There’s a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in-Leonard Cohen
One of the most sparkling conceits when we live on our own is the belief that we are really very easy to live with. Couple relationships appear to put an end to that; suddenly we’re told how difficult all our habits are; the foibles that were appreciated or forgiven in our family life are now seen as irritating and potentially dysfunctional, to say the least.
What’s going wrong here? The partner we picked with such passion and élan vital has turned into our worst critic; that lover who we laughed with and had the wonderful, adventurous sex with has transformed into a bear with a sore head, blocked in their dissatisfaction.
And we’re the same.
Unpacking the couple relationship that you are in or preparing to get into is probably going to be the most important task of your life (conversely, so will be why you are choosing not to be in a couple relationship, too).
We believe we are seeking happiness in marriage, but it’s not really that straightforward. In reality, we’re doing two things at once.
There’s a particular dynamic to every couple relationship, and this overarching dynamic tends to be invariant across much of Western culture. It has a covert aspect and an overt aspect.
Its overt aspect is seemingly simple: we want happiness and fulfilment, love, security, a good sex life and this transmutes into a family of our own, replete with all the trappings of a mortgage and a pension pot, school trips and holidays.
The covert aspect is different: we seek in the other, our love partners, a rich brew of often opposing forces and influences.
Firstly, we seek to marry the familiar (family!) in our lives, looking to recreate what we experienced as comforting and meaningful, secure and loving in our upbringing. But our upbringing cannot offer everything we need-often, powerfully it leaves us emotionally bereft of what we need, so we go searching for this novelty and newness, this difference in another, our unmet needs getting met by our partners.
So, our potential often becomes transferred or projected onto our partners, we fall in need, not in love, though getting those needs met feels blissful, just like love.
This is not making a mistake, it’s just falling for the romantic notion of love, that there is somebody out there that will make us whole.
There is not, only we can do the job of “wholing” ourselves.
So, in our covert aspect the internal dynamic is one of being pulled back into the familiar (family) nest, the nexus of the past-for often no matter how uncomfortable it was, it was still family-and this vies against the push or drive to realise our potential, to self-actualise. At times, we can feel like a car with the accelerator on and the brake on at the same time.
There’s a lot going on in a marriage.
And, of course, we want the loveliness of the honeymoon period to last, and it can’t. It can’t, because once our needs get met, we move on internally, our dynamic unconscious is just that, dynamic, it wants more, and though the habitual response is to attempt get this from our partners, they cannot give us this.
Because we need now to get this from ourselves.
Our marriage has changed, it feels as if something’s gone wrong, as if its cracking up; it’s not, it’s really just growing up.
At this point, we have the very real opportunity of getting real love; not the Disneyfication of love that we previously inhabited but a more robust form of love which does not need so much from our partners, does not project onto our partners our potential and make then curators for our future needs, but provides us with a crucible to develop our own and our mutual potentials, consciously and deeply.
This is the true promise of the couple relationship.