Being and Becoming in Relationships

By Paul Dunion | July 30, 2017

The natures of Being and Becoming in relationships often go undefined and therefore hard to talk about or do anything about. If the features of Being or Becoming go unnamed, then a shroud of emptiness and estrangement descend upon a relationship. However, acknowledging and welcoming either the deeper life of Being or Becoming can revitalize a relationship. Allowing for the Being of a relationship is especially important when someone is physically or emotionally fatigued, sick or injured, feeling frightened, hurt or lost, subject to some act of violence or simply in need of renewal. Let’s look at some of the prominent characteristics of Being.



There are a number of features that denote Being.

*Suspension of Expectations. Expectations are held in abeyance. In lieu of expectations, a radical acceptance is offered. The other person is extended an invitation to simply be, not being required to perform in any way. There is a poignant elimination of task, with a palpable interruption of striving.

*Active Passivity. Being is largely about active passivity, which sounds like a contradiction. The passivity reflects the lack of overt behavior including spoken language. There is no other agenda that simply being present to another person. So, what is so active about this passivity? First of all, there is an inner clearing happening where we release any thought or intention, which might pull us away from simply being present. In that way we actively define ourselves as an empty bowl. Holding ourselves as an empty bowl is supported by the actions of breathing abdominally, tracking our emotions along with our inner sensations (stiffness, pulsations, temperature changes.)

*Presence. An old meaning of the word presence is “being at hand and not absent”. Being at hand denotes physical proximity. We can say that it also suggests psychological proximity. Active passivity creates psychological proximity. As we release actions and thoughts that can distract us from the felt sense of our emotions and internal sensations, we remain in psychological proximity to another. When empathy is one of those emotions, emotional barriers recede with presence deepening.

*Giving Witness. The gift of giving witness is captured in the following quote: “… the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.” (David Whyte) Being witnessed confirms an embodied sense of our existence and the personal experience that has brought us to this point in the journey. Being held in the privileged gaze of another offers us a refined sensibility about who we are.

*Arousal of Healing Energies. Beingness has the power to engender the buoyance of healing, as we feel held. An old meaning of the word heal is “to make whole”. When we are traumatized or psychologically injured, some part of us is separated or cut off. It could be a sense of safety, a feeling of being lovable or courageous enough to take some risk. When we feel emotionally held, it becomes easier to hold more of ourselves, relaxing into the acceptance that permeates the moment. In his book, In An Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine recounts receiving an expression of Being as he lays helpless in the street, having just been struck down by a passing vehicle. “After a few minutes, a woman unobtrusively inserts herself and quietly sits by my side…. In a little while, a softer trembling begins to replace the abrupt shudders. I feel alternating waves of fear and sorrow…. A slower breath brings me the scent of her perfume. Her continued presence sustains me. As I feel less overwhelmed, my fear softens and begins to subside.” Levine goes on to describe how the woman’s presence aroused healing energies that greatly interrupt the onslaught of PTSD Symptoms.



Becoming suggests movement. The question here is: What or who do I want to become? Some responses to this question might include: I want more ease in regard to giving and receiving love, I want to be more competent at creating emotional intimacy, I want to be able to work misunderstandings and conflict with more ease.

Here are some features of becoming.

• Committed to a Task. Once we know what we want in a significant relationship, then we can clarify the task at hand. Assuming we might want more closeness in our relationships, then the task will be to learn how to honor the diverse uniqueness of each person while creating emotional intimacy, or a strong feeling of togetherness. Such a task will call for increased competency in the area of emotional intelligence. Cark Jung sites an important component of emotional intelligence: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”. It is a valued relationship task to notice the insensitivity we see in the beloved, also is in us. Because emotional intelligence typically cannot be found in an academic curriculum, we all suffer with some degree of emotional ignorance. Our relationships also suffer. Hence, a relationship’s task of emotional growth needs to be supported in counter-cultural circles where emotional intelligence is prioritized.

• Embracing the Present Moment. Becoming prioritizes the present moment for different reasons than Being. The primary purpose for Becoming is to bring an internal observer on line. The goal of the internal observer is to afford us the opportunity to be self-examining in the moment. The hope is that our awareness will interrupt impetuous reactions and allow us to generate more options. Beneficial interruptions might include the need to be right or to win in a conversation. Increased options might add more authenticity and more compassion to the exchange.

• Generating Trust and Faith. “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible”. (Anton Chekov) Without trust and faith, emotional intimacy becomes impossible. When emotional intimacy is the task, then in order to get what we want from the relationship, we will need to develop the skills needed to generate trust. I suggest defining trust as the belief that I will hear the other person speak the truth and the belief that the other will treat me kindly. This means being willing to live the question: How do we create a relationship where speaking the truth is safe and diminishing the likelihood of unkindness will be prevalent? The second question is: Since the violation of trust is inevitable, how will we heal such a violation when it happens?

• Arousing Healing Energies. Becoming holds the capacity to heal quite differently than Being. As people learn to be accountable for their behavior, manage conflict, support diverse views and effectively get their needs met, they interrupt dysfunctional and destructive relationship patterns. Early wounding finds healing in a relationship committed to learning how to honor individuality as well as the depth of emotional connection.

• Choosing and Choosing. As each person grows and changes, it becomes critical to ask: Do I choose you now as you are? The choosing or not choosing can be further explored by expressing the reasons that I choose you now, or this is why I don’t choose you now. Certainly, couples can celebrate what brings them to a renewal of choice. On the other hand, it may be critical to explore what is impeding a renewal of choice. Before jumping ship, it can be critical to explore expectations and accompanying lessons in order to support the Becoming conditions in a relationship rather than termination.

Being supports non-attachment while Becoming supports attachment. Being is simply about being while becoming is about doing. However, the wellness and growth of a relationship depends upon these two remaining in concert, one adding to the other. Being is womb-like. It offers repose. It creates an opportunity for doing to subside and allows for renewal. Being gives a relationship a place to be nurtured, to let go and find deep comfort. It provides an opportunity to be off, allowing for emotional repair. Being is about contraction, which is a prerequisite for the expansion of Becoming. Becoming moves a relationship. It provides enough restlessness to rock us from the grip of mediocrity. Becoming wakes us up, jostling us from the slumber of Being and from the familiarity of old, dysfunctional patterns such as domination, avoidance and excessive compliance. Becoming infuses our relationship stories with curiosity and a tenacity to reach for more authenticity, more compassion and more emotional intimacy.

Posted in

Leave a Comment