Through a Jungian Lens

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Love and Marriage: Separate Considerations

with 6 comments

Heading northwest on the Mekong River not too far out of Ho Chi Minh City, these homes on stilts made me realise how life along this river must be always subject to the unpredictable water of the river.  Looking at the network of supporting poles, small sticks that would by themselves seem insignificant spurs me to think about all the differences I encounter while living in Asia and in China in particular.

Working at a university, I get to see young men and women every day as they move through the steps from childhood to adulthood.  Teaching them a second language allows me to find out a lot about their ways of understanding the world.  When teaching a second language, the quickest method is to use base knowledge of the first language and life experience as hooks for the second language.  In other words, teach them what they already know, only in the target language.  Since at this stage of life, relationships are the biggest focus of these young people, giving them a chance to talk about relationships and their beliefs allows them to speak with more confidence as they don’t have to learn new concepts, just the vocabulary and expressions.  Aside from their romantic notions that come out of watching American films, these young people have a very practical sense of what marriage is all about.  Love is not synonymous with marriage as it is in the western world.

“Historically, love and marriage have not been synonymous . . . As a matter of fact, only in the last century and a quarter has the vox populi claimed marriage and love as one and the same.  This is not to say that happily committed people have not loved each other, but rather that for most of human history the purpose o marriage was to bring stability to the culture rather than make an individual happy or serve the task of mutual individuation.  Possibly the greatest number of history’s marriages would, by today’s standards, be described as loveless, for they were contracted arrangements made to produce, protect and nurture the young, thus to preserve the tribe, to transmit social and religious values and to channel anarchic libido in socially useful directions.

Similarly, in many marriages love, whatever love may prove to be, is simply not the determinative value.  What more commonly has brought people together, the energy which seeks synergy, are the operative complexes of each.  One or both may seek to find the good parent in the other, may even wish to find an abuser in order to confirm a wounded sense of self, or may be seeking what was missing in the family of origin.  Or, one may marry for a sense of transferred power.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp41-42)

With these words, I understand better how the young men and women in my classes dutifully abandon a “love” mate because the parents don’t support the union.  I understand better why young Asian women willingly enter into relationships with older western men.  As one young female told me, it is about power.  The want to marry power and thus gain power themselves, a sense of security in a crowded and competitive world where there is not enough for everyone.  These young people believe in love, fall in love and rebel for love.  But, for the most part, these young men and women fall back into line in order to fit in with the needs and demands of their culture.

Maybe there is something to learn here.  Maybe we (I) put too many demands on the people we marry making all of us crazy in the process?



6 Responses

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  1. This is a historical view of marriage, based on ownership of the female by men. Arranged marriages were arranged to strengthen loyalties, increase wealth, lands, curry favour etc. In those relationships men still had the freedom to have mistresses, dalliances etc. When women were seen as independent beings, no longer to be bought, sold or traded, then the concept of love and desire became more important. When women had choices, men needed to their change behaviour (at least on the surface) and offer more than just comfort.

    The views some of your students are espousing amount to little more than selling themselves to the highest bidder. I find this sad.

    Lotus Eater

    May 22, 2011 at 10:31 am

    • I wonder if marriage will change even more – marriages are not very durable in the age of marrying for love. With falling in love being more about projections and parental complexes than about the other person (which it is most of the time when strangers meet, fall in love and commit to a relationship), that love is not built on time, shared beliefs, friendliness, values, etc. which are key to making a marriage work. Arranged marriages work when both consent to make it work for a variety of reasons which I hesitate to judge. With the commitment, love can follow if the attitudes are favorable. The problem lies in our wanting another to be something no human can be for another person with both parties being conscious beings.

      Yes, some of the students sell themselves to the highest bidder, some obey parents and some rebel and marry for love. None of these approaches is a guarantee of anything in terms of a marriages success. Can individuation actually occur when one is in a marriage that is filled with love, respect, passion and values? Tough question with no answer . . .


      May 22, 2011 at 11:49 am

  2. I’m not sure. Individuation is tough even wheh you are only responsible for yourself. When you are also considering the other, or a family, then other priorities happen. Theoretically, an ‘other’ who supports you fully should help, but that is extremely rare. That person also has needs and projections that prevent total support.

    Lotus Eater

    May 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    • For most people, it is enough just to meet the needs of survival hoping that life offers enough narcotics to make the process and pain of living bearable. For these people, individuation is an unproductive waste of time and energy. Life is more instinctual and driven by biological and species needs. Thus the term “selfish” came into use. There can be no external other that leads you through individuation. In the end, I think Hinduism might have something to say when in the last quarter, all society must be abandoned if one is to find true Nirvana.


      May 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

  3. Everywhere mankind has the same problem; how to achieve individual growth yet subscribe to Tribal beliefs. Few really get beyond The Tribe.
    Historically people have married for so many reasons; I think power may be as good as any, in the long run.


    May 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

    • I would not dare to judge the reasons for choosing a partner and staying with that partner. I know that there is a sense of rightness and wrongness in terms of gender oppression that must be dealt with at a societal level, but when there is choice, it is enough that there is choice. Thanks, Urspo.


      May 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm

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