Through a Jungian Lens

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On Being Married – On Being Container and Contained

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A bench found on the mountain path through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve appears as though it hasn’t been used in quite a long time.  As I walked the mountain paths over a distance of perhaps eight kilometres, there were three benches placed for those who felt they needed a time out from the strenuous trek going up and down the path as it wound around the mountain.

I will admit to doing a bit of touch up to the photo, a reduction of contrast as well as reducing colour saturation in order to come closer to the feeling and reality of the scene as I remember it.  Sometimes the camera lies when it records a scene, giving more contrast or richer colours in one instance or removing contrast, shadows or the richness of colours.

What the eyes see is not always what the lens sees.  What one person sees is not the same as what another person sees either.  And, as I learn as the years pass, what I have seen at one point in time changes over time, not because the scene has changed, but because I have changed.  This is true about seeing people as much as it is about seeing things.

Since this is my experience, I wonder about the experience of others.  For example, I know that my children saw me as someone quite large in life.  Yet, over the years, that vision has been replaced as those children grew into adults.  Now, I am a much smaller person in physical size.  As well as the way I am seen by my children, there is the question as to how I am seen by my partner, the woman I married almost forty years ago.  There is no doubt in my mind that over the years I have become more of a stranger that a constant familiar presence.  In my mind, both of these examples can be seen in a positive light.  My children now look at me from the position of being adults, my wife now sees me as a complex and real person while living her own complexity.  For all of us, the lens has changed.

I return to the subject of relationships, that as found between men and women, relationships that could be characterised as marriages.  Typically, a relationship has one partner be the container and the other partner being the contained.  This works well until midlife when the rules change:

Middle life is the moment of greatest unfolding, when a man still gives himself to his work with his whole strength and his whole will.  But in this very moment evening is born, and the second half of life begins.  Passion now changes her face and is called duty; “I want” becomes the inexorable “I must,” and the turnings of the pathway that once brought surprise and discovery become dulled by custom. (Jung, CW 17, par. 331)

At this moment, this entry into midlife, the lens through which we view and understand the world has also changed.  And, with the change of the lens, what had been familiar and comfortable now becomes less comfortable.  Above, I mentioned that in each marriage one is the container and the other is the contained.  Well, that is true to a certain extent, but in reality both partners become both.

It is an almost regular occurrence for a woman to be wholly contained spiritually in her husband, and for a husband to be wholly contained, emotionally, in his wife.  One could describe this as the problem of the “contained” and the “container.” (Jung, CW 17, par 331)

Both are containers, both are contained.  I could easily see how this becomes a problem, especially as the lens changes in midlife.  I will draw more on Jung to clarify this business of container and contained.  But as I draw on his words, it is important to realise that references to the male and the female can easily be switched.  Gender has no ownership to a specific relationship that of being either container or contained.

The one who is contained feels himself to be living entirely within the confines of the marriage; his attitude to the marriage partner is undivided; outside the marriage there exist no essential obligations and no binding interests. . . . The great advantage lies in his own undividedness, and this is a factor not to be underrated in the psychic economy. (Jung, CW 17, par 332)

Yikes!  This is as close to a personal portrait as I could ever find in terms of relationship and containment within my marriage.  The problem for any marriage with this is the building up of need in terms of dependence.  Fears, not based on anything in the outer world, but based on one’s shadow, cause one to cling to the other, the container unreasonably.  That fear manifests in a heightened sense of insecurity, fear that at any moment the reciprocal love of the partner who is the container will disappear and with the disappearance of that love, the disappearance of the partner.  It’s as though one begins grieving long before an ending.  But what about the container?

The container, on the other hand, who in accordance with his tendency to dissociation has an especial need to unify himself in undivided love for another, will be left far behind in this effort, which is naturally very difficult for him, by the simpler personality.  While he is seeking in the latter all the subtleties and complexities that would complement and correspond to his own facets, he is disturbing the other’s simplicity. . . . And soon enough his partner, who in accordance with her simpler nature expects simple answers from him, will give him plenty to do by constellating his complexities with her everlasting insistence on simple answers.  Willynilly, he must withdraw into himself before the suasions of simplicity. . . . The simpler nature works on the more complicated like a roon that is too small, that does not allow him enough space.  The complicated nature, on the other hand, gives the simpler one too many rooms with too much space, so that she never knows where she really belongs.  So it comes about quite naturally that the more complicatexd contains the simpler. (Jung, CW 17, par 333)

There is so much here, so much to say, so much to chew on.  I guess I will have to return to this theme again in the next post so that I can say what I need to say.  I want to find out more about container and contained about simple and complicated …

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