Marriage as a Path Towards Individuation
The goal of marriage is not happiness, but rather individuation, or striving towards wholeness.
This assertion is the central theme of “Marriage: Dead or Alive,” a book written by the Jungian analyst Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig.
I believe that this redefinition of the purpose of marriage is both helpful and important. The popular myth of marriage as “a bed of roses” is misleading and destructive. This expectation leads many people to become overly self critical and despairing when their marriage goes through the inevitable rocky times.
Marriage is metaphorically a hermetically scaled container. Within it, each spouse will experience over time the full range of his or her emotions: good, bad and ugly. The entire contents of both partners’ unconscious are reciprocally projected onto the other. If one fails to recognize these projections, one comes to experience one’s spouse as demonic. However if both individuals are capable of consciousness regarding their respective projections, then there is a unique opportunity for growth and for healing.
Encounter with the Shadow
Through reclaiming our projections, we complete ourselves. We encounter the shadow side of our own nature. This is always a painful and difficult experience. It requires openness, honesty and an unshakeable commitment to “own our own stuff.” The rewards, however, are great: increased self awareness as well as an enhanced capacity for relatedness.
To quote Guggenbuhl-Craig:
“It never happens that in marriage two completely healthy people get together. Both have their neurotic peculiarities and distortions. But marriage does not have to do with one partner’s curing the other, or even with changing the other significantly; this is not possible. Through the act of getting married, one has taken on the task of mutual confrontation until death … The peculiarities of oneself and of one’s partner must be borne, accepted and integrated into the interplay between the spouses …
“The more one confronts everything, the more interesting and fruitful becomes the path to individuation.”*
Marriage: Dead or Alive, Revised Edition. Spring Publications, 2001