Linda: The path of committed relationship is challenging and rewarding. It helps to have a map of the terrain so that we can find our way. The emotional topography of this territory includes deep and passionate longings and fears. To travel through it we can practice qualities such as patience, diligence, compassion, trust, strength, and integrity. Our journey may begin in the fire of infatuation, but then we learn to negotiate the challenge of commitment. If we don’t get lost along the way we ultimately arrive at a co-creative partnership.
There are a series of stages in relationship. They are infatuation, disillusionment, commitment, power struggle, individuation, intimacy, and co-creativity. Each stage has a corresponding archetypal name. Carl Jung coined the term archetypes, and described them as deep patterns in the human psyche, which remain powerful and present over time. The archetypal names corresponding to these stages are innocent, orphan, caregiver, warrior, wanderer, lover, and magician. We are required to complete certain tasks in each stage before we can go ahead to the next. Identifying each of these seven stages and mastering the challenges of all of them will help us to become whole, actualized human beings.
When we find ourselves having confusion, we may think it is our partner or that we are not cut out for relationship, or that we are inadequate in some way? The truth is that we are attempting to traverse unknown territory without a map. A map can make the journey of relationship easier and more enjoyable. We can choose to make our journey together a heroic one. Holding the vision of the two delightful latter stages, intimacy and co-creativity can give us motivation to keep going when the journey becomes difficult.
Movement from one stage to another is not linear, like moving from elementary school to middle school to high school. The movement goes in a circular fashion. We move around to another stage and master tasks in that stage for a time then move on to a different stage. When we find ourselves circling back to do more work in a previous stage, we may become disheartened and feel that we haven’t learned a thing; but this is rarely true. We have done work in the stage that is important and significant, and have returned to that stage to do a deeper level of work.
All relationships begin with the stage of infatuation. The archetypal name for this stage is innocence. A blissful romantic rosy glow surrounds everything. We have the most incredible exquisite feelings of well being that come with falling in love. We are overwhelmed with the joy of discovery, and flooded with relief that we have finally found “the one”. We trust our selves and others, and allow our selves to merge with our partner and experience a sense of oneness. We feel the protection we felt as a small child and are assured that we are loved. We have found what we have been secretly dreaming all of our lives. We don’t know each other very well yet, so we fill in the blanks with our imagination and project our fantasies onto each other. Infatuation can last for hours, days, weeks, months, even years, but eventually we must face reality.
The challenge of the infatuation stage is to accept the ephemeral quality of all experience. It is difficult to face that we can’t hold onto this innocent joy and happiness indefinitely. For the relationship to grow, we must develop a more realistic assessment of each other
Movement into the second stage can come gradually or abruptly. In this stage of disillusionment, the archetype is the Orphan. The lonely orphan feels abandoned, hopeless, dispirited, and longs for safety. It is hard for her to trust after being betrayed. Someone wounded in relationship can become bitter and closed in this stage and not move out of it. At times, we remain in a relationship, but keep our heart guarded, living our life untrusting, protecting ourselves from pain. There are many rationalizations for getting stuck in this stance, but they all revolve around some variation of the theme: “relationships are too dangerous for me, I must protect myself from getting hurt.”
To move through this stage we need to find courage to not be paralyzed by fear. When we find hope, we are able to reach out to ask for help, and risk trusting again. It requires high level of consciousness to see that the demons we project onto others are really our own. After being hurt, it is challenging to practice forgiveness and take our demonic projections back. To be able to do this requires strength and responsibility.
Once we complete the disillusionment stage, and now have a keen awareness of our partner’s imperfections, the level of commitment we put into the relationship can be much greater. We no longer see the person we are with illusion, hopes, and dreams clouding our understanding. In this stage we learn to sacrifice in a noble way. We learn to commit ourselves to something larger than our own concerns about comfort and security.
Caregiver is the archetypal name for the commitment stage. In this stage we may make personal vows to attain a deeper level of involvement with our partner or we may make formal, public vows as in a marriage ceremony. The relationship deepens as the commitment becomes stronger, and we become more loving human beings.
In this stage we practice the skills of staying present, of being willing to be open, and of taking on the shared responsibility of nurturing the relationship. The new tasks are to become a more generous person and learn to sacrifice for the sake of something bigger than our own personal desires. The challenge here is to develop the courage to stay present in the face of difficulty rather than bolting either physically, or emotionally. Here we practice giving with our whole heart, not holding back, but participating fully in the relationship. In this stage we learn about the paradox of the freedom of commitment that leads to our experiencing ourselves as interdependent, synergistic “we” systems.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3…
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“Love experts Linda and Charlie shine a bright light, busting the most common myths about relationships. Using real-life examples, they skillfully, provide effective strategies and tools to create and grow a deeply loving and fulfilling long-term connection.” —Arielle Ford, author of Turn You Mate into Your Soulmate
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