Still Stewing About the Last Fight with Your Romantic Partner?
The 3 Ps: A New Framework for Finding the
Deeper Purpose of Relationships
This really happened a few weeks ago on my morning walk. After the brilliant idea burst out of my unconscious, I laughed at an obvious hidden motivation behind my obsession with this daily ritual. I now was a living example of how moving your body (the feminine) in partnership with the mind (the masculine) invites innovative ideas to take shape as they burst into consciousness.
I was contemplating how to begin a depth psychology coaching session with a couple. There had been an unusually dramatic conflict the week before. Like a volcanic eruption, something hot and fiery had been unleashed and days later the space between the couple was still filled with simmering lava. They both felt confused, hurt, and unsure about what it all meant, but they had enough awareness to know they didn’t have the proper tools to explore the deeper meaning of the conflict. Good for them!
I wondered how I would lay a proper foundation for the discussion, one that disarmed attachment to an old perspective, one that would likely be defensive in nature, for good reason of course. We’re all just little children in big adult bodies after all.
Like I said, it just came to me in the form of these three words.
These three words capture every aspect of relationship between all human beings, but they just play out more dramatically in those of a romantic nature. I surmise that if a couple can explore their relationship through this framework, no matter what happens, there will be growth, fulfillment and meaning.
As my client and her partner settled back onto the couch on which they were sitting, I started the zoom session with, “I thought it would be useful to offer some concepts that might even the playing field by offering an agreed-upon lens through which to filter your individual experience of what’s going on.”
“Sounds good,” they both sighed and looked relieved as they nodded their heads in understanding.
The Hidden Purpose of Relationships
I began with, “Relationships serve a purpose beyond what our egos are looking for.” My couple leaned in to listen. I went on.
We often don’t discover the deeper purpose of relationship until after one has ended. Or if we’re lucky, we get a little glimpse when we have the humility to explore a conflict or dissatisfaction rather than avoid it. It can feel mind blowing to discover this ulterior motive that has been hiding from the ego, which thinks it knows exactly why we do what we do.
For example, after twenty years of marriage, mine started falling apart. Neither my husband nor I had known he had an alcohol addiction. It seemed to appear out of nowhere, which of course wasn’t true.
What else would I be able to see clearly that I couldn’t before?
Well, when I couldn’t make sense of what was happening and everything I tried had failed, I mysteriously felt called to journal. My first entry was, “I can’t live this way anymore.” I didn’t even know what that meant.
Eighteen months later, after reflecting about questions like, “What did I learn about love in childhood?” my eyes widened as I found the biggest ah-ha of my life. Yes, I had loved my husband, but now I had found an unconscious motivation, one that had hidden itself from me purposely. I had married my husband to save me from the chaos of my previous relationship and sexual experiences. I knew I would be safe with this man, and the exhaustion and confusion went underground for many years.
The journaling helped me let go of the need to fix what couldn’t be fixed, and the relationship ended. Rather than judge myself and invalidate the twenty-four years we were together, I explored how the relationship had contributed to my growth. Perhaps I had needed that time to grow as an entrepreneur, to feel free and supported as a community activist, and to parent in a way that was different than my experience. I had grown inside this relationship, despite the loneliness I often felt.
Now, it would be time to give myself permission to continue to fall apart and then reconstruct my new life, the life my Self thought I was ready for. Some say things happen for a reason. I don’t believe that. However, you can find meaning in your experiences along the journey of life, meaning that contributes to the future version of yourself.
“You two were attracted to each other for a reason beyond what your minds can comprehend.” The couple nodded as they began to understand the sacred nature of their union no matter how long it might last.
The real purpose of relationship is spiritual and psychological growth, and if we keep that in mind, the relationship will feel fulfilling no matter what, even if it ends. It is our ego’s ideas that get in the way of the true purpose of relationship.
Projection is How We Relate
So, how does this spiritual and psychological growth happen in a relationship? We relate through projection. It’s a simple concept that plays out in complex ways. One way to understand projection is to realize that we not only view the world through our unique lens, but we view other people’s experiences through our lens as well. We get trapped in assigning meaning in a way that seeks to affirm and validate our perspective.
Now, this is good in many ways, for example when learning math. Each new and advanced concept is understandable only because it builds on what we learned before. When it comes to exploring ideas and relating to human beings though, labeling, categorizing, and making assumptions is not always useful. But without a proper framework to manage all your varied experiences, you can become overwhelmed and fall back on rigid ideas, which over time become stagnant, limiting, and even dangerous.
Let’s start with the basics. Attraction is mysterious and most of it is misunderstood, but we can see projection clearly in cases where two people are dramatically swept up in romance. They’re a walking romantic comedy, dramedy, or even tragedy, but they can’t see it. In these cases, especially, there are opposites that want to play and reconcile. It’s like the Greek Gods using two human beings as vessels, mixing with their unique experience as humans to create something new, a new insight, idea, or path.
In most opposites attract cases, the relationship will eventually end because either one or neither partner took back any or enough projection. What does taking back a projection mean? It means being responsibile for developing those traits they idealized in the other partner.
A good example of this is a woman’s projection onto a husband of financial independence (the masculine, not meaning male or man), and a man’s projection onto a woman of relationship (the feminine, not meaning female or woman). It won’t be until decades later, that a divorced woman might feel betrayed by the husband who felt taken for granted. Many women come to regret having assigned responsibility for everything financial onto the man who they assumed would take care of them for life. A husband may become bored with the wife who molded herself according to his own ideal, and now finds himself intrigued by independent women.
Likewise, the man who was excited by and fell in love with the idea of an independent woman, may not be able to overcome his own childhood role models, and his wife unwittingly compromises her values as she conforms to her husband’s unconscious desire for her to be more like his mother.
As you can see, this unconscious bantering happening beneath the surface is complex and manifests through emotions, conflicts, inner voices, and even self-sabotage.
That’s only one type of projection. There are millions. Just think about times when you felt intense attraction and the traits you idealized in your romantic partner. Then explore a past or current conflict, and see what you can find beneath the surface, the pattern that wants to be seen so it can be reconciled, and you and the relationship can grow and get on to more advanced experiences.
C.G. Jung had a term for the relationship between partners who were conscious that projection exists and where each partner worked hard at attempting to take responsibility for their own psychological needs instead of projecting them onto their partner. He called this arrangement a psychological marriage.
Clinging to Permanence Can Doom a Relationship
There’s an interesting paradox at play in relationships. Real knowledge of this paradox, as with all paradoxes, requires really knowing it in the mind and body. Here it is. The more you cling to the need for a relationship to be permanent, the less likely it is to last or be satisfying. We may prefer that a relationship last, but the need for it to last is rooted in fear, and fear is never a good motivating factor in relationships.
Let’s turn the paradox around and make it proactive:
Letting go of the need for a relationship to be permanent,
increases the chances that it will indeed last.
Why is this? Well, let’s consider a scenario where this dynamic is very clear. In cases where someone jumps into a new relationship shortly after one has ended, without doing adequate self-reflection, there will be a dramatic honeymoon period. All the wonderful traits of the new partner seem to coincidently fill the holes left by the last relationship. I’ve found what I need, is what you feel, and you take a breath and sigh in relief.
Then the first red flag appears, it’s a familiar feeling, something old, the repeat of a scenario from the past relationship. How can this be? you wonder. She’s nothing like your ex. You feel confused, even frightened at the thought you’ve made another mistake. Then you question yourself, say it’s in your imagination, or no big deal. Worse, you think it’s you, and instead of trusting your intuition, you begin to adapt, conform, compromise. I’ve got to make this one last, you tell yourself. You push it underground, but you know what happens when you do that.
Here's the exciting thing. That red flag is a gift, it’s an opportunity to sort out what part is your projection, and what part belongs to your new partner. Being honest is what increases the likelihood that the relationship can last, not ignoring all the clues that lead to insights about yourself, even if it is that you did it again. You learned quicker this time though, and it might be time to move on again. You’ll be even quicker next time.
In the moment you surrender, let go of the need for this new relationship to last, you will feel a sense of peace about whatever happens. And when you realize that it is your inner being, your Self, that provides for all your needs, you will also set your new partner free from the burden of having to meet your psychological needs. That doesn’t feel good for them either, or eventually they will come to resent it anyway. As you set each other free, you see each other more clearly as fellow human beings, and can enjoy the present moment, the journey.
Final Thoughts & Resources
What do you think about this framework? Try applying it to your relationship and see what insights you gain about yourself, your partner, and the deeper purpose of the relationship. I’d love to know your thoughts because I’m thinking about turning this into a book.
Like I said, relationships are how we come to know the deeper part of ourselves and others, so the more self-reflection the better. Here are some additional resources you might enjoy.
You might like these blog posts:
When is Sexual Attraction NOT About Sex?
What if You're Not Supposed to Find THE ONE?
I Didn't Become a Romantic Until After I Got Divorced: Midlife Reflections
Vacuum Cleaners and Ex-Husbands: Life Lessons
You Might like these podcast episodes:
Chapter 14 (Relationships) from my book, Your Soul is Talking. Are You Listening?
Relationships as Vessels of Transformation–A Conversation with Dr. Stacey Shelby, Author of Love and Soul-Making: Searching the Depths of Romantic Love
If You're Ready to Go Deeper:
Want to learn more about projection and how to find the hidden agenda in your relationships? Buy my new book, Your Soul is Talking. Are You Listening? See reviews on Amazon and then if you're looking for an alternative to Amazon, purchase it on www.bookshop.org (they support local bookstores).
You can also listen to me read Chapters 1-16 on my podcast–Dose of Depth.
Thank You! for having the courage to self-reflect, giving the gift of self reflection to others by sharing my content, and for recommending me as a depth psychology coach. Click here to see my updated services page.