What Do Our Relationships Have to Do with Our Spirituality?


Like you and me, an iceberg has a part we can see and a part we can't.
Like you and me, an iceberg has a part we can see and a part we can’t.

The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious [two opposing halves of one psyche] is called the ‘transcendent function’…. This function progressively unites the opposites. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, par. 1554.

In my January 4th post, “What Is Enlightenment?” I wrote,  “…even though we think of enlightenment as a strictly spiritual pursuit, it… is not solely a function of any one aspect of human nature, but of the whole package.” I went on to describe what I consider to be the fundamental psychological components of enlightenment. They consist of four archetypal couples—each consisting of a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ form of energy—and a final androgynous archetype, The Couple, which evolves as we work to create reciprocal relationships between the other four pairs.

One reader made the following observation:

So, the Couple archetype may be just a beginning place, with the potential for infinite expansion and evolution. Any two energies, when they come together, exponentially increase the potential of each partner and create a new whole that radiates outward to impact an infinite number of other inter-related individuals. The Couple is not completion, it is only the point where “self” and “other” become one… and then become infinite. The “transcendence” occurs beyond self and other, beyond masculine and feminine. Kirsten Backstrom

I agree with Kirsten’s comment that the Couple is not completion. As I see it, it is a conscious, expanding, integrating way of thinking, being and living which aims for perfection and completion. In this respect it is a portal to transcendence. I’d like to expand on that idea here.

Last weekend I attended a talk by Father Rohr in which he made two profound statements:

“Organized religion has not taught high-level consciousness.” 

“Unless your religion is transforming your consciousness, it’s junk religion.” ~Richard Rohr, Speech in Winter Park, FL, Jan 28, 2017.

This from a Catholic priest.  How refreshing is that? Here’s the point I want to make: We are much more than we think we are, and reality is much more than we think it is. The thoughts and feelings of which we are aware are the tip of a massive iceberg, and we will never experience spiritual transformation (non-dualistic, high-level consciousness) until we admit the data of the unconscious, i.e. what lies below, into our awareness.

Two opposing hemispheres in intimate relationships make a third sacred entity: a child, your brain, the world, a new work of art.
Two opposing hemispheres in intimate relationships make a third sacred entity: a child, your brain, the world, a new work of art.

And how do we do that? As Richard Rohr says, “the relationship is the vehicle” that will take us there.

“God is absolute relatedness.  I would name salvation as simply the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in relationship.” Richard Rohr. Divine Dance, p. 46.

This is a truly profound statement. Once again, to quote Rohr,

“…the principle of one is lonely;  the principle of two is opp0sitional and moves you toward preference;  the principle of three is inherently moving, dynamic, and generative.”  Richard Rohr. The Divine Dance, p. 42.

Three. Trinity. The foundation of Christian theology. Any relationship between two opposing parts of ourselves, or between two individuals, is by nature oppositional. However, a long-lasting, committed relationship between any two entities is a sacred crucible in which two souls (or two opposing parts of one soul) can hope to attain psychological and spiritual maturity. This is why I’ve written:

I see the Couple as integrating the other four archetype pairs in a sacred marriage of fully individuated and fully related opposites.  This union activates the creative instinct and brings us into the spiritual domain and Epoch III integrated consciousness. ~Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 203.

Epoch III thinking is neither perfect nor complete. But at this point in human evolution, it is a step forward:  a portal to further growth. Moreover, as Kirsten noted, and as I write in Matrignosis and my books, the genders of the human partners whose interactions usher us into this domain is not an issue. Here’s Kirsten’s take on why:

“There are good reasons why “Two Spirit” people in many indigenous cultures have a significant role in spirituality, because they (we) literally transcend the human tendency to create dualistic models of relationships (both internal and external) that are actually intricate, reflective, webs of interdependence—more like Indra’s net than like pairs of complementary opposites….

“With gay relationships, we’ve got to experiment with going beyond the duality and open up the possibilities… because we don’t just fit the mold. In my own 29 year relationship, we’re constantly exploring new ways of balancing, responding, creating, and dancing with each other… I hope that’s true in any healthy relationship!”  ~Kirsten Backstrom

Ancient pagan and modern Christian symbolism: Androgyny.
Ancient pagan and modern Christian symbolism: Androgyny.

I find Kirsten’s thinking on this issue to be profound. I believe with my whole being that it is possible for partners in any couple relationship to relate in such a way that the creative instinct within each is activated. This enriches both their individual selves and their relationship such that each partner creates an original work of art of his/her own soul as well as of the relationship itself.

Moreover, their creative interaction in the space in-between activates a third entity, sometimes called the Holy Spirit, or God’s indwelling presence. This three-in-one relationship is a spiritually transformative love, a divine presence which transcends religious dogma, gender stereotypes, and dualism. Thus can we evolve into high-level consciousness and high-level spirituality.

“We…are intrinsically like the Trinity, living in an absolute relatedness.  We call this love.”  ~Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance, p. 47.

What do our relationships have to do with our spirituality?  Everything!


Thank you, Kirsten Backstrom, for inspiring this post.

Image credits:  Iceberg, Wikimedia Commons.  The brain’s hemispheres, Google Images. Androgyny, Wikimedia Commons.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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14 Responses

  1. Dear Jeanie, Thank you so much for writing more about relationships and spirituality. Being another gay woman, in a long-lasting, deeply committed relationship I truly loved what Kirsten wrote about her wonderfully balanced and harmonious, “Two Spirit” relationship. Where can I read more about this I’m left wondering?!
    It’s great to know that the sacred crucible in which our relationships take place offers such rich psychological and spiritual ripeness. It’s all so easy to forget the true purpose of coming together and focus “entirely” on our separate, individual egos, forgetting that the relationship offers us, if pursued and understood, so much more.
    In my own relationship the creative instinct activated from the very beginning, as each of us began creating in different ways. I’m a poet, she’s a photographer, and often we create together. My poetry and Jungian thought website “The Liberated Sheep” is an illustration of our joint creativity, where I post many of her photographs.
    Our lives are incredibly enriched from working creatively together, and within her photo books, many haiku’s I’ve written over the years are included. I love what we’re creating, separately and together, it’s beautiful! I feel the world shifting, relationships becoming more kaleidoscopic! And the realisation that beautiful fusion of souls happens in all relationships moving ever closer to all hearts. Blessings always, Deborah.

    1. Dear Deborah,
      Here’s a link to what is meant by “Two Spirit,” which comes from Native American culture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-Spirit. Although the term is new to me, it’s my understanding that before European stereotypes and religious dogma were introduced to Native America, it was often used as an honorific for spiritually mature persons, often Medicine Women/Men, who exhibited unusually well-developed masculine and feminine sides. An ancient counterpart would be the androgyne, which Jungian June Singer says is one of humanity’s oldest archetypes. It’s a way humanity has always had of imagining the healthy and empowering integration of the feminine and masculine principles in one person.
      The same idea was represented in alchemy by the heiros gamos, or Sacred Marriage between the King and Queen. As a child of divorce followed by the death of my father, I realize now that the seeds for my interest in empowering femininity, creating healthy relationships, and activating the inner Sacred Marriage were planted in my psyche at an early age. My years of research and writing on the theme of uniting the opposites and “Healing the Sacred Divide” were motivated by my inner child’s earnest attempts to heal my parents’ relationship! Discovering and consciously integrating this core truth of my soul has turned out to be one of the most valuable and satisfying rewards of my life.
      Thank you for sharing the many rich rewards of your loving, creative relationship with your partner. Our poor world, so torn by broken, dysfunctional relationships, is in dire need of hopeful and affirming models like this.
      Blessings, Jeanie

  2. Thank you Jeanie. Synchronicity strikes again – It’s got to mean something. Last evening at my Jung study group (right now, we’re reading Job straight from the OT, and discussing, before we look at Answer to Job and other resources eg Edinger). Incidentally, we studied this some years ago, but decided to tackle it again this year) I said, I think it’s about our relationship to God. We’re only on Ch 15 –
    I have to agree, any relationship opens up possibilities and potentialities; and for them to be healthy and sound, it makes sense to have a good relationship with ourselves. Which probably means breaking out of the mould of our conditioning and cracking it open and allowing much more to enter into this dance of this strange thing called life. And finding that relatedness to all that is meaningful will bring its rewards to both the individual and the collective ..

    1. Yes, I, too, think “it’s about our relationship to God,” both the Sacred without and the Sacred within. How lovely that you should say that just last night, then read this today! I love these synchronicities and do find meaning in them. I see them as affirmations for both of us that we’re on the right track, doing what we’re supposed to be doing, learning what we need to learn, saying what must be said, pushing the boundaries of our conditioned, conventional thinking until our relationship with the All becomes the source and inspiration for what we think, feel, say and do. Thank you, Susan.

  3. . . . and thank you, Jeanie, for expanding so eloquently on Rohr (whom I read daily) and Backstrom. The wisdom of three, the gateway to better understanding and a more fruitful life, should be shouted from the roof tops of every middlesex, village and town. Will we ever start listening to each other rather than trying to shout the other down?

    1. Thank you, Sally. Rohr has to be one of the most eloquent and, to my mind, balanced spirit persons from whom I’ve had the good fortune to learn. I have no answer to your rhetorical question, but hope with all my heart that history will show it to be, “Yes!” 🙂

  4. I’m honored to be quoted in this post, Jeanie—thank you! And you keep inspiring me to go deeper in my own thinking/knowing/dreaming/feeling… I love what you write about the dynamic of Three. Years ago, I came up with a term for the “third thing”—when two (or more) come together, something arises that is more, and other, than the sum of its parts. I call it the Rogue. My partner and I frequently joke about the Rogue of our relationship, who includes aspects of both of us but also something entirely different that wouldn’t have existed without us, but somehow has its own nature and wisdom. It’s a Rogue because it has a tricksterish quality, and because it goes its own way.
    Just to complicate the conversation: When I was involved with dance and theater (long ago), I noticed how when there’s one dancer, there are a number of options for how to move, but when there are two dancers, there are a lot more than twice as many options… Beyond two, the more dancers that are included in the dance, the more the possibilities rise exponentially—toward infinity. But the more possibilities, the more chaotic the dance becomes also. So, although the Couple and the Trinity are just the beginning of the infinite, they may also represent that ideal place where there’s balance (the Couple quality, since pairs are most balanced) and stability (Trinity, since 3s are most stable), but also a richness of possibility… After that, the dynamics get more energetic and the possibilities increase, but the balance and stability begin to break down. So, I guess this means that group marriages wouldn’t be a great idea, unless you have a fondness for chaos! Speaking for myself, I think two plus a Rogue is ideal.
    Blessings on your wonderful, creative, mind-opening work. I need to read your books!

    1. It was my pleasure to quote you here. Your most articulate comments spurred a lot of thinking and more than one post. So you’re welcome!
      I love your Rogue. Such a great name for any new element that enters and alters our relationships. I think you’re on to something important here. The very act of naming this ‘third’ has got to be enormously helpful to a couple relationship when it is confronted with unexpected, and often uncomfortable change. I would think that when both partners accept the reality and presence of the Rogue, (or whatever they decide to call this ‘third’; the Navajos called it Changing Woman!) it would greatly reduce the tendency to project blame onto our partner. Plus it would open a dialogue that could lead to new awarenesses of alternative choices and possibilities for growth.
      Your dance analogy is most interesting. I also think two plus a Rogue is ideal. Chaos is probably a great way to humble a control freak, but I’ve never been good at multi-tasking!
      Blessings on your work too. I’d be honored if you read my books.

  5. Thank you for sharing this fertile exploration, Jeanie. Culturally, we are (I hope) just beginning to explore the possibilities in same sex and opposite sex relationships. I’ve had opportunities to explore relationship in a way my grandmothers couldn’t have imagined. Vic called our relationship “The Path of Marriage.” We saw it as a sacred path such as the four Hindu paths of bhakti, jnani, etc. A committed relationship was where we learned the most about ourselves and explored the sacred within the every day. You shared this idea in a more moving and poetic way, but there were two individuals and the third was the marriage. I’ve felt that keenly since Vic’s death, because the marriage continues on, especially in dreams.

    1. “The Path of Marriage!” What an amazing man Vic was. And what a legacy he left you! I don’t know many people who could say their marriage continues on after their partner dies in the way yours does. Thank you for sharing that, Elaine.

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