This is an excerpt from Lair Torrent’s new book, The Practice of Love, Break Old Patterns, Rebuild Trust and Create a Connection That Lasts. Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield.
The Spiritual Nature of Relationships
There is a spiritual aspect to romantic relationships that can be accessed through the healing properties of choosing. Choosing is a liniment to our oldest injuries. When we choose our partners and they, in turn, choose us, we receive the message that we are loved, that we are safe, that we matter and are enough. Answering these questions through choosing helps to catalyze healing on a soul level because healing like this brings us closer to wholeness. When our wounded parts finally get the love and sustenance they have been seeking many will come back to the fold of the self. Now our protective parts can stand down because we have at last had our deepest needs met. While it is true that these parts of self may always be with us at some level, we will be less reactive because we have become a more integrated, more unified being. Now we are able to spend more of our time in our higher consciousness, the wise or healthy self. Here there is more ease in life. Less rocked by our fear, anxiety, depression, or anger, we experience more internal harmony and inner peace.
I know some therapists who don’t include spirituality in their work. They will sit and listen to what a client believes, but their duties seem to stop at the energetic, religious, and or meta-physical door. In my training, I was taught that what affords us deeper meaning has to be integrated into the work of therapy. We have to treat clients from a mind, body, and spirit perspective if we are to treat them holistically. It is incumbent upon us as practitioners to be able to speak to those spiritual aspects with some authority, or at the very least be able to resource clients within those facets. It is vital to be able to discuss with clients that which brings them “something more” to their lives. One of my greatest teachers as a clinician and in my life has been Julie Winter. Julie is the author of the book, Dancing Home, and cofounder of the Helix Training Program. Julie says, “Spiritual awareness adds a crucial element to life. It enhances the depth of consciousness, brings an opening to joy and the experiences of compassion, mindfulness, and the power of living as an active co-creator with Spirit. A relationship with Spirit taps open the gateway to the sacred nature of the ordinary.”15
There are experiences in life that offer us value and significance beyond the physical act of performing them. A walk in the woods, for example, can be considered nothing particularly special, or it can be inspirational if one were open to seeing it that way. Author Lou Kavar in his book, The Integrated Self: A Holistic Approach to Spirituality and Mental Health Practice, offers that spirituality is evident “when working is transformed from routine and drudgery to something meaningful” that the spiritual dimension is accessed, “when the tedium of hobbies like gardening or needlepoint are experienced as valuable and enjoyable” or “when pain, as in childbirth is a source of joy; when physical exhaustion from dancing at someone’s wedding or from exercise and bodybuilding become purposeful because there is something more than just exhaustion taking place.” He says we find meaning and purpose that reaches into this realm when, “cultural customs, foods, and icons take on particular value as national anthems, the raising of a flag, singing a Christmas Carol, or gathering for a holiday meal become something more than songs or routine habits.”16 I see spirituality made manifest in the Broadway dancers in my practice who leap and jump across the stage in what can only be described as a transcendent experience, inspired by something supernatural. In this place, a dance is not simply someone flailing their bodies about, a song is not merely a mob of words set to music, and a flag is not just some colorful cloth. This is a place where the every day is anointed with meaning. This is the space where magic happens, and our relationships can live here too.
My wife has been my constant guide and teacher in all things mystical. She lives in a world of meaning, purpose, and magic. Once when I cynically questioned her other-worldly experiences, she said, “If I have the choice whether to live a life in magic or a life in the mundane, I choose magic.” For her, all things hold the possibility of deeper significance; nothing happens without reason; there is no such thing as coincidence.
I know there is something more, something that lives beyond our physical world when I am on my surfboard, as I open my heart center to the vastness of the ocean and of the universe. I experience deeper meaning through the vulnerability I feel when I hug or play with my children, and when I touch into the sacredness of two souls connecting when I choose Ashley.
Poet, philosopher, and scholar John O’Donohue’s words were ever-present in my training as a therapist. One of my first supervisors and mentors, Elena Hull, was a friend and mentee of O’Donohue’s. An extremely gifted clinician and teacher, she seamlessly blended O’Donohue’s work, the importance of the divine and of the spiritual in life and into the therapy room. In his book, Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom, O’Donohue wrote, “When you learn to love and to let yourself be loved, you come home to the hearth of your own spirit. You are warm and sheltered. You are completely at one in the house of your own longing and belonging. In that growth and homecoming is the unlooked-for bonus in the act of loving another. Love begins with paying attention to others, with an act of gracious self-forgetting. This is the condition in which we grow. Once the soul awakens, the search begins, and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment.”17
Indeed there is a spiritual aspect to loving our partners, and the practice of choosing connects us to that experience. However, in order for us to tap into this realm, doing and saying the things that comprise our partner’s love languages cannot be perfunctory. That would relegate us to, as O’Donohue put it, “linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment.”
As I said, when I tell clients about the practice of choosing, they very often bring up The 5 Love Languages. Those same clients are often unable to remember if their partners are a 1,4, a 5, or a 2,3. What makes us feel loved and chosen cannot be a punch list of things to do that sit next to walking the dog, taking out the trash, and bathing the kids. The practice of choosing requires us to love our partners with intentionality, to imbue each act of choosing with kindness, compassion, concern, and reverence for the one we love. In short, choosing in this way asks that we assign significance and meaning to whatever we do that speaks to our partner’s heart. For me, this is the stuff that inspires the movies, poems, and songs that move us, and this is the essence of romantic love. Whatever is given from the heart comes from the soul, and in this way, choosing our partners becomes a spiritual practice that holds us, heals us, and binds us together on our journey toward a heart-centered connection.
Let this be fair warning; there is much at stake with respect to the practice of choosing. We can pick either a life where we dare to love wholeheartedly or a life of banal contrivance; a life lived in the mundane or a life lived in magic.
- Simon Senik, “HOW TO MAKE AN IMPACT,” Interview by Tom Bilyeu, Motivation2Study, YouTube, Nov 21, 2017, 3:36,
- “Oxytocin.” Psychology Today.
- “‘Love Hormone’ Is Two-faced: Oxytocin Strengthens Bad Memories and Can Increase Fear and Anxiety.” ScienceDaily. July 22, 2013.
- “Oxytocin: The Love Hormone?” Medical News Today.
- “Oxytocin Can Improve Compassion in People with Symptoms of PTSD.” ScienceDaily. March 10, 2016.
- Grebe, Nicholas M., et al. “Oxytocin and Vulnerable Romantic Relationships.” Hormones and Behavior. March 12, 2017.
- “The Science of Kindness.” Cedars.
- Mcleod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology. March 20, 2020.
- Seltzer, Leon F. “Feeling Understood – Even More Important Than Feeling Loved?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 June 2017.
- Lun, Janetta, Selin Kesebir, and Shigehiro Oishi. “On Feeling Understood and Feeling Well: The Role of Interdependence.” Journal of Research in Personality. December 2008.
- NI;, Morelli SA;Torre JB;Eisenberger. “The Neural Bases of Feeling Understood and Not Understood.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
- S; Gordon AM; Chen. “Do You Get Where I’m Coming From?: Perceived Understanding Buffers against the Negative Impact of Conflict on Relationship Satisfaction.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
- Hendrix, Harville, Et al. Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship-saving Truths. Harmony Books, 2013.
- Johnson, Sue. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.
- Winter, Julie, Personal email to the author, December 5, 2020.
- Kavar, Louis F. The Integrated Self: a Holistic Approach to Spirituality and Mental Health Practice. O-Books, 2012.