Hugs and Quarrels: Marriage as a Sacred Journey

A talk given to the Friends of Jung in Boulder, 3/4/14


The title of the talk is “Hugs and Quarrels” because that is what we do when we are married: we cling together and we push apart—hopefully we come together more than we part but both seem to be essential in an evolving marriage.  Connecting and separating are the light and dark, yin and yang of a relationship.

I’ll begin with a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride: “Marriage.  Marriage is what brings us together today.  Marriage, that blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream.”  This is from one of my favorite scenes in which the strange elderly English bishop with a speech impediment, hurriedly marries the bad guy to the heroine.  I particularly like the phrase, “a dream within a dream,” as it captures the mysterious quality of marriage.

I should clarify; when I use the term marriage, I mean it in its widest sense: an intimate committed union between two people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or social definitions.  Marriage is about the connection of souls, not a legal license.

The intention of this talk is to explore intimate relationship and marriage as a spiritual path, a path towards individuation in Jung’s terminology.  In particular, I suggest that marriage is best envisioned as a sacred journey of love with various outer and inner landmarks.  This journey is perilous, filled with challenges and trials but it holds a mystery and power as we travel towards a transcendent experience of love.  I will also offer some practical suggestions to help on that path.

Because this talk is about marriage and relationships, it is about you and me and our experience.  Hopefully you can apply these ideas to your relationship and how you envision the meaning of your marriage.

Jung and Relationship

The reason I am here is Jung.  Though I am not a Jungian analyst, Jung has had a profound impact on my life and choice of career.  When I was a young man, living in a spiritual community, a close woman friend came to visit and cornered me, full of excitement.  She had read part of a book and immediately felt that it was destined for me.  She almost forced it into my hand.

The book was Memories Dreams and Reflections.  When I read the book, I knew she was right—this was what I had been searching for.  For some time I had had a feeling I was meant to help people but I did not know how.  In the book, Jung provided the answer: I should become a psychotherapist.  Not long after, I went back to school (I had left when I was 15) and started the long, tedious process of becoming a psychologist.

Jung’s personal story moved me deeply and changed the course of my life.  But, there is a singular oddity about that autobiography which some of you may have noticed: he does not write about his own marriage or recount dreams in which his wife or mistresses appear.  Was that because the information was too personal?  Or was it because Jung was somewhat unconscious about relationship in general and his own in particular?

In his many works, Jung talks often about conjunctio, the union of male and female energies, but it is always at an inner symbolic level.  Jung mentions the importance of relationship but it seems secondary to personal inner growth: “… the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation.”  His choice of the term Individuation reflects his intense focus on the individual as opposed to relationship.

Spirituality and Soul Mates

For my own part, even in adolescence I believed relationship should be a fundamental part of my spiritual life; I could not imagine sharing my life with someone who did not have a similar view.  Living and working in a spiritual community with other earnest, young men, our main concern was how to find a soul mate.   With hardly any contact with women, we desperately looked for this special soul partner to miraculously appear from Heaven.  It was as if only the right relationship could get us started out on our true path.

Around that time a bunch of us young men went to Indonesia, the center of our spiritual movement.  Most evening we gathered to talk with one of the spiritual elders, an earthy, round, jolly Indonesian man named Sudarto who appeared after dusk dressed in his colorful sarong.  He told us amazing stories of his spiritual experiences and offered advice on relationships and the secrets of sex.  He punctuated his broken English with deep waves of laughter, rolling out of his toothless mouth.  One evening one of us asked whether soul mates really existed and how were we to find our own.   Sudarto got very serious and definite: Ya, ya—we all have a soul mate but she is very hard to find—almost impossible.  But it is not hopeless.  One in half a million women is a good match for your soul.  So you should go look for that one in half a million.  Then he burst out laughing.

That comment (whether joke or not) made a great impact.  I spent many years looking for the right partner—until I found my wife.  That is a strange story in itself that I won’t tell here.  Hopefully, many of us here have found your one in half a million—the good match for our soul.

Destiny in Relationship

In that spiritual community, we took it for granted that destiny had a hand in relationships—they were mysteries over which we had little conscious control.  There was one female in the house, a very nice but rather flaky, skinny woman of 30.  She believed with all her heart and soul that she was destined to marry one of the other men in the community—a tall, serious, beautiful Adonis of 25.  They were not well matched.  He disliked her intensely, particularly as she had blurted out to him that she thought they were meant to be married.  He avoided her, hardly spoke a word to her.  Many nights she poured out her anger, sadness and hopelessness to me, but there was nothing to do.

After nearly two years of this standoff, out of the blue, one night Adonis had a dream.  He did not tell me the detail but he was now certain that she was meant to be his wife and he had to marry her—he knew it in his soul.  So they got married—and they lived happily ever after.  Maybe you have a similar story, a sense that you were destined to meet and be together.

I could relate other strange stories—my own and others—but they all point towards the same conclusions: marriage is a mystery.  Much of our experience of marriage is hidden, like an iceberg, beneath the waters of our awareness.  The unconscious mass below the surface may cause problems but just as often it has a life of its own, keeping us stable and moving forward.

The Marriage Archetype

In Jungian terms, marriage is an archetype, a universal pattern of human experience.  As such it has an outer form that differs throughout history and culture—and an inner reality and purpose that is enduring.  In this age, as we live longer, we have more of an opportunity to experience the depth and purpose of the archetype as it unfolds over a life-long relationship.

For many of us, marriage is the longest most complicated project we will be involved with in our life, the one that has most impact on who we are and who we become.  For a married couple, the relationship is the context in which each person lives and breathes, like water to a fish, all around, inside and out.  We cannot see our marriage objectively because we are swimming in it.  At this moment you may sense the connection to your partner in some profound and inexplicable way.  You are plugged into the relationship whether you know it or not.

Marriages are not static; they are not things or events.  Relationship keeps unfolding over time like a flowing river, sometimes shifting unexpectedly but mostly changing slowly, imperceptively, as we each grow older and hopefully, wiser.  So this mysterious life-long, complex and difficult process of living with another person—is its purpose for sex, for having children, for security and companionship?  It seems to have all of these reasons but it is much more.

Kahlil Gibran offers us a profoundly beautiful image of the archetype, the inner meaning of marriage:

Marriage is the union of two divinities that a third might be born on earth.

It is the union of two souls in a strong love for the abolishment of separateness.

It is that higher unity which fuses the separate unities within the two spirits.

It is the golden ring in a chain whose beginning is a glance, and whose ending is Eternity. (The Voice of the Master)

Gibran is telling us that marriage is a union of souls.  It is a wholeness that joins together separate individuals through love on their path to Eternity.

We need a useful metaphor as a guide to help us navigated this process of unification.  How do we abolish separateness?  How do we find our way to Eternity?  One traditional metaphor is that of a journey, a sacred journey and the most common sacred journey is that of pilgrimage.  Let us imagine that married partners have set out on a shared holy pilgrimage.

Marriage is a sacred Journey: a pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is an outer journey with an inner purpose in which we travel towards a sacred destination.  The point of the journey is to face and embrace difficulties and trials in order to be open to grace, an infilling of spirit—and to experience a metanoia, a change of heart and mind.

Every faith has some version of pilgrimage.  Over 200 million people each year go on pilgrimage to a place that is holy in their religion.  Hindus go to the Ganges, Muslims to Mecca, Jews go to Jerusalem, and Tibetan Buddhists go to Lhasa.  Christians go to Lourdes, Rome, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and the recent fashion: Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

If we think of marriage as a pilgrimage, what can we learn?  Most obvious, it requires a strong and enduring intention because the journey is difficult; it is a trial, a challenge and often an ordeal.  Second, it has the inner purpose of changing us fundamentally.  Third, we have to have a sense of direction, a path that leads towards a distant destination.  In marriage, our goal or end-point is shrouded in a cloud of unknowing.  What we sense is that it has to do with love, grace and union.

The Marriage Journey is Difficult

Relationships are difficult.  We all know how profoundly our partner can influence our moods and actions.  He or she brings put the best in us and often the worst.  We never behave as badly as we do with our spouses.

A divorced female client once told me a dream that contains a simple truth about relationship.  In the dream, she is in a garage and a mechanic dressed in overalls comes up to her.  He says he is the Holy Spirit and proceeds to give her profound guidance.  Then, as she walks away, he calls after her: “You know you can have a relationship if you want one.”  She replied, “I can’t do relationships; I am too difficult to live with.” The Holy Spirit gives her his parting shot, “You know, everyone is difficult to live with!”

That is the truth: I am difficult to live with and you are difficult to live with.  All human beings are difficult to live with.  Inherent in every relationship is a conflict between my needs and your needs, my view of the world and your view of the world—an inevitable tension between our separateness and our togetherness.  So we fight, and many of our fights are about protecting our ego and about who gets to be right.

The Marriage Journey

The journey of marriage has its outer and inner landscape, its landmarks and signposts.  In the outer life we meet, date, fall in love, get married (or not), have children (or not), settle into a routine of living.  Often divorce interrupts the pattern but most people give relationship another try.  Eventually, if we live long enough, we retire, get older and finally one and then the other dies.  That is the standard itinerary for many of us; others take a road less traveled.  But what goes on at an inner level?

For a marriage to mature and grow, both partners have to face and resolve many inner tasks and obstacles. I have only enough time to point out a few inner landmarks.  See if you recognize them in your relationship.

Commitment: The first task is commitment, the intention to see the journey through to the end, regardless of difficulties.  Without enduring commitment, the relationship cannot hold.

The importance of commitment is enshrined and ritualized in the wedding ceremony.  All weddings include symbols of union and wholeness, the vow, the joining of hands, the kiss, and of course the golden ring, the symbol of spiritual union.

Committing to a life partner is one of the most difficult decision we have to make—it stirs up inner conflict and doubt: is this my right life partner; should I give up my freedom, my time, and other sexual partners to be with this one person?  These reservations do not stop just because we say, “I do.”  Some have to grapple with them constantly.  Commitment is something we keep reinforcing again and again on the journey.

Disillusionment: After the honeymoon period, which may last a number of years, the scales begin to fall from our eyes: who is this person I married; what did I get myself  into?  We notice that we are no longer on best behavior and the conflicts and disappointments begin to mount.

Disillusionment is about letting go of our illusions: our unrealistic expectations of life, of our self, our partner and the relationship.  Romance seems to dwindle, love does not fix everything; pregnancy and childrearing are overwhelming and the relationship is hard work.

We all have to face reality, to recognize and struggle with our flaws and friction points rather than avoid and brush them under the carpet.  Reality is the raw material we have to work with, to shape into something that goes beyond the known and expected.  Working with our self and with the relationship is the heart of the marriage journey.

Inner Work:  Our own inner work is too big and complex a topic to do justice to in this talk.  Let me just give a general outline.  Inner work in marriage is about darkness and light: integrating the shadow aspects of our being and enhancing our capacity for love.  We learn to know ourselves, take responsibility for our flaws and failures, and work on becoming a better partner.  At the same time, each day, we practice loving, generosity, appreciation and kindness.  These are the essentials of all spiritual disciplines and the hallmarks of a true human being.

Acceptance: With time and with the constant help of our partner, we gradually learn to accept ourselves fully, and appreciate our partner and the relationship for what it is.  Self-acceptance is the key to understanding our partner and our relationship  As we integrate our shadow aspects and learn to love more deeply, marriage becomes a resting place where we can be more our self and more than our self.  It is important to recognize that a union of souls does not mean we become less.

Surrender: Surrender is the fruition of acceptance that allows us to let go of the artificial distinction between me, you and us.  As the ego becomes less insistent, we experience a deeper sense of connection and union, a love that is less passion and more patience, a quietness of mind and openness of heart that extends beyond the personal.

Surrender depends on both effort and grace.  Union happens through grace but we have to create the opportunity, reach a place of acceptance and inner peace together.  As Marion Woodman describes the Inner Marriage: “The relationship is no longer two people in love, but loving each other through God.”

Hugs and Resonance

So where do the hugs come in?  Hugs help create and maintain a shared sense of being present together—what I call resonance.  Resonance is the harmonic that arises when souls are connected, when we create a shared world, when two plucked strings reverberate to the same note.  Resonance is a moment of union and a mutual sustaining connection.  It comforts, relaxes and whispers in our being, “All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

To achieve resonance, we have to be willing to let go of our own vibratory frequency or waveform—our own individual state.  That is not so easy.  Whenever we are separate from our partner, whenever we are engrossed in our own tasks, we revert to our familiar vibratory rate; we get lost in our ego-centered world.  Then as we come back together there is a disharmony, a mismatch that causes an inner discomfort easily leading to friction and conflict.  The answer is a hug—not just any hug, but a hug to connect and be present.  Without the hug, worlds collide and irritations arise.

Hugging is not the only way of achieving resonance, of course.  Loving contact of any kind—holding hands, sharing experiences, listening attentively, sharing a joint activity—all contribute to resonance.  One of my favorites is telling each other our dreams, those windows into the depths of our psyche.  Mutually loving sex can be the most powerful form of resonance.  Many couples experience moments of transcendence during a sexual encounter.

Practice hugs whenever you are apart for a period of time.  Hug gently with your whole body, allowing yourself to be fully present with whatever arises and let yourself relax at a deep level.  Don’t think, but let your heart soften.  Feel your partner, physically and spiritually.  Allow love to intensify.  Do not break away until the hug has achieved its purpose.  Do it randomly at any time.

Caring Conflict

It seems there has to be conflict in a marriage for it to progress.  Naturally we want to avoid it: the anger, the hurt and the distant silences.  But without friction, how can the relationship become more conscious; how can we move forward if there is no frustrating impetus to make us change.  As with a precious stone, the friction of grinding against each other rounds the corners, takes the edges off and brings out the gem-like beauty.

Quarreling is a battle of worldviews, of separate realities trying to reach a new, shared reality.  I see it this way, you see it that way and together we can see it differently than expected.  However, when one or both participants won’t let go, refuses to respect the other person’s experience, the fighting becomes stuck in an endless merry-go-round.

There are useless conflicts and useful conflicts and we have to recognize the difference.  Useless fights have a stuck repetitive quality that never reaches resolution.  They easily turn mean and nasty; words are hurled to hurt rather than heal; disrespect is shown by gestures of contempt or stony withdrawal.  Useful fights, on the other hand, move us on to a different level.  They may hurt but the pain has a purpose and meaning that creates more wholeness

Caring conflict starts with the supposition that we are fighting for the relationship, not against it.  I need to know that you love me even though we disagree.  I also need you to know I love you, even though we disagree.  Deeper love and connection are the ultimate goals of every conflict.  To fight with care, we need to remember ourselves and our highest values.  We take responsibility for our irritability and hair trigger responses, for our urge to avoid and detach.  At the same time, we learn what is a trigger for the other person and respect their unique responses and their need to process things in their own way.

Sometimes we go to bed angry, knowing that we will feel more forgiving in the morning.  There are no set rules; each couple has to find their own way through the thicket of conflict.  The good news is that with acceptance and surrender, with a good dose of resonance and love, conflict becomes easier, more loving and profound.

The Inner Marriage—a Union of Souls

So is the idea of an inner soul marriage pie in the sky or does it actually exist?  The answer is yes, it does exist; it is not common but it is far more frequent than we realize.  Spiritual marriages do not advertise themselves; they take themselves for granted.

In researching for the chapter, “Spirituality and Relationship in Later Life” (published in Jung and Aging), I interviewed a number of couples who embodied extraordinary love and resonance.  Their relationships exhibited a sacred quality and wholeness that reached above and beyond the personalities of the participants.  I will allow them to speak for themselves.

I asked how their relationship contributed to their individual development:

 “You must move from the ego to the Self in that nakedness that you cannot show to the whole world.  Your partner knows you with your foibles, weaknesses, cowardice.”

“It’s also necessary to know the partner loves you anyway with your foibles and faults and failures.  It makes it possible to live through it.”

Their love and togetherness had transformed over the years:

“My experience of love has taken the form of her feeling her greatness, feeling her depth.  The movement from self-love is to create energy….”

“I feel our hearts get to a place of communion and eyes filled with tears; we sit in these movies and hold hands.”

“We spend lot of time not talking at all.”

I asked what attitudes were essential to their marriage

 “Patience, compassion, forgiveness.”

“Self responsibility and the desire to be the best you can be.  To humble oneself completely.”

“… being together has helped us work out future karma, raising awareness, increasing the ability to not fixate on certain goals or outcomes. I feel really blessed being able to work our meditation practice both alone and together.”

As a bonus, these couples experience small indescribable moments of transcendence:

“Our last stop in summer before bed is the balcony to see the stars in the dark…  They are quiet moments, not a lot of activity.  They don’t come with a fanfare.”

“One day (he) came down the steps and there was this strange little moment in which time stopped.  They occurred all the way through.”

I find these interviews profoundly moving and uplifting.  It is heartening to know such quality of love exists all around us.  After over 30 years of my own marriage, I still believe in soul-matches, in marriage as a sacred journey and in practicing hugging whenever I get the chance.

Roland Evans© April 2014