When a marriage relationship begins to become a conscious interplay within each person and between the couple what emerges is openness, an inhabiting of one’s own and an appreciation of the other’s individuality, an emotional safety for each to examine their own defensive reactions, a communication that is authentic, direct and clear and, most of all, an unconditional loving of the sacred presence of self and of each other. What I am saying for marriage relationships holds true for all relationships. Furthermore, the place of marriage as being central to the stability of the family and society needs to be urgently reinstated, but in a new way.
When we enter an intimate relationship with another, inevitably we unconsciously bring our emotional and other baggage into the relationship. Our emotional baggage contains all the defences we created in response to the threats to our wellbeing which we experienced as children. These defensive creations served us well, because they shielded us from pain, and, indeed, became a means of getting substitute attention. By the time we come into adulthood, these defensive patterns will have increased and deepened, and when we encounter further threats to our presence and to our ways of living, we resort to these protective weapons or develop new ones. Psychoanalysts believe that our defensive patterns, whilst functional when we were children, are dysfunctional – a dead weight – when we are adults. However, they miss a fundamental issue and that is the threat of other people’s defensive behaviours – of parents, siblings, peers, teachers, managers, friends and so on – are still out there. Psychoanalysis also misses the fact that when we have experienced the overwhelming pain of emotional abandonment in childhood, we do not want to re-live and re-experience these devastating rejections and so we unconsciously maintain our defences. Only when we gradually come to re-connecting with our true self and form an inner solidity from which nobody can demean, lessen and negate our presence, do we allow consciousness of that hidden pain to arise.
Relationship – and, particularly, marriage – brings us up against our painful unresolved emotional conflicts from our early years and in the present, continually unearthing things in ourselves we have buried – deep fears, huge doubts about our lovability and worth, hidden physical, sexual and emotional violations, humiliations experienced and the endless repetition of these rejections. Intimate relationships offer the possibilities of showing us how we mask who we truly are. When a partner reacts defensively to our unconscious protective patterns, these patterns bounce back on us and can provide the opportunity for conscious examination. Certainly, when a partner proacts – acts openly – in response to our defensive patterns, the likelihood of a raising of consciousness is higher. When defence meets defence, there tends to be an escalation of couple conflict. Nevertheless, often such an escalation prompts one or both to seek help, an intervention that will provide the emotional safety for what is buried within each of them to come to the surface. Certainly, when a couple become conscious of their emotional baggage, in the context of an openness in their relationship, a desire emerges to move in an unconditional loving direction and the path into intimacy with self and with each other evolves.
It is in an unconscious sense of incompleteness that draws us to relationship. We can often feel strongly attracted to a person who manifests qualities we have dared not develop and who challenges us to come into a greater fullness and depth of being that we disconnected from in our early years. This is a two-way street.
The path of conscious marriage has several interrelated dimensions:
Centuries of imbalance between masculine and feminine ways of being have left a deep scar on human relationships. No one escapes the consequences of this imbalance – which permeates both our inner and outer lives. Typically, men experience a split between mind and heart, thinking and feeling, toughness and tenderness. It is the opposite for women – they experience a split between heart and mind, feeling and thinking and tenderness and toughness. Outwardly, these splits manifest in conflict between genders and in the heartless and mindless ravaging of nature that is endangering our planet. The mind without heart is not mind at all; neither is the heart without mind heart at all. Until human consciousness can transform this division between the feminine and the masculine into a creative alliance, we will remain divided and at war with ourselves, as individuals, as couples , as families, as societies and as a race. Developing a conscious depth and quality of intimacy in couple relationships is an essential step in healing this split and bringing together within each man and each woman the two halves of our humanity. It is in this way that conscious intimacy becomes a sociological path for the emergence of the fullness of human consciousness.
Secondly, conscious intimacy is a personal pathway to experience the fullness of our own unique and individual humanity and the limitless resources that we possess. It is an interpersonal path because it offers the possibilities of conscious wholeness to each person in an intimate relationship.
Conscious intimacy is also a spiritual path in that it offers the opportunities to wake up to our true nature and the transcendent experience of that nature being part of the greater mystery of life itself.
Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. His books Myself, My Partner and, with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationships: The Heart of a Mature Society are relevant to this article.