Excerpts from the Book...
Domains of chemistry:
All human chemistry occurs on a physical, emotional and/or mental dimension. Thoughts and feelings are integrated into one dimension of mental/emotional chemistry because every thought produces some level of emotion and vice versa.
We have some degree of conscious control and freedom in each of these areas that can be exercised to bring us closer or further away from those we are in relationship with. By understanding where our chemistry is strong and weak in each of these domains we can begin to answer the question: “How can I improve the chemistry with the people I care about?” We can then assess both our own and our partner’s willingness and ability to do so.
Physical Chemistry: Our bodies naturally react to every body around us. In a romantic relationship it is valuable to have a certain amount of sexual attraction to our partner. One reason for this is that sexual orgasm combined with emotional love produces some of the most potent drugs available in our bodies. These drugs provide a necessary balance to and reward for the stress of fear, discomfort and pain that often accompanies the growth process of a new and intense relationship. These powerful drugs, while often necessary, can wreak havoc when they are introduced before a container is built that is strong enough to hold the energy these drugs unleash. The container is referred to later in the book in the section “Love and contract = Relationship.”
* * *
Quality of attention:
Our minds are such powerful forces that even when we are relaxing in a hot tub after a nice meal, if on Monday we are aware we will have to face an emotional situation at work, part of our attention will not be present for our partner. Similarly, when we have overcommitted ourselves there is a part of us living in the reality we promised to occupy but are in fact not doing. Attention can be imagined as a jet of water. The more we divide our attention, channeling water off in various directions, the less force and water is available to connect in any one area.
There are strategies that can help us increase the quality of our attention so that all of us can be fully present. One is to say “no” to all the things we can responsibly say “no” to so that we have a buffer in our life between a surprise and being overwhelmed. Knowing that life will always have surprises, maintaining a margin of energy, peace and comfort before we go into overwhelm is an act of profound self-respect, and very similar to maintaining a financial safety cushion to handle unexpected expenses.
We can also both exercise and develop our mind with meditation, talking and journaling. By sharing what is on our mind at the beginning of a date, or taking the time to write in our journal we can empty out some of the things that would otherwise gnaw on our undivided attention.
* * *
Mental/emotional skills and other variables:
Without going into too much detail, it is valuable to realize how complex and different each of our hearts and minds are. What follows is a brief summary of common mental/emotional variables that can bring us together or further apart:
- The speed at which we think and feel: How long we each linger on a particular experience, thought or feeling. How quickly we know how we feel about a particular experience after it happens.
- The level of detail we prefer to bring to awareness and/or discuss with our partner.
- The level of integrity between our thoughts, words, feelings and actions we prefer to express and experience in our partner.
- How much we focus on the positive and negative experiences we have and our approach to processing these.
- Our ability to accurately express inner-thoughts and feelings in a way that our partner understands and vice versa.
- Our past experience, beliefs, self-image and what these have led us to hold true.
- Our unique strategy for mental/emotional safety.
- Our definition and image of what love is and how it “should” develop.
The fact that our human mind is among the most intricate and unique things about us suggest that one skill is important above all else in creating mental/emotional chemistry: The humility to understand that we are all different and the respectful patience to take time to understand ourselves and our partner. This topic is explored much more extensively in the chapter “Forces that create relationship chemistry.”
* * *
All of us see our relationships through the lens of our paradigms. In most cases paradigms are not consciously chosen or articulated. Our paradigms shape what we measure and punish/reward in ourselves and our partners, and as such play a major role in determining who we see as suitable partners. If we are not happy with the type of people we are connecting with one of the most powerful tools we have is to change the paradigm through which we view relationship and thus measure prospective partners.
To do that we must first be conscious of what our paradigm is. As you read the following paradigms defined in the bold notice where you identify the strongest. Each paradigm allows us to see and focus on different things. It is helpful to become familiar with many paradigms and to use different ones in different circumstances, much like a photographer changes camera and lens depending on the shot.
(Three of the more than twenty paradigms of relationship featured in the book are below.)
Relationships as a mutual-choice:
A conscious relationship is the by-product of two people saying “yes” to something and it lasts until one or both people shift that “yes” to a “no.” It does not matter whether a given relationship makes any sense in the eyes of an observer – or even in the eyes of the participants. All that matters is that two people say “yes” for as long as they do.
On this level entering a relationship is very simple. It begins by discovering or defining what we are a “yes” to and continues by communicating that “yes” to potential partners until we find someone who says “yes” in return.
One powerful question this paradigm invites us to ask is: What would need to shift in me and/or my logistics for a potential partner I like to be a “yes” to connecting? When we have this information we have the choice to do what it takes to connect with a given individual or not. When we tell others what they would need to do to be chosen by us we support them in making an even more conscious choice about whether or not to connect with us.
Relationships as a game of sports:
The paradigm of sports allows us to focus on a number of important questions:
- Are we playing on the same side or on opposite sides?
- Are we incorporating the strengths and weaknesses of each player in our strategy for success?
- Do we have a game-plan and are we keeping track of our current position relative to that plan?
- Do we need to pause and re-group?
- What is the goal/ what does it look like to win as a couple?
- What kind of shape are the players in and how far can we stretch into our pain threshold without doing serious injury?
- What’s our mental/emotional/physical diet and is it serving our game?
- Who is our competition as a couple and what choices can we make to increase our odds of success?
- Are the rules of this particular game conducive to our mutual well-being? Every game has a set of rules and some rules favor failure before the game even begins.
One of the benefits of operating within a sports paradigm is that it is understood by many and condoned by the culture, providing some degree of community support for those who embrace it.
Relationships as a lock and key:
As human combination locks we each have a unique code that unlocks our full experience of profound love and well-being physically, emotionally and mentally. We are not only combination locks, searching for the one with the key to unlock our deepest experiences of love, we are someone who can potentially unlock our partner’s deepest experience of love and well-being as well.
The key to success in this paradigm is knowing and sharing our combination code with those we want to love us. With the right information in front of us we have reasonable odds of success. There might be any number of people who try their hand on our lock but without proactive help to reveal the code they will go away after a time feeling frustrated, puzzled or bored.
If we travel long enough and are fortunate we will stumble into those people for whom our unique code unlocks at least part of their heart. Without help, however, the odds are not very good. They are about the same as the odds of opening a complex safe by guessing the code. Typically with each person we only have a couple of tries. Each of the filters that others set up must be met and passed through in the order they set them up.
Does this sound like very much fun to you? What if instead of guessing another’s code and leaving others to guess ours, we enter into relationships on the basis that we will coach one another on how to succeed?
For each person this code is different. The speed of speech, the volume, the tone of voice, the pace and intensity of touch, the topics of conversation, the level of emotional sensitivity vs. humor and shock. The number of seconds two people look into each other’s eyes and whether they look more into one eye or the other. Every nuance of our behavior is part of the code.
The important thing to know is that many aspects of the key that unlocks our personal experience of being deeply loved is learned and trainable behavior that we have the option of teaching to anyone who wants to learn. This gives each of us a choice: We can continue to search for those who instinctively know what makes us feel loved and who feel loved by our behavior as we are. Or we can choose someone with whom we want to share a loving relationship with and do not feel fully loved by. Should they accept our invitation to be coached to behave in the ways that leave each of us feeling nurtured sexually, emotionally, logistically and mentally, we can embark on what will probably be a rich and ongoing journey of understanding, learning new skills and practicing the art of love together.
* * *
Seeing and being seen:
This aspect of relationship chemistry is so important that despite overlapping with many areas already touched on, it has its own section. “Seeing” in this case refers not just to our physical eyes, but to the entire multi-dimensional experience of knowing and being known by another human being mentally, emotionally and physically.
It is impossible to truly know someone without loving them. To know on every level is to become one with. Knowing and being known is an essential step in the dance of love.
We exist on a variety of levels simultaneously, each of which reflects a piece of who we are. From our logistics, to our bodies, our thoughts and choices to our feelings, intuitions and imagination, we are a complex and ever changing presence on this earth.
When we invite someone to get to know us – truly know us – we are inviting them to come to love us. Someone may not accept this invitation – may learn a few surface facts and find that there is too much pain or fear in what they see to want to move closer. It is easy to reject, judge or separate from what we only partially understand. When we see enough, however, because of our nature to empathize with another’s experience, we come to love what we know.
One way to know and understand one another on an instinctive level is to spend a lot of indirect time with one another, observing and engaging. Our natural instinct to empathize will often lead us to begin to see things not only from our own eyes but through the eyes of the other, particularly in a one-on-one setting. As this becomes familiar and we identify the other’s eyes as “ours” we will become attached to their perspective in a similar way to our own.
Another way to know and be known is through direct physical presence and connection. Sharing breath, eye contact, touch and sex in a relaxed and open setting often accelerates the experience of seeing and being seen. The important thing is to stay fully connected with our bodies as we do.
When touch is shocking we may dissociate our feelings and thoughts from our body. When this happens there is an emptiness emotionally and mentally to mark the space where our thoughts and feelings would have been if we had not disconnected them.
The conscious mind is among the most important areas to respect in the dance of knowing and being known. While it is not necessarily a very big part of us, it is the part in each person that decides what stories to make up to explain the emotional, mental and physical experiences that register. It is our conscious mind that is responsible for most separation between human beings through this process. Two bodies may lay together in comfort and one conscious mind will create a story that the other body is being manipulated by the other’s mind in a deliberate attempt to hurt them. The other person’s conscious mind may create a story that the body laying with them is their soul mate. A great deal of psychological pain comes when two people share an experience through vastly different eyes and the gap between their two stories seems too big to cross.
One of the best ways to engage the conscious mind in one another is to pause in the experience for regular check-ins. “I just got turned on by what you just said. Are you getting turned on as well or am I alone in this experience?” While this is typically not considered “safe” to talk about in most new relationships, it can become more safe by agreeing to both be fully honest and visible. We can also establish that no one is expected or obliged to be responsible for the other’s feelings. In this case the answer may be “Not at all. But I am open to the possibility and did feel a bit turned on when I first looked into your eyes.”
Sexual turn on is just one of many areas that our conscious minds may diverge wildly on. Other important areas include level of safety, level of interest, how we see what is happening and why. Checking in about these things is referred to as the “meta-conversation.” This is the conversation both people are having with themselves and each other about the experience they are sharing together. It is happening all the time: “How rude! She just interrupted me for the fourth time.” “How rude, he never leaves space for me to say what I feel or asks me any questions.” When these two stories are shared with the intent to find a win/win it will either accelerate the polarization or creates a more real sense of intimacy that can lead first to understanding and then to win/win.
Several truths relate to seeing and being seen:
- Our minds hate a vacuum. Any area that is not consciously discussed will default to a story in our mind that fits with our past experience and future projections. This story may be more pessimistic than the real facts or more optimistic. Because projections have a low chance of being accurate (although in some cases they self-generate a reality to match), the odds of being shocked goes up when we allow our projections to remain un-verified.
- Regardless of what is happening in the external world it is impossible to truly know what is going on in another person’s conscious mind without the use of words. Body language can often give a rough approximation, but the specific thoughts, beliefs, stories and choices about what to do with those stories is only available through direct verbal conversation.
- Some things change moment to moment, while our memories of what was said lingers on. It is important to update one another about where we are different today as well as where we are the same if we want to be seen in the present.
- Because words are an essential ingredient in love and understanding between two conscious minds, and because it takes generous amounts of time to say things accurately in all of their complexity, a relationship that is based on a genuine perception of one another takes generous time to maintain. When we provide just enough time to hear some things without giving our partner time to complete the full picture, the stories we make up to fill in the gaps can create a more inaccurate picture of who our partner is than having no information at all. It is therefore respectful to make time to fully be seen in an area when it is introduced.
- Every truly intimate relationship requires the commitment of time to both create and sustain it. As time is our most limited resource priority is essential to the process of seeing and being seen. In every moment there are literally infinite ways to spend our time and areas to focus our attention. For a relationship to have a high odds of growing it needs to have a high level of priority, not just in theory, but in the daily decisions we make that lead us to create space to connect.
* * *
Co-creating the rules:
One of the most important variables that determines the outcome of relationship are the “rules” that define the game. Rules are the typically unspoken guidelines that determine the behavior between two people. Is it OK to laugh when we see something we find silly in our partner? Is it OK to interrupt? Is it OK to lie and then apologize and everything will be fine?
It’s important to be aware that rules exist in every relationship regardless of whether they are recognized, acknowledged or verbally stated. The default rules that we bring into a relationship are usually patterns from our parents or cultural norms. The relationships that result are as much a product of these rules as they are of the people who agree to play by those rules.
Every rule in a relationship is mutually agreed to because at any point either person has the freedom to walk away if they don’t like the rules. By staying in a relationship we agree to play by the other’s rules or they agree to play by ours. If someone is with us it is because they have agreed to play by our rules.
This typically unconscious force is amazingly powerful and can be consciously harnessed to create the kind of culture we wish to experience in relationship. This can be done by consciously talking at the beginning of a relationship about what rules, in the form of habits, expectations, agreements or consequences, we choose in order to support us in creating a steady flow of the experiences both people value.
* * *
It is easy to look to our partner when certain patterns we do not like develop in a relationship. Perhaps we want to feel special and our partner appears to take us more and more for granted. Perhaps we want sex to feel like it did in the beginning and we are becoming bored. Or perhaps we simply want to feel more spacious time rather than always rushing – time that we used to feel in the courting process.
Whatever the shift, positive or negative, we are always a part of it because of the role we play in who our partner becomes on a daily basis. Our influence is obvious when we consider who we are and what we do but one of our biggest influences may be what we do not do.
Imagine a garden in which we plant a new fast growing tree and water it well. As it grows up it starts to cast shade on the plants around us. Plants that need sun will start to suffer, while plants that need shade will begin loose their frayed look around the edges of their leaves and become lush. We are that new tree in our partner’s life and as the relationship grows the effects ripple out into their world, positively and negatively in many ways.
Let’s examine our first desire in in one scenario: We want to feel more special and less taken for granted. Once a relationship reaches a point where we have daily contact it is harder to feel that today is somehow more unique than all the other days. Furthermore, the few days in between visits that our partner used to spend making special preparations for our visit are now spent talking to us every day. Daily contact for extended periods of time divides our partner’s attention as they do their daily chores around the house and as a result doing them takes more energy or time. They find themselves feeling a greater need for down-time as a result, while having less of it. This in turn creates mixed feelings about wanting to connect: they are attracted to us but not to the additional stress they feel due to the relationship becoming so close. As our partner notices their mixed feelings about us in the face of our wanting to feel special is brings up guilt or anxiety, which in turn take up more of our partner’s attention that they used to spend writing us adoring notes.
In the above scenario one choice we can make to restore the sense of specialness we feel is to spend a few weeks with half of our normal contact. We could also request extra attention and romance when we do get together, but this may not be necessary.
In the second example of wanting better sex, more time apart could also help this. It is hard to feel romantic when things are piling up to be done faster than we have to do them.
In the third example of wanting more relaxed time together it is helpful to be aware that there is a cycle of creativity and implementation that we often set in motion in our relationships. The pattern goes something like this: In the beginning we may have spent long hours walking, having picnics and going on drives with no obligations and a lot of excitement from exploring possible plans. As the relationship grows we often decide to act on some of those plans: The dream of “Wouldn't’t it be wonderful if we had a child” becomes four hours a night sleep, doctor visits, special shopping and less time than ever to enjoy the relationship when we decide to act on that dream. “Wouldn't’t it be great to remodel the house” gives hours of no-stress pleasure thinking about but when we put it in motion it creates dust, noise, broken valuables and torn up walls that intrude on dinner, while having to come up with more money to pay for it. This naturally results in less spacious time together and romance. Often the reason our partner has no spacious time for us is that they are spending that spacious time doing things that we said we wanted in the hope that this will please us. When we are not pleased because we miss their attention this will often show up on our face and through hinted complaints our partner will pick up. If we do not explain that we value their attention more than any project they may assume we are not happy with the work they are doing on the project for the relationship. They may work even harder to “finish” as a result.
Our partner may also feel angry, hurt and betrayed: We told them how “wonderful” it would be if we did this project and despite them doing a lot of the work we are not pleased at all. One natural thing they may come away believing is that doing projects together is a set up for spending more energy and being complained about. This awareness naturally leads to our partner trusting us less and wishing to do less projects. As a result the next time we are excited about a new idea our partner may be more defensive and cautious than supportive and excited. On some level this hurts a relationship deeply, because at the core of a partnership is creativity: giving birth to something new.
In these and many other ways we shape our partner and they shape us. We cannot ask our partner to change the way they feel and behave without participating in the change in a way that supports them, and vice versa.
It is also important to accept who we both are. If we are the equivalent of a bright sun and our partner is the equivalent of a shade plant, no person is at fault. It may simply be the case that the relationship cannot work without introducing a shade tree to the ecology in the form of a third person that stands between us, less contact, more cloud-cover or turning most of our attention elsewhere so our partner gets just enough of our light to grow and not enough to burn them.
* * *
A form of contribution:
One of our needs as human beings is to contribute. For those of us who feel this more than others it may come up as a question: “If I am spending so much time exploring and developing exceptional relationships with a few human beings, how is that contributing to the world?” There are so many “problems” and people that need rescuing we might believe we are being selfish to focus on our own well-being.
When we accept that everything in the universe is in relationship with everything else, we can see that it is not what or who we are in relationship with that matters as much as the quality, skill, sustainability of those relationships. Learning skills that improve the quality of our relationships through practice and experience is among the most important things we can do.
In many ways the whole of our world and our relationship with the world as a humanity is a reflection of the many relationships we have with ourselves and all the people we interact with. When we do not know how to engage with ourselves in a way that generates sustainable peace, health and abundance we also lack the skill to do so in our relationship with others and the world. The skills are the same and as beings of integrity what we do to ourselves we do to the earth.
If we embrace that teaching is most effective through example. If we accept that we cannot create a sustainable relationship with our environment until we practice the skills of creating sustainable well-being for ourselves, we can realize that learning to be sustainably happy, peaceful, vital, complex and loving to ourselves and others is one of the greatest contribution we can make to the world around us. It is also a lot of fun and if we want to create a world in which there is more fun the best gift we can bring is having fun ourselves.
* * *
Three parts of our brain:
Brain studies suggest that attachment, romantic love and lust have three distinct circuits within the brain. This makes it possible to have seven types of relationship
- Romantic love and attachment
- Attachment, romantic love and lust
It also shows us that it is possible to have all of these in different combination with more than one person. We can feel romantic love, lust and attachment with one person and still feel lust for someone else. We can feel romantic love and lust for one person and feel attachment to someone else. We can feel lust and attachment to one person but romantic love for another.
In general relationships work best when people meet equally in whatever way. If two people feel strong lust and nothing else and the relationship consists only of fucking, it will be a very satisfying mutual relationship, assuming no one is betrayed in the process and neither person shames themselves for feeling and acting on their desire.
The same is true of romantic love: if both people share this to a similar degree it tends to make for a balanced connection. However, if one person is in lust and in love, while the other feels love without lust it will tend to create loneliness and frustration for the person who’s lust is not met. If one person feels attachment and the other does not this will tend to create claustrophobia for the one who is not attached and insecurity and loneliness for the one who is attached.
One of the better gauges to insure good chemistry is to talk up-front about where the connection lies. Using a one to ten scale, we can measure ourselves and our potential partner in each of these areas and update this measurement from time to time. If at any point we start to widely diverge, discussing how to come back into alignment or exploring the possibility of ending the relationship are both healthy alternatives to the relationship drifting into a variety of unhealthy terrains that are the natural by-product of being unaligned in these key areas.
* * *
Because the universe is curved if we travel far enough in one direction we arrive back where we started coming from the opposite direction. Often when we look deeper at opposites we find they have more in common with one another than either of them have with the middle ground. As an example: Prison wardens may be in jail a lot longer than a given prisoner and far longer than the typical person, who never sees a prison.
Being selfish is a bit like that. When we care about ourselves we may begin with total self-centeredness in the moment. We want money, sex, security and comfort, or whatever it is that makes us happy. If we are successful at experiencing gratification NOW we will start reaching beyond the moment and towards a deeper longer-term vision. Gradually as we follow our own passion to feel good and fully express ourselves we climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
- Physiological: Food, water, sex, sleep
- Safety: Security of body, of resources, of our family, of health
- Love/Belonging: Friendship, sexual intimacy, group acceptance
- Esteem: Self-confidence, achievement, respect of others, self esteem
- Self-Actualization: Morality, creativity, spontaneity, meaning
If we truly care about ourselves with passion and persistence we ultimately develop all that we can be for the simple reason that it is more fun and exciting to be happy, loved, liked, creative and powerful in our world than to do nothing or be unnecessarily cruel. In this way to be truly selfish is the same as being self-less. To be selfless is to be all that we can be in order to bring our unique strengths and gifts to others in abundance.
If we are truly selfish we will pick a job that we are great at and by doing so increase our odds of making lots of money. If we are selfish we will want the best for ourselves and by purchasing quality, will support cutting-edge craftspeople. If we are truly selfish we will want the best for our body and participate in creating a planet that benefits everyone else’s body as well.
Cruelty is neither selfish or selfless. It is a form of self-loathing that is willing to hurt ourselves deeply in order to hurt others to some degree. While selfishness is routinely judged it is ultimately the most selfless thing we can do. If there were more truly selfish people who cared enough about themselves to want all that life has to offer the world would be a more enriching experience for those who are still learning how to honor who they are.