Jeff Ellias-Frankel, Ph.D.

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A Note from Jinen Jason Shulman About Ask Dr. Jeff:

Many years ago, I realized that the Kabbalah teaches us that the theme of this entire universe is relationship. As the Buddhists also know, nothing exists by itself: everything is mutually co-arising; mutually co-dependent upon everything else for its existence. Because of this it is easy to see that our personal relationships with friends, lovers, partners, husbands and wives are the perfect mirrors in which to view our own spiritual lives. We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Jeff Elias-Frankel as our relationship expert-in-residence. Jeff will be writing about relationships monthly. If you have a question for him, please do not hesitate to send it to  Please be sure your subject line reads “Ask Jeff.”


Sarah Asks: “Dr Jeff, I need some help in thinking about the collision of m­y spiritual path with my relationship. Recently I have had some really profound experiences which have me redefining my relationships with God and the world and my True Self. I thought this was an amazingly good thing; but, it is shaking up my relationship with my significant other. He doesn’t understand; he feels confused and threatened. How do I invite him in to share what’s happening when he is so upset with the ways in which I am changing?

Dr Jeff Answers:  Sarah, reading your question evokes several other questions for me, which I think will lead us to a useful approach to the dilemma of the meeting of your path and your partner.

First, I wonder whether there is an unstated assumption about love and relationships which are making things more difficult for you two. For example, you say your realizations are redefining your relationships with God, the world and our True Self and that is good. But then say “…But it is shaking up my relationship with my significant other,” as if that is bad. Often we operate in world with the implicit and therefore unquestioned assumption that shaking things up, otherwise known as conflict, is bad - or at least that it is temporary, until we finally work things out. It has taken me a long time to make peace with conflict and I can still forget that it is a natural consequence of existence.

Seeing differences and conflict as dangerous seems like something you and your partner may unconsciously share, though manifesting it in your “different” ways. He may be threatened by your changes and may fear that he is losing the one he loves. And in turn, you may have fears about his choice not to engage your path. If that’s the case I can see why you feel stuck.

The expectation that our growing edges should comfortably fit with our partners belongs to erroneous romantic myth that love means having the kind of Union which excludes Separateness. The poet Rilke recognized the problematic aspect of this romantic assumption when he wrote:

Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something un-clarified and unfinished, still subordinate?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become world, to become world for himself for another's sake…

Sarah, it is easy to see your new spiritual understandings as a way of your ripening. And we cheer you on. So far so good. But now what about your partner? Can we say anything about his ripening? Is his reaction a step toward or away from the direction of his ripening? From your question, it seemed like you assumed it was a step away. I think if you can, for a moment, set aside your own fear of difference, you can arrive more easily at the position of “not knowing.” You actually don’t know where your partner’s fearful reaction will lead him. Of course that is what frightens you. Being able to tolerate that fear, to let yourself acknowledge that really you don’t know where your partner’s ripening will lead is actually a wonderful place from which to engage him. “Not-knowing” and curiosity are the attitudes that I think will support the meeting of your spiritual path and your relationship.

In effect, we could say that your partner’s response is a predictable human reaction to your differentiation of self. If you can remain non-reactive in the face of your partner’s anxiety to get you to go back to your old self; if you can stand in your own shoes, maintain what you believe to be true and still stay connected to him, he will hopefully feel less frightened of the changes in you and be able to shift his focus back to himself. He may then be inspired to become more differentiated himself and eventually make some choices which will then make you nervous! And so, the spiral of differentiation, of becoming your unique selves, will continue. Over time, with more of each of you having more of your self available, the appearance of difference becomes less the occasion of anxiety and more of interest and curiosity.

So I think if you consider the struggle in your relationship as not separate from your spiritual work but as another opportunity to embrace the full reality of all you are and also embrace the reality of all of who your partner is, something important will happen. This is what love is all about.