Non-attached relating

Over the last few months I’ve been reflecting a lot on relating without attachment. I notice that the start of new love affairs is often very expansive: it opens up many possibilities for both of the lovers. I drew a diagram to illustrate this expansive quality:

Expansive non-attached love

This is one of the reasons we desire love and romance: when we open ourselves to another, we open ourselves more widely to the realm of possibilities and it feels fantastic.

If we are there because we seek this expansive space, then it follows logically that we wouldn’t want to do anything to limit or shut that space down. And yet this is often exactly what we do: through a combination of conditioning, fear and habit we ‘close’ the relationship and restrict our access to the realm of possibilities. This closing-down also has a shape – it looks like this:

Love with attachment

As my wonderful supervisor Kimaya pointed out, in romantic love we fear three things: rejection, abandonment and betrayal. Often our desire for attachment emerges from these fears: as we grow closer to the other and our fear of losing them intensifies, we seek ways to make the relationship secure. Yet it is precisely this ‘making safe’ that causes the relationship to close down and limits our access to the expansive possibilities that made it so exhilarating at the start.

One of the commonest ways in which I see this happen is when people limit each other’s actions out of fear. Often it is precisely the thing that drew us to the other that becomes a source of fear later. For example, we might have loved how open, free and flirtatious the other was when we were the focus of their attentions. Now we see them out at a party, flirting freely with others, and it freaks us out. What if they like someone else better than me? we wonder. And so we ask them to tone it down a bit rather than facing our fear of not being good enough. They agree because they want us to be happy, and either they start feeling trapped and tamed by the relationship, or they simply damp down that quality we liked so much to begin with.

This process of taming and domesticating something that is, in essence, wild and scary, is the birthplace of co-dependence. The more we focus our way of being in the relationship on making things OK for the other and not tending to our own needs, the more unhealthily entwined we become.

The alternative is more challenging but more desirable in the end. It’s ‘non-attached relating’, a way of being in connection with others that keeps us open and expansive rather than focussing us inwards and shutting things down. Looking back at the diagrams above, it is a way to stay in the first shape and not succumb to the temptation to move into the second, more closed one.

Non-attached relating is often misunderstood. People assume that it means being free and easy, keeping our options open and not making commitments. To me these are immature, pre-personal ways of relating that reflect a desire to be at the centre of one’s own world. By contrast, a commitment to non-attached relating reflect a desire to move through the personal, ego-led ways of relating into a transpersonal space of conscious and open connection. (For more on the difference between pre-personal, personal and transpersonal states, check out Ken Wilber’s amazing book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.)

Non-attached relating involves staying in our truth and communicating consciously around our needs, desires and boundaries rather than getting mired in the unhealthy intricacies of co-dependence. It is the meeting of two ‘I’s who want to connect deeply and openly, rather than the bound-together-ness of an unhappy ‘we’. It is a challenging path, for sure, and one which involves both of us really showing up for the relationship, even when we have something difficult or unpleasant to share. It’s a way of recognising that, however close we feel to someone, we still exist as an independent entity who needs to take care of him/herself at all times.

Ironically, from this space of non-attachment and being aware of our own needs we are much more likely to move through our ego-fears and into the transpersonal than we would ever manage in co-dependence. Because in co-dependence we are so rarely happy: by compromising ourselves so deeply for the sake of the relationship, neither of us ends up feeling much joy.

There is no need to change your preferred relationship structure to practice non-attached relating: it works just as well in monogamy as it does in polyamory. Naturally polyamory is a great place to explore non-attached relating, since sharing our lovers forces us again and again to challenge our attachment issues. This however doesn’t make it a superior relationship structure, since non-monogamy can support people to spread themselves thin as a way to avoid intimacy. No relationship structure is a guarantee of healthy, open, non-attached relating – this is something we have to choose to practice consciously by really showing up for each other in every moment.

But the principle applies just as much in monogamy: just because we choose to commit to one person sexually doesn’t mean that we need to allow our attachment to grow. In fact I encourage monogamous couples to negotiate just as much as poly couples might: for example, whether it’s OK to flirt with others, how much of this is appropriate and so on. Just because we choose not to be physically intimate with others doesn’t mean that we don’t ever connect with anyone but our partner. These negative assumptions (which amount to the idea that “you’re mine and I’m yours”) are a big factor in closing down the energy of a relationship and making it less and less expansive over time. By recognising that non-attached relating is just as important in monogamy, we can keep a connection open and vibrant even if we are choosing only to have sex with one person.

This is a huge subject, and I will be writing more on it in time. For now, I am getting clearer on the importance of challenging attachment as a way to keep any relationship open and vibrant.

This Friday Faerie leads a workshop on this theme in Prague. You can find out more about the workshop here; or if you prefer to explore this theme one to one, why not book a coaching session?


One comment

  • Sarah

    Beautiful xx

    May 25, 2013

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