Relationship Problems and Spirituality

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When you make the two One, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner, and the above as the below…then you will enter the kingdom. ~The Gospel of Thomas, Saying 22:4,7

No one achieves his or her goals, worldly or otherwise, in a vacuum. Every hero develops important relationships. The Lone Ranger isn’t really alone. He has Silver and the two of them always ride with Tonto and Scout, usually escaping grave danger because of them. But few of us notice this motif. We worship the individual  hero, the leading star whom we reward with the most prestigious Oscar. Our limited understanding of relationships and the crucial roles they play in our spiritual journeys makes it easy to discount the contributions others make to our lives.

We tend to believe success and happiness are just a function of how determined and self-disciplined we are. If I can go to the right schools, learn the right theories, find the right job, make enough money, say the right words, wear the right clothes, impress the right people, give my partner whatever s/he needs from me to be happy, put on a good front, and, if necessary, bluff, fight, or spin my way to the top, then I’ll live happily ever after. To many people, this is pretty much what life is about. To me that’s just half a life.

Our relationships are problematic because the average ego can’t see or learn from its own everyday reality as long as it’s caught up in an obsessive need to prove its identity through heroic deeds in the world. To resolve relationships problems we need a new approach. We need to value our relationships as much as we value our individuality. We need to balance outer work with inner psycho-spiritual work.

Another reason our relationships are problematic is because the differences between us bring up powerful emotions and impulsive urges. Both are opportunities to notice what’s really going on in our unconscious. This is why relationships, like dreams, are such good spiritual teachers. For them to work we have to stop our knee-jerk reactions of defending, retaliating, and getting one-up and start watching and listening to ourselves and each other.

This is extremely difficult when we’re swamped with strong emotions. When that happens our egos are usually clueless and our shadow is in charge. We can’t listen to what others are trying to tell us because we feel threatened. We find it nearly impossible to believe that the criticisms of others are justified, but there is almost always a grain of truth in them. This doesn’t mean we’re bad to the bone or that every accusation is completely true; only that a part of our shadow sometimes shows up in disagreeable ways. Our partners know this better than anyone.

We’re made to unite with otherness. Relationships form the core of human experience and determine the direction and outcome of the spiritual journey. As American Buddhist master Jack Kornfield says,

All of spiritual practice is a matter of relationships: to ourselves, to others, to life’s situations. We can relate with a spirit of wisdom, compassion, and flexibility, or we can meet life with fear, aggression, and delusion. Whether we like it or not, we are always in relationship, always interconnected. ~Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart, 1993, p. 287.

Many today recognize the spiritual significance of intimate relationships. Dr. Martin Odermatt of the C.G. Jung Institut in Zurich discovered that the symbol of The Couple carries profound spiritual meaning for a growing number of people. I’m not talking about gender, but about the masculine and feminine principles that represent all opposites and inform all relationships. Dr. Odermatt believed that the couple relationship has become a new symbol for the Self that is gradually replacing the average ego’s ideas about God. In his therapy with couples he discovered that whereas people used to look to religion for relaxation, regeneration, peace,  harmony, and emotional security they now expect to find these qualities of life in relationships with their partners.

People also look to the couple relationship to stimulate their creativity and intellectual growth. They want their partnerships to confirm their individuality and uniqueness.  And they look to their partners for deep, ecstatic religious experiences, particularly of a sexual nature. These societal trends reflect our emerging awareness of our need for honest, intimate relationships. This yearning is rooted in a hunger for the Sacred Feminine.

Can you imagine a spiritual entity like The Couple living in you, transcending the opposites of maleness and femaleness? Can you imagine experiencing this kind of partnership in your relationships and religions? Can you imagine what the world would be like if nations lived together in this kind of partnership?

What have you learned about yourself from your relationships? How has that knowledge influenced your spirituality?

Material for this post is from pp. 177-192 of Healing the Sacred Divide.

Image credit: Relationship by Haleh Mahbod. fineartamerica.com

Paper and E-book versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. The Wilbur Award-winning Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.

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Comments

12 Responses

  1. Dear Jeanie,

    That was a great read! Thank you for sharing this excerpt from your brilliant, life-changing “Healing the Sacred Divide” book. I remember the joy I felt reading it all those years ago and how much I learnt from you. I especially loved following those conversations between the God and the Goddess, enjoying the humour and wisdom found within. A re-read is definitely in order! Before I forget, I stumbled across a wonderful image earlier that encapsulates all that you’ve written here and will post it on Facebook later when I can find a suitable quote to go together with it.

    Relationships are sacred teachers, friendships too, especially how we behave in them. As an introverted feeling type I prefer the company of a few “soul friends” than the company of many. Those who are able to maintain two-way relationships and communicate at heart level. Not a popular way of being I know, however, thankfully, I’ve met a few loving, often creative, souls in my life to share this deep desire and connection with. So imagine my fun when I joined Facebook six months ago, where I can explore my extraverted, sensate, thinking, judging shadowy side!

    Love and light, Deborah.

    1. Thank you for your kind words about Healing the Sacred Divide, Deborah. I glanced through it for ideas last week and to my surprise got totally absorbed in it. I kept thinking, “Wow, did I write that?” 🙂 I’d forgotten what I knew. I’m usually very critical of my work, so as you can imagine, it was a fun experience to be pleasantly surprised by my own book!

      I love the image you posted of the couple on Facebook today. So close, they could almost be one being: which, as you and I both believe, the feminine and masculine actually are within us. All we have to do is acknowledge them both and avail ourselves of their differing kinds of wisdom to recognize our own Oneness with all that is. Establishing a relationship with them has helped me enormously in my efforts to understand the others with whom I have relationships.

      As a sister introverted feeling type, I can relate your take on the fun you have exploring your extraverted, sensate, thinking, judging shadowy side. Reading some of the comments others make in different groups, especially the shadowy critical ones, is definitely an education in how difficult relationships can be. Even more so when you’re self-aware and honest enough to realize you can be guilty of the same kind of thinking and finger-pointing, even if you don’t express it.

      Blessings for the new year, Jeanie

  2. Oh, such beautiful imagines and lessons. They remind me of a good book: The Soul’s Twins. I am practising these all as I try to understand my wife and help her understand me. Thank You, dear Jeanie, again for this excellent read.

    1. Thank you, Aladin. 🙂 It makes me feel wonderful to know you liked The Soul’s Twins and find it useful in your relationship with your wife. That’s exactly why I wrote it! It’s the book I would have loved to read when I was a young wife and mother but never found. And it’s the kind of material I always hoped I would find in the two psychology courses I took in college, but never did. I guess I was taking the wrong courses, (I didn’t know anything about Carl Jung or counseling psychology in those days), but it was so discouraging that I gave up all hope of ever understanding my husband or myself. It wasn’t until I discovered Jungian psychology that I knew I’d hit gold. I was so excited that all I wanted to do was tell other people what I was learning!

      Also, writing is the way I think and learn and understand myself and others, so it’s always helpful to me even if it isn’t to anyone else! But I sure am glad to find out that it is! Thank you my friend.

      Blessings for the new year, Jeanie

  3. Oh my!

    Imagine all the people
    Livin’ for today
    Ah

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one

    I’ve imagined with John and Yoko but this post felt like my imagination was squeezing my masculine into the feminine reminiscent of a roller coaster ride with a lovely first date at Cedar Point. .Ah what a feeling of melding.🥰

    1. Thank you Mark,

      Imagine is one of my favorite songs. Yes, I’m an imaginer and a dreamer too. And I too love the feeling of melding with my inner opposites. The first date on a roller coaster is a perfect metaphor for the thrilling feeling of making a meaningful connection with one’s inner others. I say others instead of other because I’m also thinking of my shadow.

      This reminds me of a song I wrote a few years ago when I was taking ukulele and guitar lessons. It’s called, Part of Me. Here are the lyrics:

      Oh everybody needs a friend to love them through the years.
      To tell them what they need to hear, to understand their fears.
      My best friend’s not someone you know, she never looks the same.
      Sometimes she’s young, sometimes she’s old, Shadow is her name.

      Oh my friend, she’s always here, we meet in my dreams.
      And whether sweet and mild, or angry and wild,
      She’ll always be…part of me!

      I used to think the perfect man was all I’d ever need,
      He’d make all my lonely leave, my soul would be received.
      But what I didn’t understand was what I couldn’t see,
      The only one who knows my soul lives inside of me.

      He’s my friend, he’s always here, we meet in my dreams.
      And whether cold or hot, like it or not,
      He’ll always be…part of me.

      Thanks for being my friend. Sending you New Year’s blessings,

      Jeanie

  4. Your post sent me on a trail of trying to remember an evocation I created a long time ago. ‘Make the two one … by love’s event.’ I had lost the second line, but I finally recovered it 🙂 So simple, and yet so difficult to really and truly get to feel the love.

    1. “Love’s event.” Aah. So lovely, Ashen. It’s true. It’s easier to say you love someone than it is to actually feel and genuinely express it in your everyday interactions with the other. Sometimes we confuse love with need, physical desire, gratitude for companionship, security, the wish to please, or be liked and understood by the other. Genuine compassion and love are only learned by forgiving, accepting, and loving oneself. And that’s incredibly difficult.

  5. Thank you Jeanie! I’m a little late in commenting (travelling) but it’s never too late really. I loved your song for the ukulele. It says it all. Your post highlights the value of relationship, for it is true that we’re in relationship with everything. No man is an island. and true too that others’ criticisms of us an throw up shadow stuff, from which we can learn too – we have to wonder in what way we are the hook, whether or not it is a projection from the other.

    I met Dr.Martin Odermatt many years ago when he was visiting in South Africa .. what a kind man. Lovely to be reminded of him. A great privilege to meet him. Deborah’s comment re Healing the Sacred Divide is timely – I too will have a re-read. Terrific book. Love, Susan

    1. Dear Susan,

      How nice to be traveling. I look forward to reading your next blog post to find out where you’ve been and see pictures of what you’ve seen. There is so much beauty around you.

      This is the first place I’ve shared Part of Me with anyone except my family. It really does say it all for me. My teacher helped me record it and we thought it needed a trombone so we found someone to accompany my ukulele. I don’t have a strong voice, but I love to sing and it was fun!

      Yes, if we can locate the hook in ourselves that got us into a conflict, we find our shadow. Not always easy, certainly not in the moment when we feel its sting.

      Dr. Odermatt was a very lovely man. I understand he’s gone now. I’m very grateful to him. I don’t think he ever wrote a book. If he did, I’m not aware it. But seeing and hearing him speak in person was amazing. I was transfixed by his insights and took copious notes. His theories shaped the direction of my last two books.

      Thanks for your kindness and continued interest in my books. It means very much to me, dear friend.

      Love, Jeanie

  6. This stirs me deeply, Jeanie, and it isn’t comfortable. How do I think of relationship problems now that I don’t have an essential outer relationship? The inner animus or dream animus feels so much less interesting than a living person with their own perspective. I imagined I’d fall in love again and was curious about that possibility, but no one interested me 1/4 as much as Vic. Instead, I learned to be alone.

    In Hinduism, the second stage of development is the householder, but that’s for India and multi-generational living. In western countries, many couples become “just the two of us” after the kids leave home. Vic and I called this our 5th stage: The Path of Marriage. And now I’ve learned this stage goes on internally even after one partner dies. I think this is true for many, but it’s taboo to discuss since we’re instructed to get over it and move on. My job seems to be to take the previously projected animus energy into myself and own it as mine without projecting it again. I miss being coupled. I imagine the way this pandemic lockdown would have felt if I had been locked in with Vic. A lot easier and less lonely with lots more joy. I agree relationships are sacred teachers, and I’ve learned they don’t depend on both partners being alive.

    I’m grateful for intimate friends and for my sons. I’m grateful for spiritual teachers and twice a month talks with the Jungian dreamworker and therapist I’ve worked with since before Vic died. I can even say I’m grateful for my sweet dogs. And none of this replaces a soul partner who shares spiritual interests and adventures and also knows how to disagree in a way that strengthens rather than destroying the relationship. Bottom line: I believe in Love. Thanks for giving me a chance to articulate my gift and my discomfort.

    1. You’re welcome, Elaine. Thank you for sharing your relationship realities at this stage of your life with such honesty and poignancy.

      I have the same bottom line: the way of Love, a journey of joy and suffering. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Love, Jeanie

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