Relationships that Satisfy

by Dennis E. Bradford, Ph.D.

in moral well-being

Relationships that satisfy are elusive.  Understanding why that’s the reality opens the way to improving them and, so, our lives.

Let’s use ‘relationships’ here to refer to important interpersonal human encounters such as friendships and sex affairs, and let’s consider them satisfactory only if they work well over time for both partners.

If you disagree with me and think that they are usually satisfactory, then perhaps experience has caused you to dilute your standards too far.  It seems obvious to me that satisfactory relationships are few and far between.

For example, divorces are ruptured marriages and roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. How many of those that don’t end in divorce are nevertheless genuinely satisfactory to both partners?

Aren’t most friendships and sex affairs less than wholly satisfactory?  Perhaps not.  Still, really satisfactory encounters do not seem to be prevalent.  Why?

To understand why, let’s compare and contrast two paradigms, an ordinary encounter and an extraordinary one.


Couple holds hands

Someone (“S”) and someone else (“P”) meet and communicate (even if the initial communication is nonverbal).  Each almost instinctively sizes up the other, which results either in a social shutting down or willingness to open up.  If they are both willing to open up, they talk and, finding something in common, may build their initial communication on that commonality.

If they discover that they like each other and all continues without red flags, they may begin to enjoy each other’s company and mutually continue to develop their encounter into a sustained relationship.

These beginnings occur frequently.  What often goes wrong?  Why do hopeful, frequent beginnings usually derail?

There are different ways to express it, and there’s here no agreed-upon terminology.  One fundamental way to express it is that the encounter is based on what S thinks of P and on what P thinks of S.  What’s potentially dangerous about that?

S makes evaluative judgments about P, and P makes evaluative judgments about S.  In other words, they conceptualize each other.  That’s normal.

In this case, normalcy isn’t good.  Why not?  It’s because S’s investment in the relationship is based on what S thinks about P, and it’s similar for P.  So?

So S isn’t actually encountering P and P isn’t actually encountering S.  Instead, S is encountering thoughts about P and P is encountering thoughts about S.  They are apprehending each other through a thick fog of thoughts, which means they are not really apprehending each other at all.

(Another way to make the same point is to state that S is only encountering P’s “forms” and P is only encountering S’s forms.  These forms may be physical or non-physical.  The problem is that neither P nor S can be reduced to a set of forms; in other words, neither S nor P can be fully conceptualized.)

This fundamental problem is not confined to relationships with others.  Instead of S encountering his or her own true nature directly, S encounters S only through a thick fog of thoughts!  In other words, S doesn’t directly apprehend S.

This is why S has self-esteem.  S makes an evaluative judgment about S:  either  “I like myself” for those with high self-esteem or “I don’t like myself” for those with low self-esteem.  Ask:  who is S?  Is S the “I” doing the liking or disliking or is S the “self” being liked or disliked?  The separation here comes from the evaluative judgment, from the conceptualization.

When S conceptualizes S, S identifies himself or herself with a story, a fictional narrative, an autobiography.  S’s present is thoroughly conditioned by that story.  It’s not that the story is false that is the problem:  it’s that it is radically incomplete.  If so, S’s self-understanding is, at best, only partial.  It’s typically radically misleading.  It’s typically seriously flawed.

Similarly, S’s understanding of P is typically seriously flawed as well.  Since, of course, S knows P less well than S knows S, S’s understanding of P is obviously more likely to be seriously flawed than S’s understanding of S.

So S does not correctly apprehend either S or P, and, almost always, P also does not correctly apprehend either P or S.

In this way the encounter between S and P is initially infected with a double blindness that, if not corrected, will continue to poison their encounter without either realizing it.




That double-blindness is why relationships that satisfy are infrequent, unusual, extraordinary.  What do they require?

They require that S correctly apprehends both S and P and that P correctly apprehends both P and S.  For S and P to create a mutually satisfactory relationship, both S and P must correctly apprehend themselves as well as each other.

Notice that I did not write that S correctly understands both S and P and that P correctly understands both P and S.  Why not use ‘understands’ rather than ‘apprehends’?

It’s because conceptual understanding is different from direct apprehension.  It’s of the essence to understand that direct apprehension is beyond thought (beyond all judgments, beyond all conceptual understanding).  Since evaluations are judgments, direct apprehension does not involve (positive or negative) evaluations at all.

Since what direct apprehension is is beyond conceptual understanding or description, it’s not possible to understand it conceptually.  What direct apprehension essentially involves is apprehension without judgment or conceptualization.  It’s simple:  to experience direct apprehension, stop conceptualizing.  Direct apprehension is alert awareness without any judgments or conceptualizations.

If S really apprehended S correctly, S would not wholly identify with an autobiography, which is far too miniscule to express S’s true nature.  The same, of course, applies to P.

As long as S and P think of their encounter as an overcoming of separation, a uniting of two separate selves, they are deluded.  Their self-delusion affects their delusion about their encounter.

This suggests a fruitful unwinding (unbinding, a dropping of fetters).  What should you do if you want to enjoy relationships that satisfy?

It’s impossible to control how others apprehend you, but you can affect it.  How?  By realizing your own true nature, by dropping all thoughts about yourself.  The more awakening to your own true nature pervades your experiences, they more others will naturally be attracted to you.  Why?

It’s because they’ll sense that you are not trying to gain anything from them.  They’ll sense that because it will be true. Someone who is “awake” has nothing to gain from others.  In fact, the more “awake” one becomes, the less others seem like others at all.

Takeaway: to improve your relationships, work on yourself.

To work on yourself is to detach from thoughts.  Once, even for a moment, you detach from thoughts, you’ll realize that you are on the way to a better life for yourself and for others.


For more on this, see:



Tolle’s “The Art of Presence” (disc three).