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The myth of 'keeping the flame alive'

In the world of relationships, there's a common belief: when you hit a rough path in your marriage or long term relationship, you need to reignite the spark. It's the idea that keeping the romance alive is the key to a happy and fulfilling partnership. But as a Master Relationship Coach informed by the Jungian tradition, I see things very  differently. I believe this approach to ‘keep the flame alive’ is flawed because it relies on staying in a perpetual state of idealised projections. This illusory state is simply impossible to keep. It also relies on a definition of love as an ego-based function instead of providing a path to finding and cultivating true love. And if you want to find out what true love really is about and how to find it, keep reading!

How many relationship coaches and therapists claim that in order to keep the romance alive, you need to engage in activities that help you remember who you first fell in love with?

If you’ve seen this movie ‘Hope Springs’ you'll see what I mean. In this movie. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee-Jones play a disillusioned couple who have been married over 30 years and agree (at the wife’s instance :-) ) to attend a week-long counseling course to 'save their marriage'. During their first session, they are asked to recall what they felt when they first met. Here you see the powerful dynamics of falling in love, when the image of the person in front of us corresponds to the internal image we have of the other sex. When this is reciprocated, two people ‘fall in love'. But the truth is falling in love has more to do with falling into unconsciousness than really falling in love with the person in front of us.

So what the strategy of keeping the spark really is about is encouraging means by which two people can continue to hold onto idealized images of our partners. These idealized versions of our partners correspond to internalized figures we have of what the masculine/feminine looks and feels like.

These expectations of what the masculine and feminine look like are made up from your own past experiences and conditioning. Those can be qualities you accepted as 'good' (caring, emotional, nurturing') or bad for instance 'cold, distant' etc.   Those images often lie dormant unto our unconscious, until one day we wake up and realize we don’t feel ‘so much in love’ anymore with our partners/spouse and start to question what happened to them that they no longer make us feel like they used to. The truth is nothing has happened, the projections have simply started to wear off. 

The truth is that falling in love is an illusory state, once based on projections. And don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, but it’s important to put it into context. 

In Western societies this stage of ‘falling out of love’  is often taken as the end of a relationship or marriage. This is a tragedy because it's actually the beginning of a new phase of your relationship. One where you can truly choose to love your partner for who they really are as opposed to the image you project onto them. And similarly for you, you can start to be loved for who you truly are, with all your qualities and flaws instead of who your partner thinks you are and what you bring to them. 

Robert Johnson, Jungian Analyst and author puts it so beautifully in his book We, understanding the psychology of romantic love

" It does not occur to Western people that a relationship could be made between two ordinary, imperfect people and could simply allow the projections to evaporate. Yet this is what is required, the only enduring relationships will be between couples who consent to see each other as ordinary, imperfect people and who love each other without the illusion and without the inflated expectations". 

So let me ask you, would you rather your long term relationship where you are witnessed for your individuality or one based on illusions of who your partner thinks you are or ought to be and vice versa?

This is why trying to maintain these projections by ‘keeping the flame alive’  is like chasing a ghost. Instead you have a choice to learn to become curious about changes in your relationships and how the image you hold of your partner is affected by the ideas you have around what masculinity/femininity looks, feels and acts like. 

This is the only way to ensure you are truly free to love, by making your duty and taking responsibility for pulling back the projections you place on your partner/spouse and relationship. This is the greatest gift you can offer someone you truly love - the ability for them to be loved for who they truly are, in all of their humane imperfection.

And if you're ready to delve deeper into the work, my 'Clarity In Love' 1:1 coaching experience is now open for enrolment. This is a high touch six-month 1:1 coaching experience to help you uncover your inner barriers to finding and cultivating true love whether you are single or already in a committed partnership. Together we will uncover the defenses and inner dynamics at play in your romantic life so you can find fulfilment and clarity in love. For more information and to apply, please contact me here.

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