Relationships Beginnings, Endings and Differentiation, Part One
February is the month we celebrate love, joy and the passion that stems from an intimate relationship, qualities especially apparent in a new relationship. Most love songs seem to be filled with lyrics about the arc of passion that brings two people together, symbolized by the power of Eros. However, at the other end of the love-song-spectrum are lyrics about the painful ending of a special relationship. Enter Thanatos, the god of death. Yes, most of us are familiar with the magnetic pull of Eros and the passion we feel when we fall in love, but who is Thanatos? Thanatos is equally as powerful and important but often overlooked. It is the shadow side of Eros. Frequently misunderstood, people rarely want to look at this Greek mythological figure, the god of death. But having worked for years with couples in therapy, I see Thanatos as a misunderstood cry for differentiation.
If you are in a long-term relationship, you know how important it becomes to create space for yourself and each other as the relationship evolves. Differentiating is the healthy way to be independent within a partnership. This means setting boundaries, spending time apart to nurture our soul, delving into creative projects or activities that fulfill us, and allowing our partner the same freedoms. When we don’t recognize the need to differentiate or believe there is something “wrong” with the relationship, we are denying the qualities of Thanatos.
While counseling clients I have witnessed numerous times when Thanatos has reared his head. And frequently, couples believe that because they want more space or time apart from their partner, it must mean one or both of them want out. Eros appears to have died and passion has been replaced with our partner’s flaws. Instead of wanting to be with them, we desire more and more time away and alone.
If left unrecognized, this is often when the relationship becomes confusing, the couple experiences disillusionment, and/or a breakdown or uncoupling begins. It may feel like the relationship is dying, and part of it is. But that does not mean you need to uncouple, rather it signifies that the way things have been going are no longer working. Passion has been replaced with complacency and taking each other for granted. Change is required so the partnership can move to the next level. From this perspective, Thanatos signifies a new beginning.
Dr. Carl G. Jung, the founder of depth psychology, believed that how we behave stems from the result of the different way we use our mental capacities. From this concept, Isabel Briggs Myers created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This instrument has been used for many years and helps people clarify his or her basic personality type. The “intuitive-feeling” person relates deeply to the Romeo-Juliet archetype and the idea of falling madly, deeply in love with his or her soulmate. These personality types are particularly sensitive the power of Eros and crazily happy when experiencing the beginning throes of a relationship. However, when Thanatos begins to creep in, this personality type often experiences distress. Where did my beloved go?! Desiring time apart may feel opposite from earlier days and therefore, the relationship must be doomed.
Yet, Eros is impossible to experience without Thanatos. Thanatos represents a time in the relationship to honor the distancing, confusion and estrangements as a meaningful progression toward expanding the relationship. It allows Eros to become renewed and remain alive. Therefore, this is a crucial time to individually expand within the relationship, as well as stretch the comfort zone of the relationship itself. This critical juncture can lead to death of the relationship, or, to two people learning to differentiate which can lead to individuation. Strong communication and creative ways to support the changes are required. Patience and trust that growth is occurring is also helpful.
In Part Two, we will look at how Thanatos shows up in dream time. Stay tuned! And to watch a short interview about this topic, check out the interview I recently had with professional coach and story-teller, Zette Harbour. Namaste.