“A genuine relationship is one that is not dominated by the ego with its image-making and self-seeking. In a genuine relationship, there is an outward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever.”
“As long as the ego runs your life, most of your thoughts, emotions, and actions arise from desire and fear. In relationships you then either want or fear something from the other person….How wonderful to go beyond wanting and fearing in your relationships. Love does not want or fear anything.”
– Eckhart Tolle
The dominance of the ego is universal in all humans. It is not just an over-inflated sense of self, but rather an outer “wall” that we unconsciously construct to protect who we think we are. Most of us will travel through life completely unaware that almost all our thoughts and actions are mere responses to the perceived needs of our ego. Inside, our True Self (our essence) waits lovingly and patiently for any opportunity to let the light shine through the cracks. Some of us manage to build windows and even doors into our egoic walls, often only after some form of suffering or in the second half of life. Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Mother Teresa are examples of people who allowed such windows and doors to be built in their lives and whose light poured out into the world. Perhaps Jesus and the Buddha were born with windows and doors. They also ventured outside in fields of flowers and landscapes of immense beauty. For many, however, unconscious fear causes them to fill in the cracks and apply another layer of thick plaster on the interior walls as an extra defense. After a lifetime of doing this they find themselves in a small dark tomb – a self-created hell.
In relationships there may, at times, be a sense of deep connection between the True Selves within each partner, but generally the day to day interactions are dominated by their egos – battling for control, validation and security. It is important to stress that this happens entirely unconsciously. Their egos are either caught in reactive patterns or try different strategies to get what they think they want or need. The success or failure of a relationship thus becomes dependent on the level of egoic compatibility between the partners. If their egos can co-exist they can attain a level of satisfaction within the relationship. If not, well, then things won’t go so well.
The particular form of ego is largely determined by culture. Having spent most of my life in Christian circles, I have observed (both in myself and others) that most Christian men tend to turn into the “Nice Guy”, as described by Dr Robert Glover in his book “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (https://www.drglover.com/no-more-mr-nice-guy/the-book.html)
“Just about everything a Nice Guy does is consciously or unconsciously calculated to gain someone’s approval or to avoid disapproval.”
– Robert Glover
In heterosexual relationships, men with this Nice Guy form of ego do and say all the “right” things. They may even convince themselves that they really love their partner. They imagine the loss of their partner and sense the amount of pain that would bring. They then translate that perceived pain as the degree of love they have for the other. But this perception of love comes almost entirely from the ego because it is rooted in fear – fear of loss.
If they have a reasonably high libido, Nice Guys will gear much of their egoic efforts towards getting more sex, any sex. The problem is that a Nice Guy ego is good for washing the dishes or taking out the trash, but rather stunted, needy and vanilla in bed. When it gets turned down, it tends to sulk or become angry.
The neediness in a Nice Guy man, combined with the religious-induced sexual repression in his female partner, creates a particularly common dynamic that is ultimately destructive to the relationship. For the woman, the relationship becomes quite contractual. Sex is traded for financial, emotional and/or physical security – a form of unconscious prostitution*. Having no sense of her own sexuality, sex carries a heavy emotional and sometimes physical price for the woman, but it also gives her some degree of power. And so she inevitably renegotiates the amount of sex she is willing to offer that will keep the financial, emotional and/or physical security from her partner in place. It is not difficult to see that this never ends well for either person in the relationship. The sadness is that most of life will have passed before either partner realizes that they are no longer living.
Moving towards a relationship where there is no neediness or fear is devastating for the ego and thus not easily achieved. We desperately want to cling to certainty and stability. It is probably the reason we make such passionate wedding vows and it is even better for the ego when such vows are made before God and include the words “always”, “forever” and “never”. But there is great truth in the saying that if we love someone we should set them free, and if they return to us then they were always ours.
“The grand illusion of committed love is that we think our partners are ours. In truth, their separateness is unassailable, and their mystery is forever ungraspable. As soon as we can begin to acknowledge this, sustained desire becomes a real possibility.” –
– Esther Perel (Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence)
The success or failure of a relationship is, in my mind, thus dependent on ability to transcend our own ego. Such transcendence is not something you do, but rather something you allow. You have to become aware that you are not your ego. Creating a conscious space between your True Self and your ego is the first step that slams a hole in your egoic wall, through which the light can enter. In the words of Eckart Tolle –
“When you no longer defend or attempt to strengthen the form of yourself, you step out of identification with form, with mental self-image. Through becoming less (in the ego’s perception), you in fact undergo an expansion and make room for Being to come forward. True power, who you are beyond form, can then shine through the apparently weakened form. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Deny yourself” or “Turn the other cheek.”
It is perhaps only in this new state of consciousness that we can accept and express true love.
* Just for the record, I am not against prostitution or any other form of consensual sex work. My problem is rather that the form of prostitution I am describing is totally unconscious.