Mention the word ''surrender'' to most people in the context of romantic, intimate, sexual relationships and they may respond in one of these ways:

''Why would I want to do that?''

In my experience, people assume it's either relating to sexual surrender or surrender that involves a loss of power or agency, therefore a potential imbalance of power in the relationship, and I'm not talking about either of those here. 

What I am talking about is not surrender to another person or an idea, concept or belief but surrender to what is unfolding between two people without effort on either side, surrendering to that which is emerging between two people without standing in its way.

It can be tricky, however, for some people more than others, to discern and really feel the difference between those two - between a surrender that involves imbalance and loss of personal power vs a surrender to something intangible, something that is uncertain, ever changing and evolving, surrendering to something we are not consciously in control of when many people either like to feel in control in relationships or believe that intimate relating should or can be controlled in some way.

The human mind is hardwired to seek certainty and yet the irony is, the more we can accept uncertainty the easier we find it to deal with as well as the more creative, curious and open to possibility we become. The neuroscience evidence-based data is clear. In the context of adult intimate relationships, or where there is the possibility of a relationship blossoming, learning to get comfortable with uncertainty and flexing our muscles of curiosity can bring enormous gifts as well as potential for deep intimacy, both physically and emotionally, as well as spiritually (if that's your 'thing').

Some people have the belief that any surrender in the context of intimate, romantic relationship is 'wrong'. They may believe that the people in the relationship (whatever the nature of that 'relationship') should hold onto their individual nature & life in totality and that any talk of surrender is counter to that approach, they may believe that surrender is 'weakness' or codependency or perhaps they have a fear of losing themselves in a relationship they are 'surrendered' to. This is not what I'm talking about, I'm not talking about surrender of power or autonomy or sovereignty, nor am I talking about surrender to another person but about surrender to the raw nature of what is unfolding between people. This is something made of the two people involved but also something with a life of its own.

Equally, many people, especially those who've had more than one or two 'serious' relationships and people who've perhaps been hurt in those relationships or gone into those relationships feeling like hurt people, may feel afraid that the idea of surrender means being vulnerable to someone else and the possibility for emotional pain. The latter is, to some degree, true but also not.


Many people also imagine the word surrender in this context referring solely to sexual surrender, maybe in the context of BDSM. While engaging in acts of sexual submission and domination may be fun for some, and does usually involve surrender of some nature, it can, in my experience, also potentially introduce or magnify unhealthy power dynamics in some relationships. That's not to say that's always the case, of course not, but it can & does happen. 

Conscious and intentional sexual surrender, the giving or the receiving of it, implicitly speaks about and explores power imbalance, that's it's whole point and purpose, it's what it cultivates and plays with. What I'm speaking about here is, ideally, a mutual surrender where both parties are, for the most part, open to and in surrender to what is unfolding between them. In my experience this can be difficult to achieve, it can take practice and needs some relationship skills but it is, most definitely, possible. That said, it is, of course, perfectly possible for one person to be in surrender to what is unfolding between two people and for the other person not to be in surrender to the same degree or at all. This does, however, not usually feel good to one or both people because it's not balanced and then the 'rightness' of the relationship should be questioned, as well as the nature of the surrender. It can be brought into balance, though, if both people are willing and able to do the individual work necessary. 

It's important to note also that surrender, in this context, is not an abdication of either power or responsibility. It is a delicate dance of holding oneself at the same time in one's own power, also holding oneself to account, while also remaining open to the uncertainty of that which is unfolding between you and another human being while not being defended against it or what it brings up in you. It is a delicate dance indeed and there is no map, guide book or rule book because this particular relationship has never been there before. When we want certainty, when we want to feel sure and secure this absence of security and certainty can feel scary and vulnerable but this is where self awareness comes in as well as trust, trust in oneself, trust in the other person and trust in what is emerging & growing between the two people without it being controlled by one or both of those people. A light, very light, touch is required here.


What I'm talking about here is rich in potential for both self awareness & intimacy, it's to be found in those moments were words become useless, unnecessary and redundant, it's what we feel when we look into the eyes of the other & feel some sense of or desire for oneness in the two of us. It is the feeling we get when we think about the other and what arises is curiosity, a desire to know them, understand them & be in their company so we can explore and be explored by them. This can sometimes also be sexual but it isn't always. It's in the spaces where our shoulders relax, our bellies soften and we feel the body open to the other person - usually this isn't conscious but sometimes it is and needs to be in order to cultivate a more open disposition. This is especially true for those of us who've felt hurt in intimate relationship (who hasn't?!) and even more so for those of us who've experienced trauma in life, especially sexual trauma.


Why is self awareness important here?
Well, we can't recognise any of the above if we aren't aware enough of our own body's responses, both obvious & subtle or if we aren't aware of the emotional and psychological patterns that we have in the past or currently play out in intimate relationships, including our own defenses, both against ourselves and others. As Carl Jung often pointed out, we must be aware of our own darkness if we are to be able to meet and see the darkness in others and we must be as comfortable with both our 'light' and our 'dark' if we are to be whole human beings. 

If we can't tune carefully and mindfully into our body's tensions & relaxations then we miss out on what the body is communicating to us, more importantly what our nervous system is communicating and why. If we can't identify those messages from the nervous system, and more importantly decode them, then we are limited in what we can do about and with them, hugely so. Equally, our patterns of behaviour are something that we must have conscious awareness of if we are to change them, or at the very least be open to changing them and we can't do that if we don't have a a curious awareness of and about them as opposed to an attitude of closed mindedness towards them.


Most of what I, and most other relationship therapists, see as causing significant problems in relationships are the assumptions people make about each other. The things we assume others think, feel, believe, want and don't want. Most misunderstandings are caused by assumptions as are most arguments, indeed as are many break ups and divorces. If we can cultivate an attitude of curiosity about both ourselves and the other person we are in a far better position to feel compassionate, to be understanding and, ultimately, be open to what is arising both in ourselves and between us before writing it off or deciding we 'know' what's true without giving it time to organically and naturally unfold, or, indeed, asking the other person if it's true for them.


It is this uncertainty I want to invite you to open to, the uncertainty of knowing ourselves (can we ever? I don't think so) the uncertainty of knowing the other (that's definitely not possible) and the uncertainty of knowing what may arise or unfold between two people (can we know that either? not entirely). 

It is in this space of uncertainty where we surrender to the unknown, where we surrender to that which may never be known, where we surrender to both ourselves and the other as well as the mysterious 3rd thing - the relationship that wants to live and grow and be between us free from our personal limitations, fears & assumptions.

Last edited 20/06/22