I recently posted a video on some musings I had after a conversation with my friend and spiritual teacher Teal Swan (with whom I created a comprehensive and complimentary Sexual Healing e-course for those grappling with sexual trauma)
We were talking about work-life balance in relationships and brought up the concept that most people are either connection-based or mission-based.
I think this conversation merits a deeper dive, particularly during this time of upheaval and social tension. Looking at relationships this way, either those you are in or those you are exploring, provides a useful tool in understanding your partner, their needs, and even your overall compatibility.
If you are mission-based, your main purpose and driving force is your “mission.” That doesn’t have to be a professional, career-oriented mission, although it often is. It could be a cause you are devoted to, it could be raising your children to be good citizens of the world, it could be caring for your elderly parents, or making art or music, or even physical goals like becoming a master yogi or winning a triathlon. But if you are mission-based, your mission goals are ultimately your highest priority.
You also might tend to be goal-oriented, self-critical, ambitious, and to put a lot of pressure on yourself and those around you. You may struggle to find inner peace and self-worth if you haven’t marked everything off your to-do list for the day, especially as it relates to your larger purpose. You may even have a lot of stories about your right to access self-worth and what it will take for you to be ‘good enough’ to love yourself. On the upside, you are utterly tireless in working towards your goals and you love a challenge. You’re not one to shy away from hard work and you’re an inspiration to those around you. You work harder and more tirelessly than just about everyone else around you.
In a relationship, here is what a mission-based partner might look like: It might look like a person who really struggles to find a work/life balance. It’s not that this person doesn’t love and adore their spouse or children, but they might find it hard to ‘shut off’ the office, like taking important calls during dinner or missing the children’s soccer games or recitals due to work obligations, or it might look like a person who is intensely stressed and anxious at home when things aren’t going right at work. It might look like a person who isn’t in the mood for sex because they’re so overwhelmed at work, or a person who can’t let go and enjoy special occasions like anniversaries or vacations unless they’re positive everything at the office is 100% under control.
So while a mission-based person is strong, definitive, driven, creative, passionate, and tenacious, the shadow side of these gifts is that they are laser-focused on their mission in life, sometimes to the neglect of their personal relationships.
If you are connection-based, it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about work or your achievements. It just means that your priorities are a little different than someone who is mission-based. When push comes to shove, your highest priority is your connection to those you love and care about. It isn’t that you don’t value or emphasize your accomplishments (such as your salary or your latest professional achievements), but it pales in comparison to your focus on how loved you feel and how much you invest in your relationships. All the money and success in the world would never make you happy if it isn’t experienced in the context of deep connection that makes you feel safe and seen.
A connection-based partner is often very self-aware, intuitive, empathic, nurturing, and generous with their time and energy. But the shadow side of these gifts can be that a connection-based person struggles to eke out their own corner of the world because they are so busy tending to everyone’s else gardens. They can struggle to focus or put their foot down, or with standing up for themselves without feeling guilt or discomfort. A connection-based person will put most of their effort and focus into building and maintaining intimacy but this can sometimes veer into codependent territory, in which they are so consumed by how others view them that they lose their ability to manage their own emotions.
It’s important to note that few to none of us are totally mission-based or commitment-based. Rather, it’s a continuum, and your place on the continuum can shift throughout your life depending on your experiences and goals.
Look at the below scale and determine where you think you might be at, and have your partner do the same:
While our place on the continuum can shift throughout our lives, it’s easy to imagine how struggles can potentially arise when one partner is in mission-based mode and the other is in connection-based mode. For example, in my conversation with Teal Swan, she shared that she is totally mission-based, and we both agreed that I am definitely connection-based with a solid dose of mission (making me a 4 on the scale, and Teal a 1). But just because Teal is a mission-based person and I am connection-based doesn’t mean that she doesn’t value our relationship or her friendships in general, but we both know that if given a choice between running a transformational retreat and going on a girls’ trip with me, she will always choose the prior.
We also both know that the only time I will ever get to spend quality time with her is if I go visit her at home, or if we meet up somewhere before or after she does her mission-based work. And that’s fine with me, because I don’t need to be a priority over her mission in life. I admire and adore how committed she is to making the world a more loving and peaceful place, and I make space in my heart and mind for the possibility that she may not always have time for me due to that mission. Similarly, Teal understands that as a connection-based person, the way that I really feel valued and seen by her is if she makes a point of paying attention to my need for connection, and she does a great job of that.
Now, let’s apply this same technique of understanding to a romantic relationship. Let’s say you’re a 1 like Teal, and your partner is a 4. How might issues arise due to your differing spots on the continuum? You might find yourself getting annoyed when your partner asks you to get off your phone, or frustrated when your partner doesn’t seem that interested in your latest accomplishment or goal. Your partner might feel second-best to your work at times or feel that you aren’t invested enough in improving your intimacy.
My relationship with my husband is a good example. We are both connection-based with a strong mission orientation, but we both know that our relationship comes first above work and everything else. Our family and our children are more important to us than any work or mission-based accomplished. At the same time, we also both agree that we share a strong mission to raise amazing sons who feel our love and support. We also share a desire to prioritize our romantic connection over our parenting mission. I know that might sound a bit shocking, but we both believe that the greatest gift we can give to our kids is a strong marriage and family unit, and we do that by putting our marriage at the front and center. This is the foundation on which our children will build their romantic futures and will hugely impact the ways in which they pick future partners and establish their own future marriages, so by putting our marriage first, we are actually serving them as well.
So how can you put this information into action in your own relationship? First, you need to find out where you are on the mission/connection continuum and also find out where your partner belongs. And remember, these spots may change as time passes and things evolve in your lives, but generally speaking, someone who is highly connection-based is never going to shift to being totally mission-based or vice versa, but they may slightly ease up and down the scale depending on what is happening in their world. For example, someone who is totally mission-based may find themselves shifting to a more connection-based perspective when they become a parent or experience a life-changing illness, or someone who is totally connection-based may shift to a more mission-based perspective when their grown children leave home and they suddenly have time and focus to put into their own interests.
The most important part of your place on the continuum and your partner’s place on the continuum is that you need to set an intention to meet in the middle. For example, maybe that means giving a bit of leeway or grace to your mission-based partner when they insist they just have to make one more work call on your vacation, or maybe being more affectionate and present when your connection-based partner makes a bid for your attention.
And, if you are dating, keep your place on the continuum in mind. If you are highly connection-based and dating a workaholic, you have to examine how this might impact your romantic future. Notice what your potential partner(s) focus on when they talk about themselves and their lives on your dates: Is it all about work or professional accolades, or do they talk about their family and friends a lot? Do they want to talk about politics and their commitment to changing the world or about how they feel about what’s happening in the world right now?
Realizing whether your partner is connection-based or mission-based (and having them know the same about you) can be really helpful not only in preventing arguments but also in healing afterward, such as by saying something like “I was so focused on my mission that I made you feel neglected” in which you acknowledge how your differing philosophies impact your own behavior.