Skip to main content

EBUP67: On Forming Relationships

Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast #67

Eric Butterworth Sunday Services — On Forming Relationships

Eric Butterworth reveals in this talk his personal views about healthy relationships, sex and marriage.


Download the PDF   Download MP3 of Eric Butterworth Sunday Services — On Forming Relationships - OLGA

Download the PDF   Download MP3 of Eric Butterworth Sunday Services — On Forming Relationships - ERIC


We provide two different ways to listen to the audio because different Internet browsers have different requirements for playing audio. One of them should work for you. If neither one works, download the MP3 to your computer and use the audio player on your computer.




This morning we’re going to talk about relationships. I might say that when I first began to give some thought to this subject, I was thinking, “Boy, that’s in a general area of making friends.” But I found myself being directed toward a more specific application, more intimate relationships, married and unmarried relationships. I hope this will be a challenging and stimulating approach.

I might say that we have no intent of making any judgements or suggesting any moral imperatives, that this isn’t our way. So our concern would be, not with cultural or theological values, but solely with relationships on a human and spiritual level. Let me say at the outset, before I go too far, because I must express my own personal bias, which I hope will not be too influential in the discussion, but I believe in marriage, chiefly because I think we need the discipline of commitment.

But admittedly in marriage, your license does not necessarily verify that there is such a commitment, but it’s simply that human nature being what it is, without the license, it’s so very easy to rationalize a selfish motive toward a relationship, in which we tend to tell ourselves that we have an idealistic desire to maintain spiritual freedom for each person.

But for the purpose of our discussion this morning, when I use the term relationship, I’m not talking about any particular level. You can think of any lifestyle you will. Take what you can and leave the rest because I think there’ll be something for all of us no matter where we are. So we’ll leave it open ended. You can put your own interpretation on it. The only thing is that we’re considering, basically, the relationship that is based on love.

One of the great problems of life, either for those who have been through an unhappy marriage or those who are unhappily unmarried, is the desperate experience of loneliness and the deep desire to form a fulfilling relationship. This is especially keen during the holiday season. The emotions attached to this are rife with delusions. There’s a common belief that when I find the right person, my loneliness will be over and my life will be full and fulfilled. If I just find that right person, Mr. Right, we so often say.

But loneliness is not just being alone. Actually it is completely psychological, a deficiency of the spirit. And it can only be corrected when we overcome that deficiency. Loneliness comes, not because we haven’t found the right friends, but because we haven’t found ourselves. So before we can do much about a relationship with another person, we must first of all form a good relationship with ourselves. This is the emphasis that we give in our Sunday experiences all the time.

We’re concerned with you, your thoughts, your attitudes, not with the world, not with people, the way you are, how are you going to increase your own understanding about yourself. How do you feel when you have yourself on your hands at some lonely hour? How do you regard yourself when you’ve made some silly mistake? Do you find it difficult to refer flatteringly to yourself in public? Most persons struggle all their lives with this self they live with. They’re ever coming to terms with or understanding themselves.

For many years, attention has been centered on building a winning personality. The mask of the self, almost to the exclusion of the real person behind the mask. This makes us good actors, but it hinders our ability to have a good relationship with ourselves, let alone to form a fulfilling relationship with another. And this may lead to the indulging in the fantasy that someday my love will come, someday love what happen to me. But love never just happened to anyone. It doesn’t work that way.

Love is not to be found. It’s not a matter of finding the right person, but being the right person. Unless we know this, we will tend to place all kinds of unreal expectations on a relationship even before it happens. You may look for someone who would make you feel good, someone who will make you very happy and fulfilled, someone who will make you loved and defined and supported. Your whole life will be an expectation that things will be changed when you find that right person.

And you hold up this burden to lay on the person you dream of coming into your life, an expectation that no one can meet. Of course, it is a very selfish motive for forming a relationship, coming out of the emphasis on your own inadequacy as a person. It’s important to get back to basics, you are a wonderful, capable, beautiful person in your transcended self. This is the root of you, this is the heart of you. You may not know it, you may frustrate it, this is what you are.

And your basic need is not to be loved but to love. You want someone you can share a mutual experience of growth with. Two people have a good grounds for a relationship if each one celebrates what he does have in life without creating unreal expectations on the other to make up for what he does not have. In other words, what you are not should never be a factor, only what you are.

In the classic romantic courtship, we tend to be back into a completely unreal image which we fearfully hide behind. We could call it the movie star syndrome. The man seeks to wear a special mask like the Robert Redford mask, or if you date yourself, the Clark Gable mask. The woman takes to wear, Farrah Fawcett Major mask, or again if you date yourself, a Clara Bel mask.

But we tend to seek to project or to come to ourselves with an image of a certain current movie star syndrome. How much more important to base your relationship on frankness and honesty, and on your enthusiasm for celebrating the game of life together, to love one another for what you are, not for what you are not and what you perpetually try to be or expect the other person to be.

One of our very serious problems is that many of us operate from a great deficiency of love, perhaps more than they willing to admit it, or more than know it. We think we have a deficiency of love perhaps because we didn’t experience enough love in our childhood. We tend to blame our parents, our teachers, and we hunger for this love experience. Again, we fully expect it to come from someone else that will come into our life at some time. We live continuously with this longing for love.

It’s a motivation that is at the root of so many of the things we do and the things we feel, things we don’t do. We’re almost on the lookout for someone who may seem able to accept and love us, which leaves us with tremendous confusions. Because when someone comes along, we seem to express this thought that he loves us, it’s a momentous occasion. We tend to reach out and grab it so it won’t get away. And at this point, many persons are swept up into a relationship, confusing love with a feeling a flattery.

As a student of truth, it is important to get the realization that you live at the very heart and center of the universal love. So the need is to give way to love, to release something from within yourself, which is already there. That’s to love yourself, to let God love you and to let God be God in you, let love be love in you. And this way, you tend to clear away all the emotion back demands that other people be different from the way they really are, which creates so many of our problems.

We’re often romantically refer to being in love. But before you reach for an out and outer relationship, it’s important to get the realization that you’re always in love. You’re always in love. Love is always in you. You live in love. Love is the milieu in which you experience life. You’re in love with all people. You’re in love with everyone. We’re in this consciousness of love together. Maybe a play on words, but it’s a very important realization, it’s a starting point. You don’t have to wait until you fall in love, you’re in love already. You’re in love with life. You’re in love with all persons.

It’s a wonderful realization if you work wonders for your relationship with yourself. You will tend to mirror that love in and for everyone. The interesting thing is, rather startling if you think about it, someone can be ranting and raving and standing before you’re screaming and angry with you, but if you’re totally, thoroughly loving yourself at the moment, you’ll be nonresistant. And you will tend to see that person as loving you in the best way that he knows how now, startling as it may seem, and you will see the message of love behind the words that he so interpersonally expresses.

If you’re completely established in the consciousness of love, you project love to everyone all the time, not just when they’re loving. Of course, that’s the height of spiritual consciousness. I think we could probably agree that most of us live just a little bit below that awareness. But the important thing is when you begin to live love, to work on this consciousness of living and projecting love in all your conduct with people, you’ll become lovable and loved and you’ll no longer be lonely. And you’ll become attractive and socially acceptable and opening a way for many friends and companions.

And into this flow of relationships, will ultimately come a special person with whom you can experience a special kind of mutual love. Many years ago, I had some talks with a young man, a police officer who had a yearning to form a good relationship. Somewhat nothing seemed to work for him. He was tall and good looking, seemed to have everything going for him, but as we talked and discussed his whole life, I discovered that he was harboring some deep feelings of bitterness and prejudice, which are blocking his own inner flow.

It was in that I had the inspiration, this was a long time ago, that before one might find the right relationship in life, he must develop a good relationship with himself. This young man was sincere, he was really working at this truth, he was self-honest, so he applied himself to getting centered in the flow of love. And he worked at it over a period of time. And he began to feel good about himself, which is a tremendous step in growth. Things began to happen, first of all in his work we’re a whole of people, and things can’t work in one area without and working in another.

He was transferred to the youth bureau of the police department, where he devoted all his efforts to working with teenage delinquents. It was his right place. He was so successful that he attracted city-wide attention. In time, he was selected as the Young Man of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. He was hounded by reporters who always want to know what’s the secret, how did you do it? His response, “I don’t think I do anything special. Heck, I just love kids.” And it was in his work with children, young people, teenagers, especially working with a particular boy that had such problems that he developed a great fondness for him.

He got to know the boy’s young mother, an attractive young woman, with whom he developed a relationship that ultimately led to marriage and an extremely happy life. You may say, “But it’s not easy to give up all your prejudices and give way to love.” You may say that you’re surrounded by people with whom you have little in common, people who seem to be beneath you, people who even resist your efforts to get along with them. You may even wonder why you’re there in your job, your neighborhood, even the family under which you’ve come through, your marriage relationship, and you may say, “How can I love these people? I don’t even like them.”

But you see it’s important to remember, and we often forget this, love is not an intensive of the verb to like. They’re two entirely different things. Of course, there are some people you don’t like. It’s almost visceral. You may dislike certain foods and have certain distaste for colors. You may not be able to help what you like, but you can’t help what you love. Liking is a feeling, love is a willingness to let love flow forth through you in the direction of your involvement.

Like may be on many levels, and they may come and go, and again you have some likes and some things that you don’t like, but love is your nature. You’re fulfilling the potential of your being. You express love to all persons, but the marvel is if you say yes to love in the direction of some person you don’t like, often things begin to happen. The person may ultimately even become a friend. And it’s probably true, though many of us have never thought of this, some of the most beautiful relationships of your life never happen simply because you do not exercise the freedom to love that’s releasing the possibility of a transcendent communion.

And a very interesting point, this may be a little surprising, when you get the awareness of being in love with everyone, you’re in this consciousness of love, you project this love to every person, suddenly in a way, you can no longer use the fact that you love someone as the basis for your involvement in relationship with them, because you’re in love with everyone. You may say, “But we fell in love. What does this mean?” It’s the easiest thing in the world for two people to fall in love with each other, two lonely people, two people who are hungering for relationship. It’s easy to fall in love.

Falling in love is a romantic fantasy. In most cases, it is a falling from love in an unsettling emotional frenzy. Thomas à Kempis once wrote, “The person who is seeketh his own falleth from love.” So we tend to fall in love or fall out of the flow, into an emotional, physical, even sexual feeling. But if you don’t use love as the criteria of the rightness of your relationship, what you’re used you may think. Out of 4 billion people on earth, who do we chose as the one to become involved with?

Suddenly you realize that love is not two people looking moony-eyed at one another, but rather two people looking out the same window together. Two people who are, first of all, friends who enjoy playing the game of life together and with each other, and celebrate their life together. There’s still a love prerequisite, but suddenly we realize it’s a different form of love.

It is sad, I think to see two people swept into a relationship, either a married or unmarried relationship, reaching a crisis when they awaken in the post honeymoon stage to the realization that they do not know each other, sometimes realizing that they’re not even good friends. That’s the most surprising thing in the world. Any marriage counselor regular psychoanalysts will tell you that it’s so often that people who have a very close relationship discover that they don’t even like each other. Startling surprising, but this is the nature of human feelings.

T. S. Elliot in his Cocktail Party characterizes the plight of so many marriages with devastating simplicity when he writes, “They do not repine, are contended with the morning that separates and with the evening that brings together for casual talks before the fire, two people who know they do not understand each other, breeding children whom they do not understand and who will never understand them.” Bleak and stark isn’t it? Remember the classic example of George and Martha tearing at each other in George Abby’s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

You may wonder, how can you know if your relationship is or can be on the basis of a spiritual union? You will know about whether you can truly let go of yourself, and it’s wants and urges. Here’s a good test which you may find, again, so much shocking. Do you enjoy the other person, or do you enjoy yourself through the instrumentality of the other? Do you enjoy the other person or do you enjoy yourself through the instrumentality of the other? The first is the enjoyment of love, the second is the enjoyment of lust. That’s shocking, isn’t it? And I say that, not judgmentally, but to try and understand ourselves.

When persons enjoy themselves through each other, they do not really meet as persons, they meet as ghosts of themselves. So their pleasure is a ghostly pleasure that cannot begin to satisfy the soul. This is why relationships that are not based on a deep commitment, marriage or otherwise, are often illusory. In most cases, there is no real coming together other than sexually. They may be enjoying themselves through the instrumentality of the other. This almost subtle selfishness and willingness to give of themselves completely.

So whenever you’re thinking of going into a relationship, look deeply and honestly into your own heart to discover your level of commitment to the other person’s wellbeing. To the other person’s wellbeing. You see, if you really love a person in the special way that is the prerequisite to a good relationship, you’re tuned into your beloved’s relationship to his own life or her own life, not just narrowly concerned with his relationship to your life, and that’s important. The basis of any relationship with people is the willingness to share, the willingness to give. What are you willing to give, or to give up?

Years ago, I used to have a lot of counseling, premarital counseling, with young people going into marriage. It was always very startling after talking with them for a while. I discovered that, almost basically and continuously, the main motivation for persons getting into a relationship in marriage was selfish. “How do you know you love this person?” “Because I feel so good when I’m with her or him. Because he does so much for me.” “What do you do for her or for him?” Quite often this is not much consideration.

So what are you willing to give or give up? If you’re realistic, you may find that there are some gifts that you cannot afford to give. And it’s important to see this. Your partner’s wellbeing may need things on which you do not want to spend time or money or energy. In other words, what are your limits? And it’s okay to have limits, just don’t hide them under the banner of romantic love. That’s the case. The reason that so many unmarried relationship do not fulfill or survive is because the partners did not make a commitment to the other person’s wellbeing, only to their own.

So the “you” and “me” and the “yours” and “mine” never quite become the “us” and “ours.” Of course, the necessary commitment cannot be ever bestowed by a clergyman’s “I now pronounce thee.” Any minister likes to hope that when he marries people and gives them that special blessing, something marvelous will suddenly happen to them. But it doesn’t happen that way, it rarely does. A true relationship normally is formed long before that time, possibly long after that time, but rarely right at that moment. Usually they’re so busy trying to figure out which finger to put the ring on and say the right words and move in front of the people so they won’t embarrass themselves.

So the marriage relationship is something that comes within themselves, at times often, normally other than any form of marriage ceremony. So it can’t be bestowed. Marriage or any true basic relationship is not something that can be given as a bequest, it’s an experience of growth, it’s an unfoldment. So for the person who is yearning to find his true mate, or for the person who was already married or involved in a dissatisfying relationship, the true mate is not a new person to be met, but a new depth to be discovered in yourself.

We need to make a new commitment to find the divine level within ourselves always. And the degree that we do this will draw to us the supportive relationships or draw the supportive love from the present relationship. A very important point to take into account in choosing and forming relationships, since people are by definition different from each other, it is inevitable that people will sometimes come into conflict. As I’ve often said, perfect people don’t get married. Perfect people don’t need a relationship. Perfect people that are perfectly secure within themselves. They’re sufficient under their own experience.

But for those of us who are slightly imperfect, which is most of us, it could be said that where there are no differences in relationship, there must be some indifference. If someone says, “I love her, I love him all the time. Everything she does, everything he does is perfect,” that person is motivated by complete illusion, because it doesn’t work that way. “Oh, she’s a perfect dream. He’s a doll.” So we tend to expect them to perform in that way. But human relationships can never get very far on that basis.

When two people really love one another, they can deal with conflict, and even be blessed by it. Because in resolving their differences they become more aware of their likenesses. So it is probably true that two persons who are committed to the expression of great love, and working together in the desire to grow, will tend to grow together and become more involved in likenesses than differences. There will always be differences because people must be individual. As I say, where there are no differences, there must be some indifference and that’s dangerous.

In this computer age, we tend to become solution oriented rather than process oriented. We want to fix things, we want everything to be just right. We want to solve problems and we want to often seek simplistic solutions. We want to fix our spouse or our partner, we want to fix our children, we want to fix ourselves, and usually we’re looking for the quick fix. When we see something we don’t like, usually we want to change it. More important, is that we get to try to understand it. [inaudible 00:24:19] writes, “You always ask me what is your problem, but on the day that you ask me what is your mystery, our relationship will begin.”

When both partners really want to learn about themselves and to discover the depth in each other, mutual growth can commence. It doesn’t end there, but it can begin there. And that’s the important thing. It is this solution orientation that prompts the question, why? So often we ask of someone without realizing what’s implied. He tells us he doesn’t feel good, we say, “Why do you feel bad?” This is at best a request for explanation and justification, and at worst, a demand that you deny the fact that you feel bad if you can’t justify it. It is really somewhat of an insult to ask a person, “Why do you feel bad?”

If the question is, “How do you feel bad?” Or, “What are you experiencing?” Then the answer will tended to be a description of the sensation and the pains as a result of one who is sympathetic. When you ask “how” or “what,” you imply an interest and a helpfulness. When you ask “why,” you only ask for endless explanations, the cause of the cause of the cause, and a total indifference to what the person really feels. Think about this, if you ask “why,” you are indicating rebellious indifference. But if you ask “what” and “how,” you’re trying to be helpful.

T.S. Eliot says, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” At the Allentown retreat last summer, I made a statement that was so much shocking to some people. Some resisted it and some simply wanted to know more about what I was thinking. Because I blurted out, “Sex without love is an abomination.” I had letters about this. And some people courageously, in person, asked me to comment further about it. And I suppose my language was a little strong, but it did serve to get attention. But I had no intent to make a moral judgment because that’s not my way. It might’ve been implied in that.

I wasn’t commenting on the sanctity of marriage as opposed to the immorality of unmarried relationships, but I was dealing rather with the person’s relationship with the law of his being. I’m concerned with you, with the person, where you are, what your thought is, what your feeling is, how you’re dealing with life and with yourself. Every person is spiritual in nature, but human in experience. It’s good to know this about ourselves, to admit it, with a building yearning to fulfill our potential as a creature of love.

Now, the commitment of love may naturally give rise to a coming together in which sexual relationships may be apart, but it’s all a part of the spiritual process. But to engage in sex without love, without this love commitment, is to function at an almost animal level of being. Paul says, “As many as are led by the spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” This means that your spiritual heritage is only yours when you act the part. You have to do something about it. Sex without love can lead only to emptiness and loneliness.

And a person may try to cover this emptiness by boasting of his love life and of his love conquest, but he meaninglessly goes from one experience to another seeking in sex, that which can only be found in love. It is true that you were a physical creature with certain undeniable biological urges, but you’re much more than just an animal. You’re a potentially divine creature. And through love you’re raised from a mere biological organism to the level of your divinity. And it is only through love that you can become creative and self-disciplined and truly human. We all seek that.

I might say for a more detailed discussion of the subject of love and sex, I have a chapter in my book, Life is for Loving, which might be helpful. Perhaps the whole context of the book might be interesting too, Life is for Loving. But there’s a vital point in forming a relationship that we’ve saved for last, even though it might actually be first in importance. I love those words of Gibran, he’s talking about marriage. He says, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” And this is true, whether it’s a marriage sanctified by the church or a marriage in thought and feeling, an unmarried relationship without a certificate or a license, whatever, but let there be spaces in your togetherness.

A true relationship, whether married or unmarried, should be a union of peers. There’s no need for dominance or subjection, submission or stifling possessiveness. The relationship should be based on mutual liking and trust so that each person has the freedom to be an individual. Individually, to be one, to be whole as a person. Each is free to develop at his own pace. And through their growth as separate persons, and also through their supportive love for each other, the union will grow stronger and richer.

There’s a sense in the true relationship is synergistic, if I can use a word that is quite common today in psychology and science, but which may be a word that many of us are unacquainted with. Synergy means the sum of the parts working together is greater than the sum of the parts where he separately. Synergy occurs when two organisms or persons are brought together or combined in such a way that the end result is enhanced, something more happens. It means that one and one make three, surprisingly.

This is the idea in a relationship, two individuals growing as separate people and at the same time transcending their duality and achieving a unity on another level beyond themselves. So in a synergistic way, each one’s personal growth enhances and augments the other’s growth. And the more each partner grows, the more stimulating and dynamic each one becomes for the other. Of course, this presupposes the desire on the part of each person to grow. But friends, growth is what life is all about. If we don’t catch this, we miss the whole meaning of life. Suddenly we don’t catch the deep insight and truth, growth is what we’re after.

So often we think in terms of getting a healing, or making money, or finding a marriage partner, or relationship that we can live with, whatever, but we forget that the most important thing is to grow. Not just to go through life, but to grow through life. And I say, very seriously, that as a student of truth, it might be a very good thing to shun any foolish relationship with a person who indicates that he has no desire to grow. And it’s important to find this out as a basis of your relationship. If you’re interested in truth, you’re interested in growth, personal growth.

You will run into all sorts of dead end streets and ultimate despairs if you allow yourself to be swept into or emotionally moved into some kind of relationship without, first of all, checking out the person, not in terms of what his religion is, or if he has any religion, this is irrelevant. You might say, ‘But he’s Catholic and I’m Jewish. We have a problem.” That’s not the problem. The basic problem is, are you both interested in growth? If you’re interested in growth, all else will take care of itself because growth is what it’s all about, not just living behind a facade of religious denomination, or whatever else it is we’re holding in life.

Whether we’re Republicans or Democrats or socialists or communists or whatever, the important thing is, are you going to go, and are you both willing to go. Not to go together specifically, though that will ultimately happen too, but are you interested in your own personal development as a person? If you are, there’s lots of hope for any relationship. If you’re not, there is no hope, whatever. It’s important to see that. Gibran says, “A relationship,” and we’re interpretating the word relationship, he says in marriage, “A relationship is not a goal in itself, but it’s an opportunity to mature.” An opportunity to mature.

Not that sometime we going to find the right person when we walk through the portals of marriage or any kind of spiritual unity and live happily ever after, but the beginning of the relationship is the beginning of our personal growth. As long as we grow and are willing to change and evolve, then we’ll have happiness and fulfillment. You might add that a healthy relationship is two persons growing and maturing together and loving it. Let’s get still for just a minute.

I want us, first of all, to just reflect upon the realization, universal love. Love is the great milieu in which we live. If you’re not aware of it, and if you have not yet become conscious of it, and are still in the thought that love is something that you lack, something you haven’t had enough of, something you’re trying to find, just reflect for a moment on this beautiful realization that you live in love, just as much as you live in gravity or you live in air, you live in the universe you, you live in love. It’s the milieu in which you live.

You may never have experienced it fully, you may never have let it flow fully, you may have frustrated it all your life, you have hidden behind the feeling that you don’t have love because your parents didn’t love you, because you didn’t have enough love as a child. This is an escape. No matter what happened as a child, open your eyes, take a deep breath and give thanks that you live in love right now, all of the love there is. There’s no lack of love, only you’re lacking awareness of it. Once you become conscious of living in love, you see yourself now living in this great milieu of love.

Get the realization that you’re a whole person. There’s no lack in your consciousness, no dark spots in your head, it’s about yourself. You’re whole, you’re complete and you have all the love there is as your potential. You get the thought of this love flowing forth through you, through your commitment to be loving, all the way from being friendly, being courteous, being supportive, to being intimately loving. See this as flowing through you, giving your life a sense of fulfillment. In other words, the great need is to have a good relationship with yourself, with your own inner source.

You get the feeling that as you feel good about yourself, and give way to this love potential within yourself, something flows forth from you, your projection of spiritual power, because there’s a lovingness that reaches out and touches all persons that come into your personal life. And you attract to yourself friends, good friends, intimate friends, perhaps an intimate relationship, perhaps marriage. The fulfilling process flows through you and from you and comes back to you. And your whole life is full and whole and complete.

Just for a moment, let yourself breathe in and exhale the consciousness of love, love in it’s universal sense, love in its totality, wholeness. Love. Love. Love. As you feel this awareness of love, feel it flowing forth from you, going out to touch the lives of everyone who touches your life. Just give thanks as this consciousness of universal love flows into you and through you and meet your every need to overcome your loneliness, to attract to you good friends and have faith.

And into this flow of relationships, become one special person with whom you can enjoy a special awareness and experience of love. And then know that at this point, this is not the end of your search, but the beginning. In whatever your relationship, give thanks that it is a good opportunity, a wonderful opportunity to grow as a person to become more mature. So together, with a feeling of gratitude, just give thanks for the truth, that makes us free. So be it.