Alchemy in Relationships

Self-sufficiency and symbiosis embody the extreme forms of two basic forces that, lived in a healthy balance, control every living relationship -- dissolving and binding. In every relationship these two forces are in balance with each other. Whether this balance of power comes about in a relaxed and harmonious way, or whether it is achieved after repeated, hot wars petrify into a state of cold war, or clothes itself in apathy and indifference, is all the same. Both of these powers are balanced in every situation.

In this process, it may look like one of these two forces has temporarily been repressed and the other has won the upper hand. But it is quite certain that the seemingly inferior power is only repressed into the unconscious and will re-form itself there in order to appear again sooner or later and win the upper hand. The roles belonging to this interplay of forces are often already given to the participants at the first moment of meeting each other, long before even one of them suspects that a relationship will develop from this encounter. From the very beginning, one of them takes the role of "binder" while the other takes over that of the "dissolver." And this is how it usually stays thereafter. Only in rare cases does an exchange of roles occur during the further course of the relationship.

The binder's task is to be responsible for the committed nature of the relationship, that the two people are together and do as much as possible with each other, while the dissolver must maintain the distance between them in order to guarantee that both of them have enough space to be independent. As long as both attend to their tasks to the right degree, the relationship will be healthy and develop in a lively way. Whenever two people can leave each other alone and then come back together again, in order to once again leave each other alone and come back together once more, both personal growth and the growth of the relationship are possible, since neither of the two is pressed into a rigid pattern or reduced to one mode of expression; instead, each of them is permitted to gradually appear as a complete human being. On the other hand, two people who just bind will stick firmly to each other in the symbiotic sense since there is little room for further development. And when only detachment prevails, where everything is just loose and relaxed, the friction for further development is missing.

Alchemists were aware of the secret of every higher development in the constant interplay of dissolving and binding. An extensive knowledge about the true laws of change is concealed within their time-honored tradition. Whenever a profound change becomes necessary in our life, whenever we feel that we must transform ourselves or when we discover that our growth has stagnated and our relationship has stopped developing, then it's helpful to take to heart the advice of this hermetic science, which C. G. Jung called the "psychology of the Middle Ages."

The interesting thing about this polarity of forces is that they are mutually contingent upon each other. In the proper mixture, this is a guarantee for the liveliness of the relationship. But if one of the two changes the rules of the game, he or she forces the other partner to take countermeasures. So if the dissolver suddenly asks for more independence, the binder can hardly do anything but demand more commitment. This gives the dissolver the feeling of now being definitively captured, which is why he or she then demands more freedom, whereby the binder sees the relationship so endangered that he or she demands more commitment.

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Two people can actually work each other up to the point that both are in a permanent state of alarm. In such extreme situations, the rather rare change of positions may take place. If, for example, the binder is so frustrated that he or she gives up and ends the relationship, it just might happen that the entire detachment of the dissolver breaks down, his or her holy freedom is suddenly insignificant, and the previous dissolver now becomes the best of binders. However, this reverse of polarity never works as a tactical measure, but only when the related steps are genuine. If the binder only acts as though he or she wants to leave, but inwardly hopes for the dissolver's turnabout, everything will remain as it is.

Considered in symbolic terms, the separating aspect is a masculine quality, whereby the feminine is seen as the binding power. Analogous to this, masculine thinking is oriented toward differentiation, whereby feminine thinking always recognizes and emphasizes the mutual factors. Even if this classification doesn't mean any type of compelling role distribution for the sexes, men still tend toward emphasizing the separating factors, the difference, and the details, while women primarily focus their attention on the connecting, the mutual factors, and the whole.

Jungian psychology presumes that this is based on the respective initial human experience with the first person a child relates to -- the mother. While the boy feels the difference based on the polarity from the start and must also develop his identity in differentiation from the mother, the girl first experiences the solidarity with the mother and can very well orient herself toward her mother while developing her own identity. Accordingly, a boy has much more difficulty in developing his own nature than a girl. However, there is "compensating justice" in the fact that the boy is used to satisfying his desires and needs with the opposite sex starting at the mother's breast while this becomes a challenging learning task for the adolescent girl.

A further compensation is illustrated in how the opposite of what has just been stated can be seen on the unconscious level. Here, the man reacts in a feminine manner and the woman in a masculine way, usually without even being aware of this. The archetypal forces that cause this are called the anima and animus in analytical psychology. What this means and the deep significance found here can be seen in the following section.

Anima and Animus - The Inner Beloved

It is in the nature of the unconscious mind to always behave in a manner that is compensatory, or balancing, in relation to our conscious mind, thereby forming an opposite polarity to everything with which we identify consciously. This is why complications often arise when we are committed to everything that is good, light, noble, and true. Marie-Louis von Franz warned about idealistically having one-sided wishes of only acting in a good and proper way because we then involuntarily put ourselves into the hands of evil. She drew the following conclusion: "To do good may still be the goal, but it makes us more modest to know that the compensating destructive side constellates when we want to be too good."

For this reason, we know that where there is light, there is always shadow. As illuminating as this phenomenon may be, and as easily as we can recognize it in others, our ego would prefer to hear nothing about this principle when it comes to ourselves, and we constantly want to apply special rules. But we are all exceptions! This is why people who are completely convinced that they are thoroughly "light" and certainly don't have any shadow aspects often feel themselves to be so "unappreciated" when, to their surprise, they are criticized by others, or when their goodness is even questioned. But, unfortunately, the others must experience and endure these shadow aspects of which the supposed "light being" is so completely unconscious.

This idiosyncrasy of the unconscious mind explains some of the contradictions in life. For example, why do people violently fight for peace, or why are the moralizers of the nation entangled in dirty affairs time and again? The unconscious mind has the truly thankless task of forming the dark opposite pole to the vainly brilliant feeling of self, leading the self-righteous ego into temptation time and again so that it becomes aware of its own unconscious dark aspects. To damn it as the work of the devil, as frequently happens in narrow-minded religious circles, doesn't show a more profound insight into the important significance of this opposite pole.

As C. G. Jung recognized when researching the unconscious mind, its contents include elemental images inherent to every human being. These include the hero, the dragon, the virgin, and the old wise man. Jung called these inner pictures archetypes or primordial images of the human soul. There are two among them that, according to his observations, play an important role. They are mediators between a person's conscious and the unconscious mind, as well as the inner, initially unconscious opposite pole to his or her conscious sexual behavior. Jung called these "forces," which see to it that the unconscious mind of a man reacts in a feminine manner and that of a woman reacts in a masculine way, the anima and animus: The anima is the female aspect of a man, and the animus is the inner masculinity of a woman.

One phenomenon that makes it easy to recognize the effects of these archetypes is the conflict situation familiar to us in so many relationships: while the man constantly talks about his holy need for freedom, his urge to be independent, and the impossibility of being truly committed, the woman swears on what they have in common and is willing to give her anything for the committed nature of the relationship. This is at least the outer reality on the conscious level.

On the other hand, the opposite poles are forming in the unconscious mind. The anima, the inner femininity of the man, does her best to counteract this conscious urge for independence. The result is impressive. Instead of really pursuing his supposed yearning for freedom, the man feels himself drawn to his partner to the same degree that he talks off her ears about his need for independence, since his feminine aspect, his (unconscious) anima, binds him to the relationship to the same extent to which he consciously strives to remain free. Since we like to project unconscious forces onto others, this man will naturally blame his partner for his supposed lack of freedom, accusing her, and insinuating that she won't let him go, when it really is his anima that binds him.

For her part, the woman wonders why this man comes back to her time and again when he actually just wants to tell her that he will certainly leave again. But while she consciously struggles for the continuance and committed nature of the relationship, attempting to bewitch and beguile him, her inner opposite sexuality reacts with increasing intensity and one fine day, as if out of the blue, her animus draws the sword and lets her -- to her own surprise -- break up the relationship for which she had fought so long. The more unconscious we are of these inner forces, the more we are at their mercy and the less we understand our behavior in moments when these unconscious forces determine what we do.

Obviously this example isn't the only way in which the anima and the animus work. Instead, their actual intent is to guide a person. In the language of myth and fairy tale, they are the guides of the soul accompanying us. The anima and animus can also be described as the inner beloved. We believe the right partner should be just like the anima or animus inherent to our unconscious mind. Whenever we encounter a person who enchants us, the anima or animus is involved in the situation since only the unconscious mind has the power to cast a spell on consciousness. In other words, we meet someone in the "outside world" who fascinates us, and this person offers a suitable projection surface, a "hook" on which we can hang our soul image, the picture of our inner partner. If this succeeds, then we are -- at least for a while -- convinced that the right person has finally entered our life.

However, there is a tiresome problem here in that the power of the projection diminishes with time, the beloved picture starts to crack, and the true contours of the other person shows through with increasing clarity. But since only our inner soul image can be perfect, and the outer reality always comes along in an imperfect form, this disillusionment invariably brings with it disappointment and sadness at the loss of the idealized image. In her work on the anima and animus, Emma Jung put this into very apt terms: "When this discrimination between the image and the person sets in we become aware to our great confusion and disappointment, that the man who seemed to embody our animus does not correspond to it in the least, but continually behaves quite differently from the way we think he should." Is there any woman who isn't familiar with this? And any man in his own way?

All soul images have a polarized nature, meaning that they have a light and a dark side to them. Whenever we think an angel enters our life, we naturally have transferred the light side to this person. In as far as this is a purely unconscious projection, it can very quickly turn into its opposite because, when we feel boundless enthusiasm about a beloved person, and overlook all his or her shortcomings, and just want to see the angel in him or her, it usually doesn't take long before the angel plunges into hell and turns into a devil or a witch. This dark image naturally corresponds as little to the outer reality as the angel did before. But it is experienced with the same intensity and battled with the same vehemence with which the desired image had been longed for. This is why it is so important to become aware of this inner person and the fact that we project it. Otherwise, there is the danger of destroying something valuable out of ignorance.

It is apparently the intention of these soul guides to lead people into the area of life where they can learn more about themselves than in any other: the relationship. Only in the intimate and constant confrontation with the other sex can we become aware of our unconscious opposite sexuality and comprehend the anima and animus as forces that ultimately want to lead us to wholeness. Just simply projecting the inner image onto the other person, believing that we have finally found the right partner, and hoping that we will now have peace of mind forever after, means making things somewhat too easy for ourselves and getting taken in by the cheapest wish dreams. The initial feeling of infatuation that enchants us at the moment of the successful projection is certainly a beautiful, uplifting state. But, according to everything that psychology and life experience have discovered, how much we are in love just says something about the degree of disappointment that must follow sooner or later; interestingly enough, it says absolutely nothing about the depth and durability of the relationship that can result from it. A fall can even occur from the rosiest seventh heaven, taking the entire relationship with it into an abyss while, on the other hand, a deep relationship can grow between two people even without infatuation at the beginning.

This amorousness, which can stimulate our inner partner, is apparently something like a magic potion that inspires our consciousness, lets us go beyond our limitations, and brings us together with another person. But this love-intoxicated exaggeration of reality is no more the goal in itself, or meant to be a permanent state, than any other form of intoxication. The actual relationship starts only after we have become sober, when we no longer worship the other individual as the Dream Woman or Prince Charming, but increasingly see who he or she actually is. To swear eternal faithfulness is easy, just as easy as the frequently heard protests of chronic singles or aging Casanovas that they long for nothing more than to immediately commit themselves for all eternity, if the right person would just come along.

The right person certainly exists. But definitely not in the way that we longingly dream about him or her in the years of our youth. He or she does not exist in a "completed form," and can only become the right person if we make the decision to be with him or her. This doesn't mean that it doesn't matter with whom we bind ourselves. There are certainly people who are more meant for each other and fit together better than others. But as long as we only get involved with each other with the reservation that the other person should not disappoint us, or that he or she eliminates as quickly as possible the "shortcomings" that we have already recognized, we have not truly gotten involved. Even if we -- above all during the phase of infatuation -- are so totally convinced of our love, this always applies: a love with reservations never is intended for the other person but always just for our own inner soul image, for which the other person is a possible candidate. Nothing is easier than loving the idea that we have of a person since it corresponds to our inner partner image. At the same time, we are only loving our idea that we have of the other, the inner image that we project on him or her. It's only natural that we don't notice what we are doing at first. A projection continues to be experienced as pure reality until -- if at all -- it slowly dawns on us that we are once again being taken in by our own idea.

And it's quite inevitable that disruptions attempting to make us aware of this will come sooner or later. Whether we will recognize their causes and comprehend this correlation remains to be seen. These disruptions cannot be avoided even in the most traditional of marriages, those marriages that still serve as evidence that today tradition, morality, and commitment have gone downhill. Even if this is true, the patriarchal marriage, which begins with at least the woman as a virgin and remains respectable until death doth them part, is not particularly suited as a laudable role model. When it truly "functioned," this primarily occurred because the man, thanks to his instruments of power, could manipulate the woman and force her to personify his anima. Whenever a woman does this, she can be certain that her husband will cherish her.

Naturally this is very tempting, at least for a woman who is financially and socially dependent upon her husband. In most cases, she will not even be aware that she has been "purchased" since she is pampered and experiences his affection and generosity to the extent that she is his sweet girl, sweetheart, or, since the 50s, his baby. The price for this is high. It is the price of self-denial. Whenever a woman tries to personify the anima, her partner's searching image, she can naturally only do this at the expense of developing her own true nature. Instead of developing her own personality, she is just a sum of outside expectations. When she is not conscious of this, and doesn't break out of the corset of an identity determined by someone else, sooner or later this act of self-betrayal may become evident in the form of emotional disorders or physical afflictions. Hysteria and migraines are two typical forms of expressions here, which is why it was no wonder that these disorders were dismissed as being purely women's diseases in the heyday of the patriarchal marriage at the beginning of the 20th century.

Of course, not only men succumb to the temptation of forcing their wives into the patterns of their anima with skillful manipulation and more or less gentle force. Enough women also try to seduce a man and use a lot of coaxing to make him personify their inner ideal image, their animus. In all these cases, the love is always directed at the inner image, while the supposedly beloved partner is just a candidate granted a framework within which he or she must prove capable of worthily filling the garment and role of the animus.

When we accept and love our partner as the human being that he or she really is, and we can generously promote and support the development of his or her individual nature, then we have something quite different. However, the necessary precondition for this step is that we are truly interested in the partner. As obvious as this may sound, we are frequently unwilling to do this as soon as our "image" of the other person threatens to crumble. Only when one person recognizes and loves the other as the living original that he or she is can we genuinely speak of love. Everything else doesn't deserve the name because it arises from egotistical motives, such as the desire to grace oneself with a partner, to never be alone, or to have someone take care of our material and erotic needs.

In order to achieve a real relationship, it is not only important to become conscious of our own inner beloved, but also to take an intense look at this inner image. The cause of many problems in a relationship is not -- as people would like to believe -- the other person, but these inner figures. C. G. Jung made this very clear when he said: "It is a mistake to believe that one's personal dealings with one's partner play the most important role. Quite the reverse: the most important part falls to the man's dealings with the anima and the woman's inner dealings with the animus." However, the friction with the partner is indispensable in so far as we can only become aware of our anima and animus in relation to the opposite sex. Only in relationships do our projections become effective.


Secrets of Love & Partnership by Hajo Banzhaf & Brigitte Theler.This article was excerpted from:

Secrets of Love & Partnership
by Hajo Banzhaf & Brigitte Theler.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Samuel Weiser Inc., York Beach, ME. ©1998.

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About The Author

Alchemy in RelationshipsAlchemy in RelationshipsHajo Banzhaf has been writing, lecturing, and working as an astrologer since 1985. He presents tarot seminars, and lectures on astrology and tarot. Mr. Banzhaf's website is Further info can also be found at Co-author Brigitte Theler has worked with her own practice for many years, is the editor of "Astrologie Heute" [Astrology Today], and heads astrology seminars in Zurich and Munich.


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