The level of commitment in a partnership is represented by the bottom length of the metaphorical triangle of love.
Commitment is formed through various stages of “dependence/need” (which is often falsely interpreted as “love”) that individuals experience in a partnership through their unconscious psychological makeup (see below) and sexual/feel-good hormones. In higher stages of development, commitment is created through a conscious choice to learn, heal, grow and awaken, and sharing a higher vision and purpose for the partnership.
Dependence reaches from co-dependent, dependent, independent and inter-dependent relationships in first-tier couples to inter-being and inter-becoming in second-tier “Integral” couples. For the latter, dependence and the resulting commitment increasingly becomes a conscious act of choice and will, instead of a temporary, unconscious emotionally or sexually driven phase. We call it inter-being and inter-becoming, as these couples accept each other as they are without making demands or attempts to fix or change their partner, AND they also realize that they are uniquely matched to support and challenge each other in their ongoing learning, healing, growing and awaking process, and in sharing a higher purpose that serves the greatest good for the largest number of people.
The unconscious dimensions of love relationships are always experienced as mysterious, miraculous, or magical, as the “love-struck” couple has no rational explanation for their magnetic push/pull.
We all carry a psychological blueprint that holds the details and lingering imprints of our heritage and life experiences. The unacknowledged/unconscious parts of that blueprint contain the information that drives our irrational fears, anxieties, coping mechanisms, and defenses, as well as our creativity, dreams, and passions. And just as the conscious aspects of our interior and exterior dimensions have opposing feminine and masculine polarities that complement and attract each other, so do the unconscious parts.
There are five major components of the unconscious[i] that are of relevance for the mysterious magnetism or aversion that lovers experience on the level of their bodies, minds, and hearts:
(1) The ground unconscious represents our unrealized embedded potentials. All humans carry the potential to grow in awareness (from body to mind, soul, and spirit) after birth. The unrealized stages of these future growth potentials are not actively suppressed or involuntarily repressed; they just have not entered into conscious awareness yet. Examples are certain aspects of a child’s sexual impulses and preferences that have not emerged due to their young age, or an acorn that will grow into an oak tree, and not into a tomato plant. The child or the acorn is not suppressing anything; they just have not started to grow. Even though each human or tree will develop its own unique qualities, the individual’s deep structures are embedded in the as-yet unconscious of their kind. In case of the child, we know it will become a man or a woman, in the case of the acorn it is already determined that it will not become a dandelion or a birch tree. The ground unconscious explains why people are unconsciously attracted to an opposite partner that they can grow with in kind and degree.
(2) The archaic unconscious is linked to the unique predispositions and instincts that individuals have inherited from their ancestral past. These are embedded in their reptilian brain stem and DNA, and existed before language was learned or personal events were remembered. This facet of the unconscious causes people to experience and respond to the world similarly to the ways that their forefathers interacted with the world. This explains why most people feel more comfortable with a partner who shares their own heritage.
(3) The submerged unconscious is what people call the shadow, or the subconscious.[ii] It represents all experiences and memories that were once conscious and are now screened out of awareness, either through simple forgetting, or a more forceful repression, negation, or dissociation. These are the elements of our existence that are considered to be incompatible with the ego—which is also called our false self. If we are faced with these elements, we react defensively or aggressively, out of fear of re-experiencing the hurt that made us repress the memory of the event in the first place. As psychologists know, “anger masks fear, and fear masks hurt.”[iii]
The anima and animus complex is a sub-component of the submerged unconscious that gets projected onto the opposite sex. A man who tends to repress his feelings may be attracted to a woman who is overly emotional. A woman who is unsure of herself and constantly seeks approval from others may be attracted to a self-centered and arrogant man. A man who thinks of himself as unworthy may be attracted to a successful woman with a higher education. A woman who finds life to be meaningless may be attracted to a spirited man who is full of passion and purpose. Sooner or later, though, these lovers will become irritated by their partner’s qualities that they had repressed in themselves in the first place, and conflicts in the form of fighting (trying to change the other) and withdrawing emerge…unless the unconscious projections are made conscious through “owning”[iv] and used for healing and growth (see below in Chapter 9). This explains why people are attracted to an opposite partner who challenges them to heal their psychological wounds.
(4) The embedded unconscious was called the “superego” by Freud, referring to aspects of the self (ego) that can critically observe other parts of its existence, such as the body, behavior, thoughts, feelings, emotions, or even its essence—but never itself. It is the inner voice (judge, protector, skeptic, controller, seeker, etc.)[v] that consciously represses, but is unconscious of its own existence. Others—especially a soul mate—may recognize this embedded unconscious “self” and mirror it back, until the subject of the previous level of awareness becomes the object of the subject of the next level, as we examined in the section about spiritual growth in Chapter 4. This explains why we are attracted to an opposite and equal partner who sees beyond our false self, as it is our deepest soul desire to be seen for who we truly are and awaken to our deepest essence.[vi]
(5) The emergent unconscious is similar to the ground and archaic unconscious above, as its potentials have not emerged yet. The difference is that the ground and archaic unconscious are based in the past (in our examples above, the evolution of oak trees throughout history, and the resulting givens for its growth as an oak tree—both unconsciously embedded in the acorn) and the emergent unconscious is based in the future (the novel unfolding of this particular oak tree). For example, people who reject ideas of higher levels of consciousness development, such as amber rejecting orange, don’t do this by actively repressing views from a higher altitude. They have simply not evolved to higher levels of consciousness yet, and hence are unconscious of them. This explains why people—and especially women—who struggle at a particular level are attracted to a partner at the next higher level.
The Unconscious Fit
Humans appear to have an intuitive capacity to scan another person’s unconscious makeup.[vii] The women that we are most drawn to emotionally (rather than sexually) mirror our unconscious most prominently in two ways: (1) they had experiences similar to ours during their upbringing, and—more significantly—(2) they developed coping mechanisms that are different from our own. This unconscious fit of “mutually compatible pathologies” causes us to gravitate towards, and fall in love with, a partner who complements our psychological makeup most aptly (which holds an evolutionary advantage) and so provides us with an opportunity to heal, learn, grow, and awaken. This “other half” is then experienced as a soul mate—which she exactly is—as she provides us with the best opportunity to transcend our false self/ego, become psychologically whole, and develop the capacity to love unconditionally.[viii]
Although no two relationships are ever the same, psychologists have noticed common patterns of the unconscious fit in couples:[ix]
- Parent and child—often have shared issues with dependency and trust.
- Master and slave—have problems with authority and control.
- Distancer and pursuer (also known as “seduce and withhold/withdraw”) —are in desperate need—and at the same time deeply afraid—of intimacy, and have found their perfect match.[x] One is pursuing—but never quickly enough to get really close; the other is running—but never fast enough to really get away. As one moves closer, the other withdraws, only to reverse the roles for the next episode.
- Idol and worshipper—insist on putting the other on a pedestal. This often indicates issues with competition and inadequacy.
- Babes in the wood—look alike, share the same interests, and—more importantly—dislike the same things.
- Cat and dog—look on the surface as they should have never even met. They argue incessantly over anything and avoid intimacy by living in a war zone.
You may recognize elements of these opposite pairs in your own love relationship or that of others.
Romancing the Unconscious
Dr. Ayala Malach Pines[xi] aptly summarizes the attraction of the unconscious and the potentials for healing and growth in her excellent book Falling In Love, on pages 194-5 [quoted by permission]:
- Unconscious forces more than logical considerations dictate with whom we fall in love.
- An intimate relationship provides one of the best opportunities for mastering unresolved childhood issues.
- The unconscious choice is of a person with whom we can re-enact childhood experiences; thus, the person combines the most significant traits of both parents.
- Negative traits of both parents have more of an impact on romantic choices—especially in obsessive loves—than do positive traits, because the injury or deprivation caused by them needs healing.
- The more traumatic the childhood injury, and the greater the similarity between the lovers and the injuring parent, the more intense the experience of falling in love is.
- In falling in love, there is a return to the primal symbiosis with the mother, a perfect union with no ego boundaries. This is why we only fall in love with one person at a time. The return to the lost paradise creates the expectation that the lover will fill all our infantile needs.
- Because falling in love is dictated by an internal romantic image, lovers feel as if they have known each other forever. And because it involves a re-enactment of specific and powerful childhood experiences, lovers feel that the beloved is “the one and only,” and that the loss of the beloved will be unbearable.
- When a couple falls in love, their unconscious choice is mutual and complementary, enabling both partners to express their own core issues. Together, they create their core issue as a couple, the issue around which most of their later conflicts center.
- Understanding the connection between unresolved childhood issues and later problems reduces the feelings of guilt and blame, and helps both partners take responsibility for their parts in the relationship problem.
- Couples who listen to each other’s feelings, express empathy, and give each other the things they ask for, can keep the romantic spark alive indefinitely.
- Expressing empathy and granting the partner’s wishes is the best way to grow. As partners grow, their relationship grows. And growth is the antithesis of [relationship] burnout.
Many sources provide overwhelming evidence that healthy love relationships between opposite and equal partners hold the best opportunity to heal our unconscious psychological wounds and other emotional scars at every level of our development. They lead us ever closer to awakening to our inborn capacity to love unconditionally, to live our true purpose, and to realize the full potential which was resting in our souls all along.[xii]
Terminating an abusive, damaging, or unfulfilling partnership can be justified and necessary in the healthy process of development. However, leaving an emotionally and/or spiritually challenging, but otherwise supportive, loving, and compatible partner—or avoidance of love relationships altogether as “more enlightened” or “to enjoy life more fully”—is not the answer to our existential questions, problems, and challenges. Instead, living together in a healthy relationship and sharing resources is the responsible choice, as it leads us to long-term happiness, emotional health, sexual satisfaction, spiritual growth, and environmentally sustainable living.[xiii]
[i] See Ken Wilber, The Atman Project Chapter 11 under “Types of Unconscious.”
[ii] The term subconscious is used in many different contexts and has no single or precise definition. This greatly limits its significance as a meaning-bearing concept, and in consequence, the word tends to be avoided in academic and scientific settings. As the saying goes, you can’t be a little pregnant, just as you can’t be a little conscious. See www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subconscious
[iii] See Deepak Chopra The Path of Love page 177, Marlena Lyons and Jett Psaris Undefended Love (a book that focuses on the submerged unconscious in relationships and how to uncover our true essence, especially page 57-59), John Welwood Love and Awakening page 31 – 48 and page 196 (in opening to our anger, we also find other feelings underneath it – sorrow, fear, or hurt – that are calling for attention and concern), and Harville Hendrix Getting The Love You Want page 36-39.
[iv] The 3-2-1 Process that is part of the five DVD/two CD Integral Life Practice (ILP) Starter Kit (available from http://myilp.com/ or www.amazon.com) is one way to learn to own your shadow.
[v] See Dennis Genpo Merzel Big Mind – Big Heart for an exploration of many (unconscious) inner voices and how to make them conscious, based on the original voice dialog work of Hal and Sidra Stone.
[vi] The following poem describes our desire to be seen beyond our mask or false self:
The Mask I Wear:
Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks-
masks that I’m afraid to take off
and none of them are me.
Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me
But don’t be fooled, for God’s sake, don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure
That all is sunny and unruffled with me
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name
and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm
and I’m in command,
and that I need no one.
But don’t believe me. Please!
My surface may be smooth but my surface is my mask,
My ever-varying and ever-concealing mask.
Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.
But I hide this.
I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weaknesses
and fear exposing them.
That’s why I frantically create my masks to hide behind.
But I don’t tell you this.
I don’t dare.
I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh
and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing, that I’m just no good
and you will see this
and reject me.
I idly chatter to you in suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that’s nothing
and nothing of what’s everything, of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I’m saying
Please listen carefully and try to hear
what I’m not saying
Hear what I’d like to say
but what I cannot say.
It will not be easy for you,
long felt inadequacies make my defenses strong.
The nearer you approach me
the blinder I may strike back.
Despite what books say of men, I am irrational;
I fight against the very thing that I cry out for.
you wonder who I am
for I am everyman
who wears a mask.
Don’t be fooled by me.
At least not by the face I wear.
– Author unknown. Variations can be found in several publications and on the Internet.
[vii] MRI scans revealed that the main activity in the brain of a person who is in love is not occurring in the cortex, the seat of conscious awareness and logical thinking, but in the reptile and limbic brain system (the Caudate Nucleus and the Ventral Tegmental Area), which are the seat of powerful emotions and long-term memories. They may direct us to choose a person who can help us to master unresolved childhood issues. Also see Ayala Malach Pines Falling in Love page 178, and Helen Fisher, Why We Love page 69-72. Additional evidence that lovers resonate with each other in mysterious ways is provided by experiments that see correlations in brain and heart activity between physically isolated pairs (see Ph.D. dissertation Correlated Heart-Rate Measures in the Study of Nonlocal Human Connectedness at www.dorothymandel.com) Even though not directly focused on lovers, Rupert Sheldrake’s research into Morphic Resonance (the hypothesis that living organisms draw upon and contribute to a collective memory of their species) may also hold answers why humans sometimes feel magically “in-tune” with, or powerfully drawn to, a specific lover, which cannot be explained by their reproductive, cultural, social, and psychological compatibility.
[viii] See Ayala Malach Pines Falling in Love page 105 – 159 and 181 – 204, John Welwood Love and Awakening page 49 – 61 and 126 – 130, Thomas Moore Soul Mates, and endnote #222 in Chapter 4 about soul mates.
[ix] Source: www.bbc.co.uk/relationships/couples/love_why.shtml
[x] See David Richo How to be an Adult in Relationship page 121.
[xi] Couples therapist, professor, and head of the Department of Business Administration at the School of Management at the Ben-Gurion University in Israel, and author of ten books.
[xii] The Rumi Poem below beautifully depicts the unconscious fit and the potential for awakening in a long-term partnership:
“It’s the old rule that drunks have to argue and get into fights.
The lover is just as bad. He falls into a hole.
But down in that hole he finds something shining,
worth more than any amount of money or power.
Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.
I took it as a sign to start singing,
falling up into the bowl of sky.
The bowl breaks. Everywhere is falling everywhere.
Nothing else to do.
Here’s the new rule: break the wineglass,
and fall toward the glassblower’s breath.”
[xiii] See an abridged excerpt of Ken Wilber’s discussion with Roger Walsh about his presentation at the Integral Conference in 2008 below (http://integrallife.com/node/54698 The State of the Integral):
“Relationships dedicated to growth can constitute one of the best bulwarks against stagnation. Growth-oriented relationships provide us with honest feedback to compensate for our blind spots. After all it is far easier to see other people’s limitations than our own. Two thousand years ago, Jesus famously asked: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own?” Therefore, relationships aimed at recognizing and releasing psychological, spiritual and developmental limitations are invaluable. There is no substitute for dialog and feedback. There are many forms of relationships, however, perhaps the supreme method for obtaining second person feedback are intimate relationships and marriage. One of the best tests of enlightenment may be that of psychiatrist Arthur Deikman who suggests: “Ask the spouse.” One of the most effective ways to transform a relationship into a powerful facilitator of growth is to make an explicit agreement to use the relationship for mutual learning and awakening. Once the agreement is made, you have given each other permission to tell your truth, give feedback, and do whatever best serves mutual learning, healing, growth, and awakening. This can be a real gift to any relationship, but it requires a lot of people, such as really wanting to learn, grow, awaken, and make a contribution. There is something about this [level of truthfulness], because we often don’t have permission in our culture to tell our truth. Most relationships are based at least in part on a shared covert agreement that “I won’t call you on your act if you don’t call me on mine”, and so relationships unconsciously protect one’s fears, defenses, and neurosis. So if you want to turn a relationship from a mutual admiration agreement into something that serves your own growth and transformation, give each other the permission to tell your truth and then “fasten your seatbelts.” It won’t be necessarily easy, but it will by valuable. Ideally, the relationship will then serve a purpose larger than either individual, larger than the self, and is offered in service to do service as well as awakening. www.in.integralinstitute.org/holons/Walsh_State_of_the_Integral_Enterprise_Part_I.pdf