Stephanie Red Feather
Shadow Speak
What Keeps A
Relationship Alive?

This article is inspired by six women who just completed their nine-month journey through the Priestess Process. From different walks of life and representing great diversity, these women came together, bonded strongly and care deeply for one another.

Little girl and boyThey have shared how important it is to them to continue getting together and supporting one another now that the process is complete. That got me thinking about the many different circles I've participated in. Over the years, I've built bonds with numerous people as I engaged in a wide variety of intensives and trainings. But, sadly, those bonds aren't permanent. As we completed our process and went our separate ways, many of the connections died. 

The key I've learned from observation and experience is that in order to build and maintain a relationship, you must be willing to keep investing energy into it. This goes for friendships newly forged as well as marriages that are 30 years in.

Something I learned when I went through the Priestess Process in 2005 made all the difference in how I handled the dissolution of my then marriage. We knew the relationship was on the rocks and I made the decision that, whether we stayed married or got divorced, from that moment forward I wanted to be honest and authentic in all of our conversations. No walking on egg shells, no trying to avoid hurting the other person. Let's just tell it like it is because if our relationship has any chance of being rebuilt, I wanted it to be rebuilt on truth and honesty.

And something amazing happened. Though we chose in the end to get divorced, the next couple of months were actually the closest we had felt in a long time. Why? Because we were investing energy in the relationship! Real energy, not fake, "How was your day honey?" kind of half-hearted attempt. We told each other hard truths. We shared what we needed and where we felt let down. We told each other our dreams and goals. We cried when it hurt and expressed ourselves when we were angry. We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

Being real means taking off the mask. Anger exists, and it is not bad. Our emotions are a dead-on accurate navigation system.

In her research, author Brene Brown concluded that vulnerability is the first thing I want to see in you and the last thing I want you to see in me. "Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me," she wrote in Daring Greatly. "I'm drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine." Boy isn't that the truth.

But vulnerability is what it takes to keep a relationship alive and thriving.

These women I just facilitated came together multiple times over a nine-month period. During their time together they exposed themselves, sharing their fears, insecurities, disappointments and dreams. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable. They practiced new ways of being in front of each other. And each time someone shared from an authentic place, something else amazing happened. The women actually loved, respected and honored each other more! What they feared the most by sharing so deeply (rejection, being unlovable, being alone) actually created the opposite effect.

Another important aspect of forging strong bonds is being real. It's an overused term, so let me be clear what I mean. Relationship is not just about sharing the easy and fun stuff. A relationship isn't truly tested until there is a misunderstanding, projection, regression, disagreement or some kind of tension to work through. Especially in spiritual circles we can unconsciously fall into "spiritual bypass" where we avoid or ignore the "lower emotions." Well, let me just be blunt: Emotions are not good or bad! They just are. I don't like to think of them as lower emotions because there is a negative connotation implied and we have all experienced enough invalidation of our pain, insecurities, feelings and woundings. Being real means taking off the mask. Anger exists, and it is not bad. Our emotions are a dead-on accurate navigation system. Pretending that everything is great and suppressing our authentic truth only serves to build pressure in the cooker that will — make no mistake — eventually explode. Our emotions register in our body and if we have the courage to acknowledge and feel them, we will always have an accurate compass in our reaction to any circumstance. The next step is to then share this truth as needed in our relationship.

While this article is not meant to exhaustively identify every quality needed to build and sustain a deep connection in a relationship, I can't finish without talking about co-dependence. It is a silent killer of relationships. It certainly was in my first marriage. Co-dependence will keep you from being vulnerable and will certainly keep your truth-telling in check. I didn't have the courage to own my feelings, say what I felt and be honest in my first marriage. Whenever I had something to say that I thought my upset my then husband, or add too much to his plate, I would either milk-toast it down and sand any rough edges off before I delivered the message, or I would just refrain from sharing altogether. I called it compassion.

Arm and arm

So in order to keep investing in a relationship, it means you have to let go of the need to control the other person's reaction. It requires trust. Trust that the other person can handle it, trust in the foundation of the relationship and trust in yourself. It's not your responsibility to make everything OK for the other person (that's co-dependence!). It is your responsibility to be measured and thoughtful (meaning you don't just knee-jerk vomit on them every feeling or reaction you have every time you have one). In the end you can only control you.

So in loving encouragement to my newly emerged circle of priestesses, as well as to all of us, I encourage you to keep investing in the relationships that are meaningful to you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, tell the truth, be real and check your co-dependence. Take the initiative where needed. Call up someone you haven't connected with in awhile that you miss. The quality and depth of your relationships is directly proportional to the degree of authenticity and vulnerability you show up with.

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