...OR RELATIONSHIPS: THINGS JUNGIAN. Carl Jung, citing many ancient traditions, indicates that within every man there is the reflection of a woman (his anima), and within every woman there is the Reflection of a man (her animus). Because we are not often aware of this, we tend to project our sexual opposite onto our partners (although different in gay relationships, degrees of "masculine" and "feminine" dimensions are distributed in the relationship). So a man will find a woman who suitably fits his inner feminine. Jungian analyst John Sanford writes, "...a woman who carries such a powerful projection is pleased, at least at first. She feels flattered and valued, and though she may be dimly aware of it, enjoys a feeling of considerable power. The woman usually regrets the situation in time, however, as she experiences the disagreeable side of being the carrier of another person's soul. She eventually will discover that the man begins to suffocate her. If the woman projects onto a man, she is fascinated by him, drawn to him, sees him as the ultimate man and ideal lover." She can become larger than life to her, but this can result in missing out on "the creative flame within herself, having displaced it onto the man," writes Sanford. The man may also feel this as flattering, but can soon feel overwhelmed by what may feel clingy and demanding at its worst. So what feels good and draws us together may also drive us into conflict. The solution does not have to be ending the relationship. Self-exploration and discovery can enhance a relationship by learning what we project and learning to communicate effectively when we feels someone may be projecting onto us.
“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike,” writes J. K. Rowling. Withdrawing with contempt, a cold-shoulder, taking "time-outs" from a conflict and never returning to them, and out-right stonewalling another can be a sign of deeper relationship difficulties. When I work with couples who exhibit these behaviors (of indifference) in my practice, it is much harder to to help them improve and can sometimes be what relationship researcher John Gottman calls one of the "Four Horseman of the Apocalypse." Gottman is referring to stonewalling as a sign that the relationship could be on its way out. Emotional investment, even negative behaviors such as anger, hostility, even hate, can indicate there is still a large emotional investment in the relationship. There is still room for saving a relationship where emotional investment still exists. Although unpleasant to experience such negative expressions, at least there is an indicator of where your partner is at. They still might be saying, "I don't like you or this relationship right now, but I would like it to be different." Indifference or cold emotional withdrawal is harder to gauge and may be signalling an end to investing further in the relationship. Although hard to know for sure, this should be assessed to see if the relationship can be preserved or not.
Relationships have many rewards. Keeping the relationship exciting, alive and meaningful requires some attention. Like a garden with its many rewards of fruits, beauty, and other enjoyment, some weeding, cultivating, and watering of the relationship keeps it going. Many of us our prone to create roles we play with each other and this can be helpful. Part of attending to relationships means some important self-examination. Like autumn with its dying leaves and plants, self-reflection involves assessing what is not working. However, when conflicts arise, not enough self-awareness can result in the excessive pointing of fingers, or taking too much blame when conflicts are mutually created. Additionally, more clarity of thought and feeling will likely result from the process of self-examination. Being aware of our contribution to things can help us start afresh with conflicts and mis-communications that seem to be stuck and going nowhere.
The image of a pleasing and happy moment like this man and very young child is beautiful, but if anyone has every raised or spent much time with very little ones, you know the "work" of taking care of the needs of a young one can make moments like these golden and not as common as we would like. The best relationships have to work to communicate well. While in post-doctoral program, I was to learn that research shows that even the best parents are emotionally attuned to their children about 30% of the time. This may not seem to be very much. Part of my interpretation of these results is that those parents must be spending a good part of the rest of that 70% trying get back on track with what is happening with their children. Might this be true of adult relationships? I tend to think so. Communication seems to be never perfected, but merely worked at. Many couples feel bad that they are not communicating better. I have found that couples that are more satisfied with their relationship have accepted their continued mis-communications and learn to be curious on a regular basis, with what happened when they were not understanding each other. This idea can result in changing our idea of what a good communicator is. Is it someone who perfects it, or simply someone who is able work from moment to moment on how the relationship is unfolding? This takes more work than simply having rules for each other. It requires more patience, persistence, and tolerance of shortcomings.
steve harris, phd
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"What Is Right With Me?"