Relationship Beginnings and Endings, Part Two
All of us desire to feel loved, wanted and accepted for who we are. Science-based research, ancient spiritual wisdom, and evolutionary psychology teach us that at the root of all suffering—emotional and physical—is a lack of feeling loved and accepted for who we are, both from others and within ourselves. More often than not, people try to love us, but for various reasons, we have created barriers to love which are hidden in the unconscious. Nonetheless, our desire for authentic connection runs deep. As I wrote in ‘Relationship Beginnings and Endings, Part One,’ maintaining authentic love and intimacy in long-term relationship requires differentiation. And the Greek figure that best depicts this is Thanatos, the god of death. Thanatos may appear in your life in different forms. One is the feeling of stagnancy in your relationship. You care about each other but it seems you are both just going through the motions, co-existing as it were. Couples at this stage often say they feel like ‘brother and sister’ (or, in gay relationships ‘sisters’ or ‘brothers’) and there is no intensity. “Is this all there is?” is frequently asked inwardly but not shared with the partner or spouse.
One of the ways Thanatos is most recognizable is during our night-time dreams. For example, a woman may dream about a man or her partner which represents her animus, her inner male aspect, where she is trying to pull away or escape from him. Rather than trying to connect with him as in dreams of Eros, she wants to replace him in the driver’s seat. She may dream of living alone or even wanting to destroy her animus. More literal dreams may appear where she is leaving her partner or expressing anger toward him in a series of dreams. During waking time, she may fantasize of leaving the relationship, moving away, opening herself to meeting someone new, and so forth. As always, feelings are key. Irritation, anger, resentment, confusion, fear—these emotions are pointing the way to what psyche and soul are trying to communicate. Her anger is a symptom of a deeper issue; if she is denying Thanatos and the need for differentiation, her resentment will grow either toward her partner or herself depending upon her ability to access her feelings and express them. Following is an example of a male dreamer dreaming about Thanatos:
I am with an attractive woman and we are in a large outdoor park, like Yellowstone, or a similar environment. We are hiking and it is a gray day and cold. She is standing at the edge of a cliff looking down at the ravine below. I am behind her and have the urge to push her off the cliff. It’s something I have been considering for a while. As I approach her someone yells from behind me and stops me. I awake feeling ashamed and confused.
In waking life, after having been married for eighteen years to the love of his life, this dreamer was struggling. He had cultivated a successful career and desired more time on his own to express his creative side through photography, writing poetry and painting. However, he and his wife were used to spending most of their time together when they were not working. He was worried she would feel neglected if he carved out time for himself, especially because he worked so many hours. So he kept his feelings to himself and his resentment grew. Until they came to counseling, he didn’t know his wife was experiencing similar feelings. Although her desire for alone time was not as strong as his, she had been fantasizing about traveling to new places, without him. She felt telling him about her needs would cause him to feel insecure or threaten the relationship so she said nothing.
In reality, this couple desired something that was not only healthy but would help take their relationship to the next level: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and creatively. By giving himself permission to create, the man would feed his soul and develop more of his feeling function thereby enhancing his anima qualities. Likewise, the woman allowing herself to travel to new places—without her husband—would help her strengthen her animus aspects: independence, inner strength, courage, action.
Thanatos does not mean a relationship is dying, quite the opposite. It is a primary opportunity for the soul to be heard and to communicate one’s needs in an honest, loving, respectful manner, and then, to make the necessary changes to accommodate each other’s requests.
The strength of the anima and animus reflects the inner marriage, or hieros gamos, the stabilizing of masculine and feminine aspects, a significant part of our journey toward individuation.