Don’t you think it is interesting that with humans most of our perceived problems are with the other? We don’t own it as a problem with ourselves, or the way we naturally are, but, rather, the problem is located elsewhere. These problems fall into several categories:
Present, but Deficient
The one we are with is present, but is deficient in myriad ways. Our feelings range from irritation, frustration, bitterness or exasperation with the other. Sometimes the other is perceived as not sufficiently present or overly absent – whether physically or emotionally.
The Other is the Problem to be Eliminated
Very often the other is framed as the problem to be rid of. We fantasize that if we could just eliminate the other, our problems would be solved. This other, whether it is someone in the personal world, or someone on the world stage, constellates all our unacknowledged shadow issues and becomes the convenient scapegoat. If only we could just get rid of that person – whether it be bin Laden, Harper, Nixon, Bush, Ford, Assad, Obama, Stephan Dion or Saddam Hussein! We tell ourselves that we will feel better, vastly relieved, if this problem can be somehow eliminated. If successful, there is a moment of respite in which we don’t have to face these shadow elements in ourselves.
In the story of Peter Pan Captain Hook personifies the evil archetype on whom we ‘hook’ all our fears and hatred. This is not to say that Captain Hook or any of his stand-ins are blameless or innocent of crimes. In fact, they have to be ‘sticky enough’ in their badness to carry our negative projections. The real problem is that we when we locate the problem elsewhere, we tend not to face up to our part in the problem, and so there is no movement towards resolution of the dilemma.
The Longing for the Beloved
In certain more conscious individuals, there is the recognition that the longing for the other is the longing to return Home. There is an awareness that the deep-seated soul longing is the longing for the other on a spiritual dimension. This is the problem of individuation that Jung addresses. The inner marriage is the coming into partnership with the deep soul urgings. It becomes a journey dedicated to fulfilling soul purpose and being at one with the Beloved. There is the recognition that there is no other way.
In many marriages, the most insidious of these problems is the first one – the problem of present, but deficient. When we first fall in love, we hope and long for that partner that will complete us. We project that hope and fantasy onto the other, and as long as our partner is able to carry that ‘projection’, we glory in that rose-colored world of the honeymoon phase. Gradually – fortunately or unfortunately – the wear and tear of the daily grind chips away at the glorious projection, until it completely falls away.
This is often a difficult period, filled with feelings of sadness, bitterness, disappointment, and disillusionment. Many marriages founder at this point. ‘He/she is not who I though he/she was!’ This is the common refrain. And the only logical answer is, ‘No, and whose fault is that?’ However, there is no point voicing a logical response because we are dealing with deep-seated emotions, and they are NEVER rational.
Somehow, humans need relationships to evolve. Being in relationship, or simply longing for one, or for the Beloved, or for something ELSE, forces us to confront ourselves, to go within, to question and explore the dark edges we would rather not admit to. The relationship – with the other or with the Beloved – becomes the container, or in alchemical terms, the crucible. It is there that we cook, we burn, abort or transform.
In the marriage we have to give up the idea the notion that the other can fix or improve our lives in some way. Many people who leave their marriages when the honeymoon phase is over, simply go out and recreate the same dysfunctional pattern with the next partner. We have all seen that in ‘other people’ right? It’s too bad we can’t see it in ourselves.
Once in a while we get a glimpse and have the opportunity to face up to and integrate our difficult parts. Remember Wendy and Peter Pan? Remember Wendy trying to stitch Peter Pan’s shadow back on? It is an ironic and bittersweet twist in this modern myth of the eternal boy or girl who doesn’t want to grow up. Growing into mature adulthood requires that we face our own shadowy issues and take responsibility for our deficiencies and how we wound others, whether intentionally or inadvertently. There is no easy way to stitch our shadow back on after disowning it. And if you want to keep flying off to Never Never Land then you are not ready for the heavy, grounding work of individuation.
Of course we all want to escape to Never Never Land at some point in our lives. There is nothing wrong with wanting that, but we also need to recognize the infantile nature of that desire. Naturally, all the Lost Boys want to go home. But the way Home is the work of fully grown, deeply mature men and women. This work is not for the faint of heart, and the journey is long and fraught with hardship, but also many joys.
See Rumi’s poem to the Beloved, set to music by the fabulous Kharaindrou: