The Spiritual Purpose of a Relationship

Each relationship that you’ve had, whether short-term or long-term, can be interpreted through the lens of spiritual purpose.

Why are you and your partner in each other’s lives? What are you here to do for each other spiritually?

I’d learned of this concept during my 20s but just in a very limited way. The idea was that we’re all spiritual teachers for each other. A relationship is supposedly a spiritual growth experience.

I think that framing held me back because it doesn’t fully encompass what’s possible.

My first marriage to Erin did seem to have that purpose of being co-teachers to each other. In the early years of our 15-year relationship, Erin and I often noted that I was teaching her courage while she was teaching me compassion. We both learned a lot from each other, sometimes by example and something through direct help and advice.

That relationship was challenging at times, but it was also loving, supportive, and patient. We shared a long journey together, which eventually came to an end. When I look back upon that relationship, it feels like it fulfilled its purpose for us both. One friend said to me afterwards, “You completed your marriage.” That’s still how it feels today, now that more than 11 years have passed since we separated.

But is that the only possible purpose of a long-term relationship? Must we always be in a relationship where the main purpose is spiritual teaching?

Not at all. The spiritual purpose of a relationship can be a lot more flexible than that. It doesn’t have to go in a co-teaching direction.

My current (almost 11-year) relationship with Rachelle isn’t about co-teaching. While we can play those roles for each other if we want, this isn’t a big part of our relationship and never really was.

Last night we had a short discussion about the spiritual purpose of our relationship. Neither of us look upon each other as spiritual teachers. The way we actually see each other is more like spiritual gifts.

Rachelle said she feels like her role is to be my reward, and that’s how I see her as well. I enjoy and appreciate her so much that it feels very natural to just revel in that space of appreciation and enjoyment when we’re together.

She feels much the same about me – that I’m her reward. We aren’t co-teachers for each other. It’s more accurate to say that we’re co-playmates, co-lovers, life companions, and best friends.

Spending time with Rachelle is like watching my favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Even when it’s familiar, it’s still fun and enjoyable, and I always find something to appreciate in it.

I feel like the main role I play for Rachelle spiritually is to fully and deeply appreciate her as she is. I feel delighted to be in her presence each day, and I love that I see and appreciate so much beauty and wonder in her that other people might miss. I feel like she needs to be fully appreciated and that my role for her spiritually is basically to gush appreciation at her each day. I especially love to make her laugh and smile.

We fit together like puzzle pieces. What she offers in a relationship is what I naturally appreciate and enjoy, and vice versa.

Being spiritual teachers to each other doesn’t really describe us. But I can say that we do help each other to spiritually grow. This doesn’t have to do with challenging each other though. As much as we both love a good challenge, we’re both already very good at challenging ourselves in a variety of ways. So we don’t particularly need to push each other. When one of us suggests a new challenge, we’ll sometimes agree to do it together when it makes sense, and otherwise we won’t.

I’m doing a one-year blogging challenge this year. Rachelle just passed 440 days in a row of closing all of her Apple Watch rings, so she has 60 more days to reach her goal of 500. Last month we both did NaNoWriMo and successfully completed that challenge. This month she’s doing a 30-day decluttering challenge along with some other CGC members. I’m preparing for a one-year experience of eating all raw in 2021, so I’m spending some time each day re-familiarizing myself with raw meals and practicing various raw recipes. I’d also like an easier December since I’ll be working on a new deep dive course early next year, which can be an intense experience.

If we weren’t in a relationship together, Rachelle and I would still be working on our personal growth as individuals. So we don’t need the relationship to play that role for us. We share this part of our life together, but it doesn’t seem to connect with the purpose of our relationship.

In terms of spiritual growth, our relationship feels like the universe said to each of us, “You’re doing great. How about a nice reward that you’ll surely enjoy and appreciate? Here you go! Have fun!”

This is a very different framing to place upon a relationship instead of being co-teachers for each other. It’s especially different from the lens that says you should be in a relationship with someone who antagonizes you because it will help you grow.

Rachelle and I are already good at identifying and diving into new growth experiences. Neither of us really wants or needs to push each other to grow more than we’re already doing. We can simply trust that we’re both going to keep learning and growing no matter what, and there’s ample evidence to prove that to each other.

It feels to me that maybe these aspects are connected, like the reason I get to be in a relationship with a “reward” at this stage of life is that I’ve locked in a consistent and perpetual flow of growth experiences without feeling overwhelmed. I’ve figured out a flow that works for me, and Rachelle has found a flow that works for her.

We both spend a lot of time helping and serving others too, so that may be part of this as well.

I’m not sure about this aspect of the framing though. It could just be the ex-Catholic in me that feels that every reward must first be earned. It would be interesting to know if other people are in relationships that feel like spiritual rewards that they didn’t have to spiritually earn first.

What Rachelle and I love doing for each other is to be each others playmates and to share love, appreciation, affection, friendship, and encouragement.

We’re also co-adventurers. We love traveling together. We love having shared experiences. Our favorite type of “challenge” to do together would be to share in some new kind of adventure together. We’ve always had a good time exploring new cities together. We’ve been to dozens of different cities throughout our relationship, which began as a cross-border relationship where switching countries was necessary just to see each other.

Even under COVID conditions where we’re spending way more time at home than in a typical year, I never feel bored with her. As much time as we’ve already spent together, I still crave more. I love spending each day with her. Somehow this continues to feel fresh and new, even when the setting and circumstances are familiar. She’s a source of beauty that I enjoy each day without feeling like the enjoyment and appreciation could ever run out.

This relationship feels like it’s exactly what we both want and need. It’s wonderful to spend each day with a partner who feels like a gift and a reward. It’s fascinating to be in a relationship with a woman who sees me in the same light.

This kind of framing is relaxing and restorative. Neither of us feels like we must “work” on the relationship to fix problems or to improve it. We actually succeed in our relationship mainly by being, not by doing. Simply being present makes our relationship fulfill its purpose. Just cuddling each other on the couch feels very purposeful.

Remember that feeling you have when you buy a new piece of tech like the latest smart phone, and for a while you feel extra special because you have the latest and greatest? But then a year later, a new version comes out… and then another new version a year after that. And now you’re behind the times and wondering if you should upgrade. But what if you could have that new-tech feeling every day, so you felt that extra appreciation above the baseline, and it never went back down again? That’s similar to how my relationship with Rachelle feels each day.

Almost 11 years ago, a significant increase in appreciation, gratitude, and enjoyment came into my life, and it never went back down again. Those aspects of my life have remained elevated this whole time.

But what I find most interesting is that I never developed a tolerance for it. It’s like having coffee where every cup is as stimulating as the first one, and your body never adapts to higher caffeine levels and brings you back down again. So the same dosage remains very stimulating, and you don’t need to keep increasing the dosage to get the same effect.

Each day with Rachelle feels like it exists above my baseline. But somehow my old baseline hasn’t raised itself up to match my current day-to-day experiences. That seems very odd to me. Why hasn’t the baseline come up? Why doesn’t each day with her just feel okay and normal now? Why do I still experience delight and appreciation with her after all this time together? Why does she still seem like a gift?

I don’t know, but I do like it.

Before I experienced this relationship, I didn’t think it was possible for a real human relationship to have the spiritual purpose of being co-gifts, co-rewards, and co-playmates for each other. That seems too easy and too good to be true. I wondered if we must be in some realm of co-denial about all the real spiritual work and tough love we must surely engage in sooner or later. It took a while to get aligned with the co-reward idea.

Why share this? One reason is to let you know that a healthy and happy relationship doesn’t have to involve working on your partner or on the relationship to improve it. For some that may sound like heresy. While people can enter a relationship to directly help each other grow and improve, that doesn’t have to be the case. You could also be in a relationship with someone whose beingness you enjoy and appreciate.

I think the more challenging aspect is when you flip this around and ask: For which person could I be a gift that they’ll appreciate and enjoy each day, just by being myself as I am right now?

That’s another special aspect of my relationship with Rachelle that I don’t notice as often, but it is nice to acknowledge when I see it. I like looking at her and thinking, “I’m good for her. She’s lucky to have me in her life.” I can understand why she appreciates and enjoys me. I can see the value I add to her life. And this feeling is very much mutual. She can readily see how good she is for me too and how much value she adds to my life. It’s nice that neither of us have to wonder about that or question it. It’s plain as day to us both that we’re good for each other and that we enhance each other’s lives by being together.

You can attract a relationship that’s a lot of work, but you have other options too. What do you feel ready to experience spiritually at this time in your life? Do you want a co-working type of relationship? Do you want fun and adventure? Do you want grace, ease, and lightness? Do you want lust and passion?

If you’re in a current relationship now, is it still aligned with a spiritual purpose that feels aligned with who you are today? Is it what you want to experience at this stage of your life? Or do you feel called to explore and experience a new relationship with a different spiritual purpose?

Pay attention to that purpose alignment. If your relationship has lost its connection to such a purpose, consider that it’s also your purpose to fulfill a meaningful role for someone else – to be their teacher, their reward, and so on.