How do I tell my partner that I want to work with psychedelics?

It may not be an easy conversation to start with your lover (or family). These insights and resources may help.

By Charlotte Nicholson

“Personally I also wouldn’t have wanted to introduce a lie into the relationship… and it cuts you off from an area of support…”

…says Russell from Washington D.C., in his sixties, who has been supported by his wife through psilocybin and ayahuasca therapy to address recurrent depression following his mother’s death.

Why your partner will know something has happened

Regardless of whether or not you tell your partner, they will know that something significant has happened. And if you are in a committed relationship, which, by definition, you are both invested in — both emotionally and most likely financially — it will have an impact on the relationship. Not just the relationship, but many other aspects of your life. And that will affect their life, too, as they walk alongside you.

“December 10th of 2019 was the day when my life changed forever. It was the day that I saw who I AM for the first time in my life. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. To this day, the most profound day of my life.”

And this is Alex M., 36, from Germany:

“Going into my experience, I asked to understand my full potential as a man. What I was given was a fight with my ‘inner dragon’, which represented all the fears that kept me from doing what I’m truly capable of. I still get goosebumps every time I think about it. Defeating it opened my eyes to a way of living I was afraid to accept before. Now I see that it was always my responsibility to step up and decide to live life on my own terms and no-one else’s.”

This shifts your perspective on a few things and impacts the kind of person you want to be in this world. The kind of parent, sibling, child, friend or partner you want to show up as, the job you want to do — or suddenly not do — the lifestyle you desire, the legacy you want to leave behind. And you are likely to feel the urge to do something with these new insights.

Photo by Samuel Rodriguez on Unsplash

Why psychedelics, why not normal therapy?

Why don’t you just go and talk to someone, like most people do? This was one of the questions my family asked me.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Cognitive hypnotherapy
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) sessions, for trauma release

“After burning out in my 20s, which brought me to the edge of my mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, I made a promise to myself that I’d start looking for answers to my happiness elsewhere than in the material world. I read books, I started meditating, I listened to podcasts, I travelled, I had meditation-based coaching. But until I found psychedelics as a tool to connect deep within, these answers remained elusive. The wisdom and knowledge I was so desperately craving wasn’t found anywhere but INSIDE me, and psychedelics were the most powerful gateway to this truth…”

…says Alex F., 32, from Germany, who has worked in healing settings with LSD, MDMA, psilocybin and ayahuasca.

The ayahuasca vine, Banisteriopsis caapi. Photo by author.

“My decision to work with psychedelics for my own development and emotional liberation was so profound and radical in itself that it automatically had a big impact on my relationship. My partner was critical. She had fears and prejudices against the work and was afraid I would change at the speed of light and she would not be able to keep up with me. But she kept an open mind and committed to learning more…”

…acknowledges Alex M.

The science of psychedelics

Here’s a taster of what’s out there.

“In the pharmaceutical drug development community, this is what you dream about. The results of the interim analysis of MAPS’ pivotal first Phase 3 trial are the most powerful evidence yet that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could help transform the lives of people suffering from PTSD.”

How do psychedelics uniquely facilitate such fundamental shifts in our psyches in such short time frames, where other treatments have failed?

“It appears that when activity in the default mode network falls off precipitously, the ego temporarily vanishes, and the usual boundaries we experience between self and world, subject and object, all melt away.” — (Investigative journalist Michael Pollan, from his №1 New York Times best-selling book, How To Change Your Mind).

Why is this important?

Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

‘Big’ trauma and ‘small’ trauma

There is a risk — especially if everything seems pretty OK from the outside — that announcing to your partner that you want to undertake psychedelic therapy may be taken as some kind of negative reflection of life in relationship with them.

“You think, ‘why? Am I falling short somehow that you would need to do something like this? Am I not the perfect spouse? Where’s the person I know? Where is all this coming from?’ “

… says Laura, from Washington D.C., who has supported her husband, Russell, through psychedelic healing work with psilocybin and ayahuasca.

Photo by Andrea Ferrario on Unsplash

“It’s all about ME and my insecurities, fear of being rejected. Fear of a wedge being driven between you. Needing to be reassured. All of a sudden the relationship doesn’t seem so solid….”

Because we tend to associate the word ‘trauma’ with exposure to something catastrophic— a war, physical, psychological or sexual abuse, a life-changing accident or natural disaster —so it’s little wonder loved ones may be quick to take offence.

“I had become aware through years of personal development coaching that my endless search for approval and validation through performance and achievements stemmed from my relationship with my father, for whom nothing I did ever seemed enough to make him proud.

But I had been completely unaware that the relationship between my mother and me, which had close to no personal boundaries and was full of emotional enmeshment, had contributed to the failure of a string of previous relationships. Working with ayahuasca brought this to light, and I was able to finally free myself of love addiction and love avoidance cycles that had been repeating themselves over and over…”

…explains Alex F. (he goes into more detail in this article).

“You should never take it personally. We’re all grappling with what we live for and what we want from our relationships, including with ourselves. For me it was a case of ‘am I going to examine this fear, or am I just going to project it outward?’

Fear comes from a lack of knowledge. Talk about it. Ask them to provide as much information as possible — articles, podcasts — whatever language resonates with you. Put a face on the unknown and make it human. I read as much as I could.

Beyond that, at some point I had to just take a leap of faith. But I think it’s brought us closer for the fact that I just trusted him.”

Although it may not necessarily be the partner of the person seeking to work with psychedelics that has the greatest concerns. Gregor from Germany explains:

“My wife was actually approving of my decision from the beginning because she has been in psychotherapy and it really helped her. She has also had a some experience with micro-dosing, so she is not completely unaware of the potential of these substances. I’m actually the one who’s had concerns about a gap being created between us, because I’m making real progress, recognising connections and becoming more aware of behaviours, whereas she does not want to — or is not ready to — do deeper work. So it requires a lot from us, but she is the mother of my children. We are family. For me, separation is not an option.”

The case made by ‘the science’ for the psycho-emotional healing potential of psychedelics is undeniably compelling.

Safety: Set, setting and integration

My mother said:

“I just want to know that it won’t damage you; that you’ll come back as you, just with more insight.”

And my sister — married to a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan living with the effects of PTSD, who would in theory be a prime candidate for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy — echoed her.

If my husband decided he wanted to do it, I’d want to know the risks. Are there potential side effects? How do you make the experience as safe as possible? What are the safety protocols?

Safety protocols in psychedelic-assisted therapeutic work are collectively described as ‘set and setting’, a phrase coined by Harvard psychologist and psychedelics advocate Timothy Leary in the Sixties, to describe the mindset with which you approach taking a psychedelic and the context in which you journey.

Set

Describes how well-prepared you are personally, and with the guidance of your facilitator/s.

Photo by Shashi Ch on Unsplash

Setting

Describes where you’re doing it and who you will be with. Does it feel welcoming, safe and legally sanctioned, and will your needs be met? How experienced is your guide/s and do you trust him/her/them?

“I chose to do ayahuasca at The Temple of the Way of Light because it has been established for more than a decade and has an excellent reputation, being linked with some pretty impressive international research institutions. Personally, I also never do the first course in anything — meditation retreats or anything else — because I think a course needs to run a few times to learn from what is taking place. It gives me that reassurance that OK, people have run this before and they’ve learned from it, and that makes me feel safer…”

…explains Rob, 38, from the UK, a veteran of Iraq.

Integration

And things can get challenging. People can encounter side effects in the form of psychological difficulties when confronted by the darker corners of their minds for the first time, sometimes retrieving memories of events of which they were not consciously aware. Or after having something akin to a spiritual awakening that challenges everything they had previously believed about themselves and the world.

“Undergoing such a deep healing process is in essence like a surgery — of your energy body, mind, heart and soul. Therefore, after coming out of major ‘energetic surgery,’ you may experience ‘post-op’ difficulties; feeling disconnected, off-center, emotions surfacing that have been suppressed for many years, difficulty associating with day-to-day life and not relating with people who have not been through the same experience as you. This is still part of the healing process and will pass.

Commit to learning how to work with this new sensitivity, rather than struggling against it. This means learning and practicing new tools — like meditation, breathwork, bodywork or spending more time in nature — transforming your way of being from the inside.

Face any difficulties and discomforts, don’t try to suppress them — ‘true healing is about better feeling, not feeling better.’”

Photo by Coley Christine on Unsplash

“The first thing I noticed straight away after he came back was these new connections he’d made with other people he’d done the ayahuasca retreat with, and how tight they’d all become because they’d lived it together. These new, deep, intimate friendships are opening up a side of him that I haven’t seen. I feel it’s important to have that part of yourself that’s nurtured by other relationships, so you don’t lean on your partner too much.”

The bottom line is, I would say, don’t try and do this work alone. Including your partner (and/or other loved ones) on your journey means that they can be prepared for what comes afterwards, too. They can have their own support system in place, as well as feeling they are hand-in-hand with you if you decide to effect changes in your life.

“Through deep connection with myself, it became possible to connect with my partner on a higher level. This gave us both a new confidence in the relationship, with the effect that we communicate more openly, more softly and benevolently and much more clearly, driven less by ego. Because of the huge effect the work had on me and my system, my partner has locked into this energy instead of resisting it. She has made the decision to do more inner work herself, independently of whether we stay together or not. This fills me with joy, confidence and a deep feeling of connection. It’s a new level…”

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