You're likely to be one of the many men or women who long to find a partner who's a soul mate...even while thinking that such a person doesn't exist outside of the imagination. Over the years I've heard many of my patients talk about that longing, and a few of them believe they did find such a partner. But most gradually concluded that they were pursuing an elusive, unrealistic dream. And many of them have had to learn that their search for a soul mate drew them into unsatisfying or dysfunctional relationships, partly fueled by their idealization of their partners.
Of course, one reason for that outcome is the damaging impact of our adolescent model of adult love that I described in a previous post. Many people become socially conditioned into a view of love that they equate with an intense yearning for the feeling of being "in love." That heightens desire for an idealized lover, especially when he or she is elusive or unavailable. Longing for the unattainable ideal is more of an enthrallment with your own experience of feeling in love, than a reality-based interest in the real person of your partner.
But beyond that flawed pursuit -- one that colors most people's romantic lives -- many relationships begin with a positive charge, emotionally and sexually, yet crumble under the weight of daily life. You know -- all the pressures, conflicting desires, bills to pay, career conflicts, children's needs, and so on that can take a pretty heavy toll on any relationship. Therefore, many assume that boredom with your partner and the corresponding emotional-sexual decline is "inevitable." And that can reactivate old yearnings or hope for a soul mate who might be out there, after all, beckoning you to a simple, pure, passionate love. Of course, that's what leads many people into affairs, as I wrote about in a recent post.
Can You Create A Real Soul Mate?
I think there's a way to grow and develop the soul mate experience with your partner. It's attainable in reality, but only when it's part of mature adult love. That is, it emerges from a sustainable adult relationship -- a blend of erotic desire, friendship, and respect and support of each other's growth and development as independent, different human beings. Think of the way in which a new substance can arise from the joining of two separate elements, like water emerging from the coming together of hydrogen and oxygen. Similarly, adult love is the product of two self-sufficient, "non-needy" people. It's more of an art that you practice and cultivate, rather than a set of techniques from a how-to book.
So how can you build it? Three ways are essential. What I call "Radical Transparency;" "Words-Into-Actions;" and "Good Vibrations," sexually-physically. I'll describe them in more detail in a future post about revitalizing relationships that have declined, but for now, here's a summary:
Radical Transparency is a shift away from hiding out, concealment, or secret manipulation that characterizes so many relationships. It's not that you want to be hidden or deceptive; it's how you learn to relate to men or women as you grow into adulthood in our culture. In contrast, Radical Transparency is the practice of two-way openness: First, openness to being fully receptive to your partner's feelings, wishes, desires, and differences from yourself; and secondly, openness in revealing yourself completely to your partner. If you don't think doing both are hard, try them!
The other two aren't easy, either. "Words-Into-Actions" means letting go of trying to control or dominate your partners, whether through overt or subtle maneuvers. Instead, work at demonstrating equality in your actual behavior, not just in words. It's practicing "power-with" rather than "power-over;" which is the basis of genuine mutuality between partners. For a man, that means actions that support a woman's autonomy, independence, and competency, while showing that you value her emotional sensitivity and responsiveness. For a woman, it means supporting the man's capacity for emotional connection, openness and vulnerability, while also valuing his strength and solution-oriented tendencies, as well.
In other words, each demonstrates support for the underdeveloped capacities in the other. They are "underdeveloped" by virtue of the fact that certain tendencies and strengths of each gender are socialized and reinforced within our culture. That's what we assume are innate gender differences, because we don't recognize how we become socially conditioned to begin with. But both genders can grow their underdeveloped capacities, and strengthen an adult partnership... as equals. You can act in ways that support mutuality through, for example, daily decision making, especially where there are differences or conflicts. Ask yourself in those situations, how can you best serve the relationship (that third entity), rather than your own ego? Doing that, by the way, contributes to building the empathy that's necessary for a healthy relationship of any kind.
Building "good vibrations" relates to sustaining a heightened sexual/physical connection. That's also hard to do when you're conditioned to expect decline in your relationship, and then you relate to each other in ways that create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The key here is working to let go of inhibitions and fears, and cease using your sexual relationship as a vehicle for unspoken emotional grievances. "Good vibrations" between you and your partner build naturally as you become more open and communicative about your sexual desires and needs. And, as you take the time and the setting for focusing on each other, physically and sexually. You have to create "adult" time - without the kids.
Typically, couples give short shrift to that part of their relationship because of the pressures and demands of everyday life. When sexual interest and excitement wanes as a result, too often they become fixated on finding the right technique or new sexual position to restore it. While mechanical "functioning" may improve as a result, your sexual relationship with your partner won't. Sexual practices and techniques enhance your relationship only when they're linked with the other two practices I've described.
Overall, partners In an adult love relationship recognize and validate each other as separate people. They view differences as exciting, not something to be feared or squashed. That includes our difference from each other in perspectives, outlook, and desires. In fact, difference provides an exciting edge that helps a relationship stay alive - especially when there's a larger, shared connection around vision, values, and overall purpose of your life together.
The sum total of all this is the transcendent experience that people have in mind when they think of having a soul mate. It's clear that both men and women want sustained connection and vitality over the long run - which is what a true soul mate experience looks like. In fact, surveys, as far back as a 2000 Gallup Poll, along with other research findings, show that both younger and older men and women - straight or gay - want to avoid breakups and serial relationships. They say they long for a lifelong stimulating relationship in all realms - emotionally, sexually, and spiritually. They hope to find such a soul mate who will be their lifelong partner.
That's hopeful news. It strengthens the possibility that people may be able to evolve beyond our adolescent practice of love and towards love that is "for adults only." One roadblock is not knowing how to keep a relationship alive and thriving in those ways, especially when it's already headed south.
That's what I'll be writing about in a future post: using the paradox of "indifference" to revitalize a sagging relationship and build a new resilience to sustain it.
My blog: Progressive Impact
Web site: Center for Progressive Development
© 2010 Douglas LaBier