A Whole New Perspective on Relationships

{Photo Credit :: observando.net}

{Photo Credit :: observando.net}

Every once in a while something happens — you hear something, you read something, you think something — and boom your perspective irrevocably shifts. I had one of those moments last weekend during teacher training when we listened to Ajahn Amaro’s (a Buddhist monk) Dharma Talk about relationships and sexuality.

For the two weeks prior, we had been studying Brahmacharya (which is often translated to mean “celibacy”) and even though I had blogged about Ahimsa, Satya, and Asteya, I was pretty sure that there would be no blog post on this topic. Sex and sexuality are perhaps my least favorite subjects to discuss, and it didn’t help that most of the reading I was doing about Bramacharya wasn’t hitting home.  To be so focused on the physical act of sex (or no sex, as the case may be), seemed … like it was somehow missing the point.

{I’ll give you a hint: it was totally missing the point.}

Amaro talked about relationships and sexuality from a very different perspective. He wasn’t so concerned about the physical act of sex, but rather the quality of wholeness. He provided a helpful framework for understanding relationships (ie, how we connect with other human beings): relationships, he explained, are one of two types, either (1) Relationships of Separateness, or (2) Relationships of Wholeness.

Relationships of Separateness

In a Relationship of Separateness, there is a rigid “me/you” structure, where we are looking to the relationship as a way to make ourselves complete. We come in with a sense of expectation, of desire, and we look to the other person as someone who will fulfill us. When they inevitably disappoint, or annoy, or fail to make us feel good (because, after all, they are human), we grip tighter, we get closer, we try harder. But it is impossible for any other human being to satisfy us all the time, so we end up feeling alienated, lost, like there is an important piece missing.

Relationships of Wholeness

On the other hand, in a Relationship of Wholeness, we let go of the expectations and desires, and we come into the relationship trusting that we are already whole and complete. Our own happiness and security is not dependent on anyone other than ourselves. The relationship is based on respect, kindness, and appreciation, but we do not solidify our view of the other person or try to change them in any way. We are so secure in ourselves that we can let go completely (which is, as Amaro points out, ironically a really attractive quality in a person).

So where does this leave us?

Amaro wasn’t speaking about Bramacharya per se, however, his Dharma Talk about relationships and sexuality informs my view of this Yama more than anything else I have encountered. I now believe: It’s not about sex.  You can be having sex and feel alienated. Or you can be celibate and feel separated. Likewise, you can be having sex and feel whole. Or be celibate and feel free. As Amaro says: the question isn’t “are you having sex?” but rather “what is the quality of wholeness and freedom?” Now that is a Yama I can get behind.

And on a more global scale, this teacher training moment stands out as being particularly life altering. Yet again, my mind has been blown by an entirely new way of looking at something that is so basic — how I relate to other human beings. While I am still absorbing, interpreting, and making sense of this new approach to relationships, already I notice changes in my thought patterns. Nothing that I can articulate just yet, but enough to feel excited … really excited for what is to come.


  1. Thank you! I found this really helpful.

    1. I’m so glad. Thanks for your comment! xo

  2. This was exactly what I needed tonight, and I referenced your post in my blog (http://wp.me/p2UcB9-4g). I love yoga and plan to start teacher training myself in the next year or so. Thanks for your blog, I always enjoy reading your posts.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and leave this comment. <3 Teacher training is a big endeavor, but if you're even slightly considering it, there is probably a reason…. I would encourage you to listen to the call and go for it! It's quite the ride… :)

  3. i love the notion of relationships of wholeness. when i think about my most successful relationships, they are always the ones where i felt self-sufficient and confident. usually this is because i’d just left a relationship where that wasn’t the case and i’d given myself time necessary to gather myself up before getting into another.

    in fact, the relationship i’m in now (17 years strong) started that way. before we started dating i decided i wouldn’t get into a relationship with anyone who didn’t treat me as well as my closest girlfriends or myself. period, you either in the fan club or not. i felt worthy and that sent a message to the universe that i needed someone who could do that and also be that for themselves.

    our relationship is really a third party. it starts with a whole me, a whole him and a whole us. it works!

    basically this is spot on: we are already whole and complete. Our own happiness and security is not dependent on anyone other than ourselves. The relationship is based on respect, kindness, and appreciation, but we do not solidify our view of the other person or try to change them in any way. We are so secure in ourselves that we can let go completely (which is, as Amaro points out, ironically a really attractive quality in a person).

    1. Tami, I love the idea of your relationship being a “third party,” separate, but connected to whole you/whole him. And 17 years- wow, I’d say that your methods are definitely working! :) Thanks for sharing. <3

  4. You always distill what we learned in class into perfect clarity! I am so glad you shared this! I want to use your blog post as a reference!

    1. Thanks Holly! All that practice briefing cases in law school comes in handy every once in a while. :)

  5. there is only one of us here……

  6. I am really struggling with internalizing this lesson. I get it, and I like it, but I’m stuck because of an infuriatingly simple problem: people like to be liked by other people. In a sense, we are all incomplete, looking for wholeness in external validation. Even the most at peace and whole Yoga instructors have their identity of wholeness affirmed by an external source. And even if that statement can be disputed, at some level a “whole” person is still a person looking for social inclusion. We are social animals. So I can choose not to search for completeness in someone else, but I will still feel sad when someone else decides that I am not desirable. I cannot really imagine how to ease that feeling of sadness. Thoughts?

    1. Thanks so much for your comment and please accept my deep apologies for my very delayed response. I agree completely – we do like to be liked, and it’s really sad/hurts when people don’t feel the way we want them to feel about us. I’m not sure that that those feelings necessarily go away, but maybe we learn to focus our attention elsewhere?

      This passage from Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg comes to mind: “The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention. Do we, in the midst of water, look for something elsewhere to drink? Transformation comes from looking deeply within, to a state that exists before fear and isolation arise, the state in which we are inviolably whole just as we are. We connect to ourselves, to our own true experience, and discover that to be alive means to be whole.”

      This feels pretty true for me right now, but I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers…! :)

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