Relationship Is An Individual Sport

Eilidh_ChildRelationship is an individual sport. It may look like a team sport but it is really an individual sport. It has almost nothing to do with the other person. Yet although what happens in it has almost nothing to do with the other person, you will tend to place much more responsibility and even blame the other for the state of the relationship, especially when you don’t like the state of the relationship. Yet it is my contention based on my 30 years as a relationship therapist that it is your own truths, issues and dynamics that are determining almost everything.

Now don’t get me wrong. If the other person in your relationship were reading this, I would say exactly the same thing to him or her. What I am postulating is that in any relationship, two people independent of each other, are in their own right, fully and completely accountable for what occurs in it. 

Let me explain this further by postulating two Laws of Love that govern our relationships. These Laws have never failed over time to apply to every couple with whom I have ever worked who have been willing to dig into the often unpleasant but ultimately liberating underbelly of their own inner workings.


You get back what the other person perceives you are giving.

Children and puppies know this intuitively and holistically. But even we adults know and experience the difference between: 1) being loved and accepted fully for who we are, imperfections and shortcomings included (let’s call this love) 2) being “loved” on top of the buried judgments, hurts and projections of the other (let’s call this not love) and 3) no longer being loved at all (let’s also call this not love). It is simply human nature to give back to another what we perceive that we are receiving from them. Therefore, what you are getting back from another i.e. your partner, father, mother, sister, brother, son or daughter, with very rare exceptions, is a perfect, uncompromising reflection of what they are perceiving and experiencing that you are giving them.

So what are you getting back from the other at this time? Is it Number 1 from the possibilities listed above? Number 2? Number 3? If you truly want to receive a higher and more consistent love back, you will have to to take a good, hard look in the mirror to see the truth about the type of love and not-love you are really extending.

Putting this another way, you have to change first and change deeply and sincerely if you want to receive a higher and more consistent love from the other. To state it in the ways of the spiritual thought system of A Course In Miracles, to transform any relationship from a special relationship into a holy relationship you must see that the only thing missing from any relationship is what you not giving it. This is a far more challenging, closer-to-the-bone level of personal responsibility than most of us are willing to take. Yet for those pilgrims willing to stay on this intrepid adventure I have seen many unions marred in conflict and acrimony transform into solid, supportive and lasting shelters of love and peace.


I am attracted to someone, who, at the time of our union, has approximately the same capacity and incapacity for true and lasting intimacy as I have. And it will almost always look to me as if I have the superior capacity.

Let’s examine this second LAW OF LOVE more closely for the many significant challenges that it presents to our privately-held, ego-based belief system and the explanations we give ourselves about the cause of the state of the relationship.

If the second LAW OF LOVE is true, it suggests that your selection process for a mate is not arbitrary or random. You am drawn to someone who cannot be any more intimate with you, in an honest, open, real, vulnerable and lasting way as you can or want to be with him or her. So though you might see yourself as ready, willing and able to have a full-fledged mind, heart, body and soul connection with your partner, but are deprived and thwarted by his or her unwillingness or inability to do the same, the second LAW OF LOVE suggests that this is not the case at all. Instead, you are drawn (unconsciously) to someone who represents and keeps you in your comfort zone – that is, their love offering perfectly fits what you experienced love to be in your most impressionable childhood years and/or fits with the quality and depth of self-love that you have for yourself in the present. This powerful and illuminating concept which I call your Love Code is elaborated on in another blog.

The barriers and blockages to real and lasting intimacy in yourself and in your chosen partner may not look at all the same. In fact, they might look and show up in dramatically different fashion.

As an example, he may be an alcoholic but you choose partners whom you believe you can fix. This represents the attraction to a human project rather than a human being – a project that is a future-oriented, struggle-against-the odds, dark horse possibility that you believe your love alone can heal.

She may bring wounds from her childhood that show up as a reluctance to fully participate or experiment sexually. But though you prize yourself to be both fully ready and expressive in this area, you may not know the difference between sex as an extension of intimacy and sex as an escape from love and intimacy, and actually prefer it to serve the latter purpose. This would mean that your capacity for real, meaningful intimacy through sex is more or less the same.

Though he might be giving more to his work than he is giving to his relationship with you, you are giving more attention and care to the troubles of your family members and friends than to him.

So, if you are still reading this, and I applaud you if you are, your love life may have a great deal more to do with you than with the other person. Relationship problems and the inner work of healing a relationship is thereby an individual sport and not a team sport. A great deal of self-awareness, self-scrutiny, responsibility and self-forgiveness are needed by the individual who chooses to excel at it. Yet the sky is the limit for those who are prepared to give their all to this rigorous and demanding people-growing training program.

  • Anna de Vlaam

    Hi Joel,

    What a nice idea to reach out this way.

    More than once I have had thoughts about how I would like to continue to interact with you – I wrote you an email about a year ago about your book – and then
    I dismissed the thought again, because I do not like the idea of fixed roles – as in you offer guidance and I receive it.
    Within my not liking fixed roles, I am still grateful for the guidance offered by you in your book; it helped me grow and shape myself.

    Letting go of fixed roles or any preconceptions is what I perceive as a difficult lesson to learn at the same time and because of what you wrote I am pleased to perceive that I am not the only one.

    I quote from your email and your blog:

    It is my desire through the blog to interact with anyone interested, and offer free guidance.

    With that I must relinquish my propensity to
    constantly evaluate and judge. I must cease from endlessly comparing myself to
    other human beings, separating myself again and again from them by compulsively
    seeing myself as either “better than”, “less than” or “different than” them.


    And so perhaps we can agree that we like to interact and we do not have a clue where “It” will lead us?
    Perhaps sometimes I will receive guidance from you?
    Perhaps sometimes you will receive guidance from me?
    Perhaps each of us will receive guidance from within and share with each other?
    How about we practice that everything is possible?

    I have chosen to believe that my paintings guide me too, which idea I like, because it makes the abstract visible and touchable, and so
    I will post a painting inspired by part of the text of A Course in Miracles which touched me the most, because I did remember.


    • Joel Brass

      Dear Anna,

      Thank you for being the first person to reply to my new blog. I hope there will be many more. I appreciate your guidance in remembering that behind every single interaction with the people of our lives, regardless of the seemingly different roles, functions, and social identities we are in at the time, is the opportunity,as A Course In Miracles states,for the Holy Encounter.

      To me, the Holy Encounter is the opportunity to know that “when I am healed I am not healed alone.” That I have the choice with everyone I meet to bring forth love or fear, to see oneness or differences, to know that at all times myself and my brother or sister will be emitting one of two fundamental messages – Love or the call for Love. I will know almost immediately by my response and by what I am feeling and experiencing in the moment whether I am returning fear or love, separation consciousness or unity consciousness, attack or peace.

      Thereby every single person I meet and every single interaction I have is a teaching and learning opportunity to see myself and my spiritual choices more clearly and to accept and forgive myself and the other when one or both of us have chosen wrongly.

      Thank you for reinforcing these important lessons for me and all other readers in your response to my blog.

      I am delighted to know that my book has been a very meaningful contribution to your life. I admire the beauty and vibrancy of your artwork, and the reference to that section of the Course that has also touched me very deeply – The Forgotten Song. Your art and your response are a gift to me.



      • Anna de Vlaam

        Dear Joel,

        What a wonderful opportunity for me to practice with you that everything is possible. Thank you 🙂

        In the past I would have responded that you must have misunderstood part of my post..
        Now I can see and practice that it is okay where ever your inner guidance takes you while responding to my post.

        Starting with I appreciate your guidance …………….till Thank you for reinforcing these important lessons for me and all other readers in your response to my blog, you are communicating with your own inner guidance.

        Perhaps you can sense how your energy goes out, then turns within and then goes out again?

        This way you could reinforce that important lesson for your self and all other readers and I could learn that where ever “It” takes us is okay.

        I am glad you like the painting 🙂