A Splendid Book on Love and Relationships:
I have read many relationship books and was wondering if Integral Relationships, by Martin Ucik, would be just another run-of-the-mill, self-help book that would simply digest other self-help books and echo the popular views of New Age thinkers, psychologists, and therapists writing today. I was pleasantly surprised to read instead a very intelligent, original, enlightening, and well-written analysis of male-female relationships as they are experienced in our contemporary culture. Combined with this penetrating analysis is a very useful guide through the thicket of relationship challenges that all couples face. Ucik also includes shrewd, practical advice for seeking one’s partner in life and love. In addition, he adds a substantial appendix critically evaluating other relationship books with great insight. This will not only spare his readers from having to wade through the popular but inferior ones on the market, but will help them choose the best. Because this book combines all these components in one illuminating work, I recommend it highly (especially for men, Ucik’s target audience).
This book’s great contribution to the field is the provocative and instructive stage-state theory of consciousness and human relationships that anchors the whole work. Ucik appropriates this theory, and much else in his book, from the writings of Ken Wilber. For readers not familiar with Wilber and his Integral Theory, this book provides an accessible introduction and overview. For those familiar with Wilber’s whole Integral project, this work serves as an original application of it to the realm of male-female relationships–the first of its kind.
Ken Wilbur is a pioneer in transpersonal psychology, consciousness studies, and the human potential movement. Over the years his work has garnered wide attention, mostly by fellow travelers in these fields of study and in the Integral Movement. It has also generated a slew of critics, some of whom (unfairly) consider Wilber just another New Age thinker but in academic garb. Thankfully Ucik avoids entering the entangled debates and controversies over Wilber the person and his work. He simply appropriates Wilber’s best insights, along with some others working in the field of Integral Theory (such as Alan Combs).
For readers who aren’t familiar with Wilber’s rainbow holarchy of levels of existence and his quadratic structure of reality, they are both provocative heuristic devices for understanding human development and human consciousness, which Ucik explains so clearly and applies so effectively that readers of this book will have no trouble grasping them (the graphs and illustrations throughout the book are a great visual aid). Wilber’s whole color-coded, stage-development schema was originally derived with variations from Spiral Dynamics, a 1996 book by Don Beck and Chris Cowen that was in turn based on the two-tiered emergent development theory of their mentor, the psychologist Clare Graves, as well as on the hierarchy of core value systems or collective intelligences called memes, a concept developed by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Of course this entire schema presumes that individuals, groups, and even whole cultures can be branded with these colors or memes, corresponding to their level of cognitive/moral development, or lack thereof. If one grants the legitimacy of such categories as a way to map the stages of human development (or “altitude” to use Wilber’s jargon)–and I for one think such a map is indeed a salutary device for understanding how consciousness differentiates (until it becomes a too convenient way of simply labeling people)–and then further apply these categories to the moral/psychological/spiritual dynamics of male-female relationships, which Ucik has done, then reading this book becomes a very illuminating tour through the undercurrents of modern love, both painful and blissful.
Over the course of thirteen well-organized chapters, he explores both the landscape of male-female relationships that lead to breakdown and divorce (that Ucik painfully and wisely knows from personal experience), as well as the conditions of possibility that any couple must meet if they are to partake in genuine and enduring love. On the first point, Ucik is to be commended for his direct and undaunted description of the quagmire of male-female dating, marriage, and divorce, and the motive forces behind them (mostly biological/evolutionary and cultural). He tells it like it is–sometimes boldly, sometimes humorously (endnotes 303 & 389 are precious). I really appreciated that. Nonetheless, the book’s sober realism is complemented by an edifying vision of the ideal that we all should strive for in our love lives.
In regard to the biological and cultural conditioning that govern men and women’s experience of love today, I’ve not read any other book that so clearly and critically discusses what Ucik calls the Primary Fantasy, which most people never rise above. Men and women in this culture are so besotted with the romantic myth and controlled by instinctive evolutionary forces (which they are unable or unwilling to sublimate in order to live at a higher level of consciousness) that it’s no wonder why marriages based on genuine mutual love seem to be so rare. Sadly, if Darwin defines our human nature, then most all male-female relationships are simply based on a truncated humanity. Though Ucik doesn’t make this point directly, I think it is the upshot of his book. With critical perspicacity, he brings to light the entire existential predicament and power of the Primary Fantasy, as well as the means for sublating it, which alone makes the book worth its price.
On a critical note, one could find fault with some minor issues in this book, like the inclusion of astrology in the chapter evaluating personality types. In the same chapter I was happy to see a discussion of the Enneagram–a very powerful tool for individuals and couples seeking greater self-understanding, growth, and maturity–but given the brevity of the chapter there was too little said about it and other personality type inventories. Also, there are a few statements in the book that are questionable, but overall the minor blemishes do not detract from the soundness and beauty of the whole work.
Finally, speaking for myself, I don’t think the nature of human love can be fully explored in its spiritual depths by modern psychology with its therapeutic agendas, entrenched reductionisms, and now post-modern sensibilities, nor by “relationship experts” who depend on the psychologists. Since genuine love is an experience of transcendence, to really understand the experience and its symbolizations, one would have to go beyond the science of psychology and enter the fields of philosophy, theology, and history. Wilber’s life-long study of human nature and human consciousness certainly draws upon these other fields (including non-Western religions), but I believe his Integral Theory lacks a sophisticated philosophical anthropology and a transcendental hermeneutical method that could do the task justice. Exploring the heights and depths of human existence that love reveals, requires a keen appropriation of philosophical and theological texts and authorities beyond the ken of Wilber and his fellow Integral meta-theorists. In various places in his book Ucik happily evokes this deeper perspective but naturally stays within the boundaries of his genre (after all, his book is a manual written for first-tier individuals). To that end–and better than most others writing in the field today–he examines the existential conditions of possibility of a true love relationship between a man and a woman, and offers very helpful advice (again mostly for men) for meeting those conditions.
After reading this book, one is left with an acute sense of the difficulties of human love, but also with a vision of the ideal worth striving for: a personal love relationship that Ucik simply but profoundly calls–following Wilber–Integral.
Professor in the Philosophy department
at Dominican University of California, San Rafael, CA