No Rose Without Thorns

I don’t know how roses became associated with the expression of love or attraction and especially on St Valentine’s Day and on Wedding Anniversaries.  Metaphorically, the rose is a perfect representation of a couple relationship. According to J.E. Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols, the ‘single rose is, in essence, a symbol of completion, of consummate achievement and perfection.’  The beauty of the rose symbolises all that is potentially precious, whole and fulfilling about the relationship.  However, every rose has thorns which represent the vulnerabilities and insecurities that each person brings to the relationship.  Inevitably, these fears take the form of aggression, passivity, possessiveness, jealousy, hiding of feelings, sexual control, poor communication and become thorns in the side of each partner respectively.  Nevertheless, these thorns provide the opportunities for what couple relationships are ultimately about – each partner’s intimacy with self.

Many couples protectively believe that it is the relationship between them that determines their happiness as a couple.  However, the reality is that it is the relationship that each holds with self that determines the intimacy between them.  It is common for each to blame the other for any conflict between them.  What is often not appreciated is that when each believes the other is ‘the only one’ or ‘I can’t live without him/her’ or ‘he/she was made for me’, this is also evidence of co-dependence.  There are a high percentage of individuals who die within six to eighteen months of their partner’s demise, even though there was no sign or evidence of illness at the time of the death of their spouse.  There are also a high percentage of marriages and other couple relationships that end because of a failure to address the real issues that lead to the conflict between them.

Responsibility for our own lives comes hard to us all.  Many of us were not empowered when children to, age-appropriately and gradually, take responsibility for our own lives.  We were either enmeshed with parents who wanted us to live our lives for them or with parents who lived their lives for us.  These enmeshed relationships arose subconsciously from the individual parent’s unresolved inner conflicts.  There was the added factor that the first couple relationship we witnessed – that between our parents – modelled some form of enmeshment and co-dependence, rather than separateness and independence.  Separateness is the basis for togetherness and individuality the cornerstone of a mature couple relationship.

It is often the case that the person we are attracted to and become involved with mirrors the unresolved issues that existed within and between one or both our parents.  This is not coincidence; this is a second chance created unconsciously for us to not only find separateness in our relationship with our partner, but also from our parent(s).  Indeed, if we don’t find independence from the family of origin - if we have not flown the nest – it is unlikely we will establish a fulfilling relationship with a partner.  Furthermore, separateness from a parent and partner is only possible when you create an enduring intimacy with self.

In entering or contemplating a relationship with another, it is wise to consider the nature of your relationship with self.  If this relationship is of a thorny nature, it is not roses to another that you need to send, but a bunch to yourself might be a good starting point in your need to engage intimately with yourself.

If you are in the throes of a romantic love, sending roses to your lover is a wonderful expression of what you are presently feeling for him (or her), but do be cautious and remember that ‘love is blind and marriage is an eye-opener.’  It is in everyone’s best interest to open our eyes to our own inner life before we commit to another.  So many couples and their children suffer when such an awakening has not occurred before the decision to marry or live together.  I believe that it is still not widely seen that the primary relationship is the one with oneself.  Such a relationship is totally unselfish, because the person takes responsibility for their own wellbeing and brings a fullness, rather than an emptiness, to the couple relationship.  Many of the love songs need to be re-written; most of them have been recipes for co-dependency, for example, ‘You were made for me’; ‘I can’t live without you’; ‘I’ll never get over you.’  Lyrics that acknowledge and celebrate the beauty of self in oneself and in the other are rare.  The reason for this is the reticence that still exists in affirming self.  Sadly, when we don’t affirm our own presence, we make our lovers or partners substitutes for what we need urgently to do for ourselves.  This ‘passing of the buck’ eventually eats into the heart of the relationship, because no matter how loving a partner is, when you don’t love self, then it becomes impossible for your partner to fill the void within you.  The reality is that only you can do that for your self.

Be sure to buy that rose for your self this Valentine’s Day and, of course, one for your partner or lover too.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of Myself, My Partner.