'You have to do the homework': Working towards intentional and mindful relationships

Spend time with Claire Hawkins and Lindsay Iwanicha and it's clear they're the type of couple that genuinely enjoys each other's company. 

"We laugh a lot at life and appreciate the little things," said Hawkins.

It has taken a lot of work to get to where they are.

The Saskatoon pair started dating in July 2019 and attend a group called A Conscious Partner, which focuses on providing practical tools for self-growth and intentionality in relationships. Hawkins, who is originally from Central Butte, Sask., began attending in 2018 after she grew frustrated with dating and felt she needed more from her relationships.

"I was a widow for 11 years, and then I did a bit of online dating, but I felt people played games. They weren't authentic and I sensed a lot of fear in trying to love again," she said. "I wanted to bring the best version of myself into a relationship and I wanted that in return, but I never felt like I got what I needed."

Claire Hawkins

After meeting Hawkins in a group for professional singles over 50, Iwanicha joined her at A Conscious Partner, and says it has been a thought-provoking and enlightening experience.

"I'm also involved in a group that works with people who are divorced and separated, and from that experience, I've realized that in order to move forward, people need to do the work," said Iwanicha. "I've seen a lot of people who didn't do the work and didn't make any progress. So when we started dating, it seemed like a logical step."

A Conscious Partner was initially developed in 2017 by Bruce Dougherty and Dr. Gisele Tennant of Calgary. After hosting their first event in Calgary in January 2018, they expanded to Edmonton, Red Deer, Alta., Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Event sizes and age groups vary, but Dougherty said the point remains the same. 

"It's community-based learning focused on knowing how to be a better partner by being more self-aware in dating and relationships."

Some of the biggest challenges for people in building conscious relationships include having an attitude of, 'This is just who I am.' - Barbara Morrison, co-author of Fully Half Committed

Saskatoon events happen monthly and each one focuses on a key principle for being conscious in relationships. Topics include "exploring personality," "letting go of the past" and "sexual IQ." In a world where dating and communication is frequently conducted online or through apps, practising mindfulness and intentionality feels like a deliberate counter to current culture.

In January, Hawkins and Iwanicha attended A Conscious Partner's latest session on "recognition." It addressed how to identify underlying personal challenges in order to move forward in life and relationships. The group listened intently as Dougherty spoke, then everyone participated in an activity on self-awareness and behaviour recognition.

Colin French joined A Conscious Partner as the next step in learning the skills necessary for healthy romantic relationships. 

"Nobody taught me how to fight fair with a partner, where my attachment style comes from, or how to nail down my core values. The resources Bruce and Gisele have assembled are vast and at the same time very accessible," he said. 

He said the crowd is diverse: mostly middle-aged participants, but some in their twenties and thirties, and folks from out of town as well. He's now working towards facilitating local events.

Naomi Zurevinski

Barbara Morrison, a registered clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Saskatoon, is also the co-author of Fully Half Committed, a book that offers conversation starters for people to practice conscious relationships. She said that being intentional by confronting your own thoughts and actions means there is more potential for accountability.

"Some of the biggest challenges for people in building conscious relationships include having an attitude of, 'This is just who I am,' having a narcissistic attitude, taking the relationship for granted and not understanding or believing that personal growth is a process of evolution," she said.

Here are some ways the folks we spoke to advised how to cultivate intentionality in relationships:

  • Be respectful.
  • Be authentic.
  • Be curious about your partner.
  • Ask each other the tough questions and listen intently.
  • Put in the effort, whether it's for personal growth or relationship development.
  • Make spending time together a priority.
  • Be imaginative, playful and have fun together. Try new things.
  • Avoid being on your phone when you spend time together.
  • Check in with your partner regularly on how they're doing and how they feel about the relationship.

Hawkins agrees that ego is what often gets in the way.

"You must shed your ego before you can do anything. Vulnerability is so important in taking a risk and putting your walls down." 

Morrison said that being conscious and intentional does not just apply to romantic relationships, and impacts your relationship with your friends, family and yourself. If you are in any sort of long-term relationship, she says it's important to continue putting in the effort.

I want to know that when we communicate, I don't just hear what I want to hear, but I hear what she's really saying. There are a lot of stereotypes about men and that they can't communicate, but why can't you? - Lindsay Iwanicha, member of A Conscious Partner in Saskatoon

"Many people think they know their partner and operate on the assumption that they do, but it's important to be curious about your partner and ask questions," Morrison said. "In the book we have an entire chapter on having fun too. It sounds so simple, and it's that important. Being imaginative and playful and contributing something interesting to the relationship goes a long way to being chooseable."

For Iwanicha, being intentional means being open and vulnerable with communication, and knowing there's potential for growth.

"I want to know that when we communicate, I don't just hear what I want to hear, but I hear what she's really saying. There are a lot of stereotypes about men and that they can't communicate, but why can't you? We want this to be successful so we put the effort in," he said. "This seems like a bit of an evolution of where things are going; people need to communicate to be successful."

Hawkins has noticed that there's a move toward people craving more mindfulness and presence in their daily lives, and that putting in the work is a key part of that.

"I think we were attracted to each other because we had both done the homework. No matter who you are, you're going to have challenges, but doing the homework makes you more self-aware. To me the most important thing about becoming mindful is letting go of the past. That way you can recover from previous relationships and not bring that stuff into the next one."