Love Between Equals: Relationship as a Spiritual Path

The following excerpt is from Love Between Equals: Relationship as a Spiritual Path (Shambhala Publications, 2019)

As a psychoanalyst and psychologist who has been in the business of couple therapy for decades, I have the impression that it is harder today than ever to thrive in a couple relationship. In the 21st century, intimate and reciprocal love between adults in a committed relationship seems in many ways more problematic and unhappy than anyone thought it would be following decades of struggle for gender equality and sexual freedom. At the same time, “falling in love” has come to be synonymous with finding someone who is “perfect for me” or someone with whom “I have chemistry.” Our individual desires and feelings are guiding ideals for finding and keeping a partner, now more than ever. All of this is in the nature of what I call “personal love” – a way of being together that we take personally.

Of course, not all relationships and marriages begin with falling in love, but today most of us seem to believe falling in love is the ultimate stamp of validity that shows “this person is right for me.” But falling in love means falling into an unconscious idealizing projection, imagining how another person will complete you or care for you in the ways you most need or desire. By necessity, that person will fail at this because it is impossible for two adults to do this perfectly for each other in any enduring way. Inevitably, in the process, you will both encounter the pain and humiliation of falling off the pedestal of idealization and into the pit of disillusionment and power struggles.

It is what you do next that can either lead you to repeat the mental habits of idealization and disillusionment — leaving your current relationship for someone more “perfect” for your needs or feeling like your relationship is a prison of no escape – or to step onto a new path of greater freedom and love. This new path will lead you to transform your disillusionment into a true intimacy and a lively engagement with a particular other person whom you chose for yourself. And that path begins with the uncovering of your own “enemy-making” tendencies to find a close repository for what you do not like, or have refused to change, in yourself. The most convenient repository is always someone who is within reach and who is an equal and is supposed to know you well, and by whom you feel insulted, betrayed, wounded, rejected, or blamed. This is someone you care about, to whom you feel entitled to give advice, someone who is anything but a stranger.

In our most intimate relationships, where we depend on others for our own welfare, it seems almost impossible for us to step back from the impulse to blame another or shame ourselves when our hopes and ideals are dashed. Drawing on my decades of practicing Jungian psychoanalysis and couple psychotherapy, as well as my decades of practicing Buddhism (especially Zen and Vipassana), I have come to believe that our contemporary demands for a “love between equals” (I will say more about this below) require new skills and a new kind of wisdom to find our way from falling in love to true love and on-going intimacy. These skills and wisdom come from a blend of two different contemplative traditions: psychoanalysis and Buddhism.

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READ THE FORWARD by Dr. Dan Siegel