codependence”, not bonding. The main difference between bonding and codependence is that codependence is addictive and compulsory, whereas bonding is free and voluntary. Being addicted to someone’s acknowledgement and approval is very different from developing a real emotional connection with them — one in which you experience true feelings of empowerment, security and acceptance.
What humans call “love” is really just the feeling of empowerment, security and acceptance that people feel towards and because of one another. It’s like a safe space that both parties can retreat into and find healing and empowerment within regardless of where they are in proximity to each other. This safe space individuals perceive in each other is born from people’s commitment to honoring and enhancing the living system of care habits (rituals) between them.
Ultimately, through the process of people learning each other, and consciously constructing and maintaining systems of rituals to care for one another, people come to associate each other with safety, sustenance, assuredness and empowerment.
This is what being in love means…
“Together, you and I form a space that I feel safe, happy and truly empowered within. Regardless of how your physiology changes, or the highs and lows we experience as individuals or together, this space of trust we’ve built will remain flourishing and intact.”
So let’s liken all of this to a garden, right…
Let’s say you like cucumbers and radishes, but your mate loves sunflowers and tomatoes. Let’s say that there’s one hose between the two of you and about an acre of land to cover.
If you bogart the hose trying to water your cucumbers and radishes then your mate’s sunflowers and tomatoes will die, and vice versa.
If however, both of you view the space as “our garden”, that is, as opposed to “my cucumbers and radishes” and “their sunflowers and tomatoes”, and protecting and providing for your mate’s crops are just as important to you as protecting and providing for your own (and vice versa), then nobody’s thinking exclusively in terms of self interest.
This means that you take turns feeding and watering each other’s crops. When you see weeds growing on their blindside you pluck them without even being asked to. In fact, in order for your shared space to flourish, both you and your mate have to actively search for weeds to pluck, and be on the look out for pests, and learn all about each other’s crop requirements so that you’re completely up to speed and prepared to jump in when or if you’re needed. Both of you have to be just as concerned with the other’s harvest as you are with your own.
As you continue to do this, that is, as you continue to build up, protect and provide for the shared space, you eventually get creative and come up with new solutions, and new ways to distribute water, labor and efforts.
The more the shared space produces is the more you can diversify, which ultimately yields dividends that you can invest back into the space. With teamwork and proper planning you can get a divider for the spigot, and attach an extra hose with extensions and extra heads, so that with minimal effort the water can reach all parts of the garden as you continue to expand it.
This is how a relationship SHOULD work…
Relationships are supposed to be a voluntary and equitable distribution of effort, interest and concern for each other’s experience, advancement and wellbeing. A relationship is what you call it when two people carry the bricks, study the blueprints and divide the workload so that they can build a sustainable structure together.
Enter narcissism: the parasitic mind state; the thief of potential, and reason for why most relationships fail.
Narcissism (also called the parasitic mind state) is lazy, entitled, selfish, and born from a rotten attitude and outlook on life.
Basically, bad things happen to people in life, but instead of learning from bad experiences and resolving within themselves to stop bad things from happening to others, many people enter into the parasitic mind state — that is, they internalize the feelings of loss and powerlessness they experience, and then decide to use their experiences as justifications to perpetuate badness (selfishness and cruelty) in the world, by empowering themselves at other people’s expense and/or to the detriment of others.
That’s narcissism in a nutshell… “I rejoice in making others small so that I can feel big. I’ve allowed bad experiences to make me bitter, judgmental and mean spirited, hyper-competitive, greedy and self-absorbed.”
It’s not complicated or difficult to understand. It’s really that simple.
The parasitic mind runs on zero sum thinking. It doesn’t want to learn, or to develop and perform rituals or acts of service for others, it only wants to be served and to live and benefit at the expense of everything around it. The parasitic mind lacks intuitive awareness and thus doesn’t understand mutualism as a concept. It instead desires to acquire, enslave, dominate, manipulate and control, compete against, and indulge and gratify itself at the expense of others.
Sticking with the gardening analogy, a narcissist in that situation wouldn’t only try to hog the water for themselves, they’d try to lull their partner into a false sense of security so that ultimately they could steal or destroy their partner’s crop and damage their partner in the process. The parasitic (scarcity) mind state sees everything in terms of acquisition and loss — in terms of winning and losing. In narcissists’ minds all that should exist when the dust settles is them and who or whatever they’re exploiting in the moment. Narcissists have no interest in forming or maintaining healthy connections that serve to benefit, protect or advance anything, as they do not care about longevity, only temporary satisfaction.
Parasitism is a symbiotic non mutual relationship between species, individuals or groups in which one party, the parasite or “master” seeks to live and benefit at the expense of another or others, the hosts or “slaves”.
In parasitic-abusive bonds there is no mutualism. Instead, the [presumed] “slave” party is expected to create and maintain bodies of rituals that revolve around the [presumed] “master’s” benefit, wants and needs.
Simply put, most people can’t find happiness because most people are highly narcissistic, and as such tend to think, behave and assign priority to things parasitically.
Narcissism is a spectrum between predatory and codependent exploitation. Narcissists do not see others as people, but instead as objects to gratify and amuse themselves with. Codependent narcissists are attracted to predatory (aggressive, competitive, abusive) narcissists, and predatory narcissists are attracted to codependent (submissive, docile) narcissists.
Codependent narcissists exploit predatory narcissists for (often false) feelings of security, while predatory narcissists exploit codependent narcissists for pretty much everything else — which basically sums to security in their minds. It’s like “This is a thing I can use to make or keep myself safe with.”
This means a narcissist doesn’t experience natural love. They don’t experience true feelings of safety and empowerment that come from forming symbiotic unions with others, but instead experience infatuation: a fleeting feeling of excitement they develop and direct towards ideas they manufacture about and project onto people — which are really just illusions that shatter the very second the reality of their love interests, that is, the work, patience, understanding and adaptation required to care for and advance them sets in.
Narcissists are entitled and mentally and emotionally lazy. They steal power and potential away from others instead of doing essential work to build true power for themselves, or create safe and sustainable spaces in which empowerment and potential can flow freely.
It’s mechanically impossible to have healthy relationships with anyone stuck in the parasitic mind state. This is because all attempts narcissists make to form healthy bonds ultimately deteriorate and devolve into power struggles. Attempts narcissists make at relationships pretty much always result in various forms of narcissistic abuse, e.g., physical, verbal, emotional, situational or monetary violence, infidelity, etc.
Just think of narcissists like vacuums. They suck the life and potential out of everything they come in contact with. In static (balanced) spaces, large vacuums will suck all of the energy and potential in one direction. In spaces with two vacuums (e.g., in narcissistic-abusive relationships during the honeymoon phase), vacuums can create an illusion of temperance, that is, up until dominance is established between the two vacuums, at which point the more powerful vacuum tends to enslave the weaker.
Here’s an easy way to put everything I just said into perspective though…
Life is messy. In healthy bonds both parties try to understand and help each other clean up and manage all the messes life brings to their doorstep. Instead of cleaning up messes and trying to create safe, healthy, empowering and restorative spaces though, narcissists create even bigger messes and destroy people and things everywhere they go, just rushing to benefit, entertain and advance themselves.
Which brings us to the question of how to have a healthy relationship in modern society…
Let’s face it, most people living today are highly narcissistic. From endless campaigns to promote themselves and lifestyles on social media platforms, all the way to the envy, rage and hyper-competitiveness that most people just hemorrhage into the world around them, this species is almost inconceivably corrupt. Everything in the modern world is about self-worship, self-promotion, self-benefit, self-justification and self-indulgence. If you’re not thinking about how to benefit yourself at other peoples’ expense then you’re considered weak, ignorant and naive.
So how do you get people to think in terms of “we” in a world where everything’s all about “me”? If most people are highly narcissistic then how is it possible to form healthy symbiotic unions with anyone?
The answer to this question is ironic because in order to have healthy relationships people need to first escape the parasitic mind state. What makes the answer ironic is that building and honoring systems of rituals dedicated to protecting, preserving, caring for and advancing others necessarily pushes you out of exploitive thinking. In other words, the more you focus on creating and honoring rituals that serve to protect and promote healthy bonds is the more you begin to think and perform above the level of self-interest in general.
Doing the work of being good to and cognizant of others heals the mind from trauma (the phobia of disempowerment), or at the very least does a great deal to get you started down that path. You become happier the more you decide to create real happiness for others. You stop being depressed the more you stop being a source of depression to others. Etc, etc…
Added to this, because the effects of pleasure are exponentially enhanced by/with/through sympathetic experience, as you continue to develop and refine the system of rituals you create to care for your mate, you start to get a great sense of joy and satisfaction out of being good to them. The paradigm shifts from things you HAVE to do in order to make sure they’re okay, to things you GET to do to express your love for them.
For instance, mastering the ability to please your partner during sex makes sex exponentially more pleasurable for you. You cum faster and harder when you make them cum faster and harder, because their excitement enhances your own. Even the meals you cook taste better when your partner is thoroughly pleased by them. When you fall in love with becoming a space of security and empowerment for your mate you unwittingly unlock parts of you that you don’t even realize are hidden when you’re in the parasitic mind state.
Life is lighter, sex is brighter, food tastes better — everything just levels up when you’re not the focus of everything.
So what does a realistic system of rituals look like?
Well in order to build a successful union it begins with communication and really paying attention to each other’s habits, wants and needs. You’ve gotta observe your partner carefully and take notes on what their life experience entails, in addition to what society demands from them. What are their physical, mental and emotional requirements, and how do the demands their social circumstances place on them sap them of strength and energy in these areas? Where are they lacking and how do you shore them up?
It starts as a list of questions you’re constantly asking yourself pertaining to your mate’s state and condition, and gradually turns into an intuitive feel you get for their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Just imagine your partner is a vehicle whose instrument cluster panel short-circuits every now and again. For y’all who don’t know, an instrument cluster panel is the portion of the dashboard that tells you things like how much fuel you have, the oil level and condition, trip miles, tire pressure and what not…
Just like an instrument cluster panel, your mate is expected to inform you of their general state and condition. Rule of thumb is to consult the panel first. Sometimes though, the panel can short out on you and leave you guessing. So you have to develop a sense of awareness for how the vehicle performs and be cognizant of the amount and type of wear that gets placed on it.
This means you have to get out and inspect the tires, and make sure you fuel it and change the oil regularly — even if the sensor on the tank reads half full and the oil is at 22%. You have to wash it and check it for rust spots, etc. Simply put, just like a vehicle, you have to be conscientious about your mate’s overall life experience and needs.
Again, it should all start with you both communicating your respective values, wants and needs to each other, and then gradually transition into a shared sense of awareness for each other.
In addition to this, you also have to be aware of what type of things you shouldn’t put on each other. Like, you don’t want to use your mate as an emotional dumping ground — as someone you just release all of your fears, frustrations and negativity into, as this is a form of narcissistic abuse.
Many of the rituals you should perform for your mate have to do with self care. Like, you should be concerned with how you present yourself to them. Just as you’d clean and beautify your body to present yourself to them you should also be in the habit of cleansing and beautifying your mind. Instead of bottling up negative emotions and exploding all over your mate, you’ll want to take time to process and articulate your thoughts, feelings and experiences so that you don’t dump everything in them like they’re your personal landfill. Clean your body with soap and water, and clean your mind with honesty, self-reflection and possibly even journalling, meditation and therapy.
But while we’re on the subject of being mindful about what you pour into your mate, I want to touch on the most important care ritual that should be part of every union — and that is affirmation. The key to building trust is comprised of two parts, 1: honoring your commitments to them, and 2: placing trust in them and assuring them of it.
In many modern relationships, casually putting down mates, and/or finding ways to disparage, undermine and devalue partners is quite common. This is a staple of narcissistic relationships called the devaluation stage. It’s a cancer that kills all potential for love. People literally speak failure and uncertainty into their partners, and in the process of doing so train themselves to distrust and dishonor their mates through repetition. How many times can you accuse someone of being inept before you start to believe it, and they unconsciously start to respond to your expectation of failure from them?
You’re supposed to speak life, promise and power into your mate. You’re supposed to give them assurance and positive reinforcement, and push them to excellence by expecting greatness from them. During times of individual or shared struggles and uncertainty, you’re supposed to be like “I’m not even worried right now because I know you’ve got this. I’ve witnessed you power through worse before, and I trust you to carry us through now. I’m with you because I know you’re great and for no other reason. I know you’re not going to let me down — I know you’re not going to let US down. Crush it with me baby. It’s you and me. I’m right here, let’s go!”
It’s your job to make sure your mate feels valued and seen because the world is full of people who are itching to make them feel valued and seen, if for no other reason than to acquire and exploit them, as this is just how the parasitic mind works.
If you make sure your mate gets attention then they’re not going to be so starved for attention that other people have easy access to them. If you make sure your mate is sexually satisfied then they’re not going to be so hard up for satisfaction that other people have easy access to them. If you make sure your mate feels valued and wanted then they’re not going to be easy prey when someone steps up and shows them that they have value and are wanted.
This is the power of the system of rituals. If both you and your mate are performing proper maintenance and care on your relationship, and each other by proxy of the relationship, then it will flourish. If however you focus solely on yourself, or conversely, focus exclusively on pleasing your mate with no expectation of mutualism, or without setting clear boundaries for what you’re unwilling to do without reciprocity, and the relationship will inevitably fail.
So in application, the observation (awareness) part of it would go something like: “When we don’t have sex at least 3 times a week and/or I don’t initiate sex with them I notice that they start getting triggered easily and snippy with people. Whenever they’re experiencing physical pain or distress they get aggressive and short-tempered. Are they in pain? If so, why and what can be done to offset or counteract it? What’s their diet like and how often do they consume or even have access to foods that are good for them? Have I spoken life and positive affirmations into them today? When’s the last time I encouraged them and remarked on their exceptional qualities and empowered them to shore up areas they can be stronger in? How’s their emotional state right now? When’s the last time we talked to them to just see how we’re both doing and make sure we’re still on the same page? Have I asked them if there’s anything I can help with them with lately, and what am I doing to assure them that they can rely on me in a pinch and that I can help them solve problems even if those problems are outside my realm of experience? How am I helping this person advance, heal and feel safe?”
Him: “What’s on the docket this week? What are you trying to get done and how can I help? Hey, I’ve got dinner this week since I know you’re working on that project, so just let me know what you want and I’ve got you. You already know I’m an introvert and I don’t like social gatherings, but I know these events coming up are important to you so I’m going to be there, and be present and in the moment for you. Etc…”
Her: “Thanks, and at the events we’ll try and keep things within a reasonable timeframe so that your social battery doesn’t die on you mid-event. Also, thanks for getting dinner this week — you already know I’ll make it up to you on the backend. Also, I’ve been dying to give you that gwop-gwop 3020 because I love seeing you move free and easy out here. If there’s anything I can help you with let me know. Etc…”
When you actually think about how your attitude and behavior affects other people, and you realize that making people happy is a privilege you get to experience, and that a significant portion of your own happiness is hidden away in others, and that to access it you first have to unlock their happiness, it all comes into plain view.
When you live for yourself you’re pretty much always the greatest contributor to your own misery and suffering. When you build habits around being good to and present for others your overall happiness in life skyrockets.