I have been remiss about adding my Monday posts the past few weeks. Life has been so full. I've been editing and getting a book ready for publication so it hasn't been all sun and fun. The book is a personal guide to Family Constellation Work with lots of exercises and ways to re-think family. I decided to choose a couple of sections to add here as posts. This one is on how to keep your partner relationships vibrant. Tomorrow I'll add a second on how to clear the air between partners.
Keeping Love Alive
It's an amazing and unfortunate fact that many of us with unresolved family issues leave the family of origin only to end up recreating a distorted replica of what we just left behind. We choose a husband or wife and discover, shortly, that we're living again with mom or dad.
Milton Erickson, an insightful and talented psycho-therapist, recognized over and over that many of his patients’ problems arose from a failure to separate from the family of origin. This failure to separate can occur in one of two ways—either when the parents are unable to release the child or when the child is unable to embrace adult life fully and retreats back to mom and dad. In both cases the pointer would indicate the presence of unexamined and unresolved systemic issues within the family.
Most of us desire a partner relationship that has strong adult elements of love, respect, mutual support, shared interests, and an intimate physical and sexual connection. This healthy relationship can't occur if we remain forever a child. Actual chronological age has nothing to do with our ability to form and maintain a relationship with a partner. I’ve seen people at every stage of adult life who are unable to find and maintain the kind of partnership that he or she most deeply desires.
In reality, there is no homeostasis in partner relationships. An energetically-charged couple is always changing, advancing, and dancing toward some new future. If they are lucky, they travel along together. The image I have is like two skaters on a frozen pond holding hands and spinning. At one point in time, one has the momentum and is pulling the other along, and at another point in time, they spin and the other is now pulling. Often I encounter couples where one partner will say that she is doing all the forward work and the other is stuck in a rut.
Change is a fluid thing. When one partner does something dramatic, like release an age-old entanglement from their family of origin, he needs to have patience and let the change flush through. It isn't fair to suddenly alter the rules and expect the other partner to agree instantly to the changes. We have a new skin holding our organs and bones together and we need time now to discover who is living in that skin.
When partners grow at different rates, the urge is to try tugging the other along—or threaten to leave. In times of change, it's better to focus on your own individual growth and expansion with only the slightest invitation to your partner to join you in this expansion time. Eventually, one may grow beyond the other, and if this happens, you may simply lift off like a hot air balloon that is unable to stop itself from releasing the familiar tethers.
I’m always suspicious, however, when a client says, "I'm growing so fast and he refuses to budge." It often becomes apparent that the partner with so much pride in his or her growth is often a lightweight—always seeking the elusive, following butterflies across a field while the partner whodoesn't budge may be firmly grounded both in their soul and on earth. Also suspicious, is when one partner looks down at the other as if she is better, which suggests a possible systemic imbalance relating to parent-child relationships.
If you have truly outgrown your partner, your inner feeling about him or her should be filled with gratitude and respect, and a simple acknowledgement that it is no longer here for you. We should be able to look at them clearly and say, "I honor you now as my former partner. I take all the good things you've given to me, and I treasure them."
Unlike the generations of a family, marriage or partner relationships should be eye-to-eye or close to that. In families children are under (or after) the parents and grandparents but this is not so for partner relationships. In these we are equal except for the slight shift that Bert Hellinger speaks of when he wrote, “I believe that relationships between men and woman work best when the man has just a bit more weight than the woman.” According to Hellinger, this follows something deeply archetypal, even tribal—when the man's strength is held in service to the woman's. I question whether the woman's movement has done a great disservice to the soul of the family in attempting too much equality.
Some have argued with this controversial statement, but rather than judge it on a social level, I have judged it on the level of soul. It appears to go against the feminist movement, but perhaps we need to take a heartfelt look at what has happened since the woman was pushed out of the house and into the workplace. I like the picture of a world where the primary focus of family life is on the care of the young. This is too often being left up to strangers. Again, our culture pays a price.
The future of the human race depends upon how the couple approaches the birthing and raising of children. During the past twenty years, most of my focus has been on the issue of how to build strong families. As I entered a period of extensive studies, I realized that the issue is not social, not psychological, not political—but biological. Growing a child is about growing a brain capable of making intricate and elegant connections with itself. Good solutions grow out of the neurological flexibility of the brain.
Strong, conscious couples produce strong, conscious children, and we need a lot of consciousness to navigate this new world in which we live. Children left unattended, set aside, criminalized, or drugged for being children is not a solution. In tribal societies, it was the role of the man to secure the safety of the mother and her child, and I abide by this tribal knowledge. It is not an issue of equality but rather the right order of life. Through doing extensive studies, I now realize that the issue is that we have children left unattended while both mom and dad are striving to bring home the bacon. The consequences are wide-reaching and severe. More and more children are drugged, incarcerated, lured into gangs, and otherwise marginalized in our society.
I went through my own period of wondering why I hadn’t met my Prince, the guy that would take care of all my needs like a good father rather than a husband. Then I got liberated and decided I needed to do it all alone. Unfortunately, raising children alone and independently is a tough road. Now, I've made a wide loop and realize that this tribal approach to families is the only natural way.
A partner is not a child—and not a parent—but a partner. We must ask in this new age what best serves the children.
When you feel that you and your partner are not growing at the same rate, it might be wise to examine the current relationship in the light of this systemic thinking. Have you married a parent or are you expecting your partner to parent you?