The Shadow and Light Marriage: Coming into harvest – September 2015
I’m feeling so grateful and blessed. I’ve been blessed with many wonderful teachers, colleagues, friends and family. My work has meaning for me, which is growing year by year, and more and more of what I love and care about is becoming woven into it. Most central of all, the love between Ya’Acov and I keeps growing deeper. I’m 52. We’ve been together 29 years and are coming up to our 26th wedding anniversary. We’ve been teaching movement for 26 years too: 18 years of teaching 5Rhythms and 8 years with Movement Medicine.
I think I can fairly say that Ya’Acov and I are now, most of the time, hanging out on the light side of our marriage. You may or may not have heard about what we call the ‘shadow marriage’. We’ve found ourselves contemplating it a lot recently, both in the light of our own experience, and because we’ve been to a lot of weddings this year and have been thinking about the paths of relationship.
I think pretty well every intimate relationship has a ‘shadow marriage’, whether or not you are actually married. You come together because of all the ways in which you complement each other, all the beautiful resonances and the ways your souls ‘fit’. And then, if you get beyond the honeymoon period, something else starts to happen. As much as your souls match, a darker underbelly comes into play. Maybe you start having difficult rows and fighting, maybe you realise that you are resigning yourself to a low level of bickering that becomes normalised as an accepted part of life. Or maybe you give up and move on, sure that in fact they weren’t the right one for you.
In our journey, we had a fair dose of a low level underground war of the sexes, which for many years we both accepted as ‘normal’. Though we weren’t miserable and, most of the time, didn’t question our commitment to our relationship, it did get in the way of the luminous love, trust and understanding we dreamt of. We’ve been enquiring for years into the psycho-mechanics of our relationship, but in the last year things have speeded up and shifts have been coming that have been making me feel happy and bathed in love on a level I did not know was possible.
What we have seen for some time is the way in which each of our survival strategies (the ways we have worked out from childhood to try and deal with our fears and insecurities) tend, with unerring accuracy, to confirm and match our beloved’s own worst fears. With other couples with whom we have worked, we have seen the same thing: a devastatingly precise match of fears confirming fears, which sends the relationship into a vicious circle. This is what we call the ‘shadow marriage.’ However well our light sides match, it seems that we are drawn towards people with whom we have a brilliant ‘shadow’ match. In the old hippy days the shorthand was ‘trips’; “How well our trips match!” In our work with Gabrielle, they were called ‘egos’; “How well our ego trips match darling!” In Movement Medicine we call them ‘SPASMS’ (the Self’s Protective Adaptive Survival Mechanism) or ‘understudies’. It seems that by some homing device deep in our souls, we are drawn to intimate connections with those with whom we have a precise SPASMS match. Lovely.
So this was a significant and liberating insight when we saw the brilliantly terrible way our SPASMS matched and re-enforced each other in spiralling vicious circles.
Each time we saw this and the precise details of a particular pattern, it was a relief. We came to understand that, most of the time, our SPASMS were co-arising. It wasn’t that one person was the one to blame but that, often on a very subtle level, we are co-responsible for the way in which, in many subtle ways, our expectations co-engineer the very response or reaction we fear in the subtle and moment-to-moment dance of relationship. Then we can say with that mixture of desperation and satisfaction: “You ALWAYS do this (to me!)”. Getting to the point of understanding, at least some of the time, exactly how we inadvertently were co-creating our shadow dance together has helped us to witness ourselves with more detachment, compassion and humour, and allowed the space for something else to emerge. Of course, the ‘Dance of the Understudy’ and ‘Conflicting Commitments’ work we teach on the Phoenix Retreat has been crucial for this. It’s true! I definitely teach what I most need to know!
It’s amazing that any relationships survive the onslaught of this process. For myself I feel that this is a measure of how deeply we long for and need relationship. We humans are such social beings. And at the same time I really understand why people steer away from this pain, as it is so hard to get out of, and it can go on for a very long time, with no prospect of getting out of it without immense mutual effort and willingness to look inside at some unsavoury truths about ourselves.
Seeing the SPASM fit and beginning to witness this shadow dance, as well as be danced by it – this was station 1. The next station is different. The journey to it started for me when a friend suggested that maybe there was a doorway of possible healing implicit in this shadow fit. If my pain patterns fit yours so well, what if we stop playing the old script? Maybe by moving into a new love story, even a small move can liberate us both and amplify the healing within and between us? This was a concept at first and has taken years to become more of a reality. Why? Because, at least for me, my SPASMS are armour for excruciating vulnerability. And, because my SPASMS were relatively functional, it took a long time to get to the point of finding them painful enough to consider the alternative. At the same time, it’s taken a long time to build enough trust in the space between us to get to the place, for both of us, where we are willing to allow some of our inner guards to stand down.
Getting to this next station has been a revelation. At this point I want to honour and acknowledge Jake and Eva Chapman, who have become our long-standing and beloved friends, and whose impact on our lives is immense on all levels. Jake is 70; Eva 68. They have been together for 26 years, married for 32 years and they are truly the happiest people we know by a very, very long way. Their relationship is so strong that people who don’t know them remark on it all the time. They laugh and talk and cry together more than any couple I know (including us). And they have shown us, again and again, mostly simply by their own example, how to not be afraid of the storms and the confrontations and the work of relationship, and that there is a possibility of getting to the place of the ‘virtuous spiral’ where, instead of re-enforcing each other’s fears and trips, we help heal each other. In this place we can see and feel and understand what the other needs, and support each other to heal the frightened places and grow and flower. It seems to be a straightforward and obvious intention of marriage or long-term committed relationship but, in my own experience despite my own best intentions, there have been serious unconscious sticking points where I have not been able to generously respond to what my husband needs or wants from me because of my own often unconsciously held fears, perceptions of reality, necessity and sense of my own identity.
In a recent conversation Jake said to us that, in his experience, one of the pre-requisites for moving into a deep and fulfilling relationship is being willing to take your share of responsibility for what is happening. This is not easy as it requires deep introspection and honesty about bits of ourselves we would prefer to keep hidden in the closet, even from ourselves. I call this “taking a peek under the bonnet of your relationship engine”. Furthermore, Jake said, the initial introspections, whilst resolving some difficulties do not add much light and love. The real pay-offs come later, when most of the shadow matches have been exposed – then each step forward releases a new depth of love and intimacy that was literally better than could ever have been imagined.
We’ve been doing this for a while now, and whilst it’s not easy, we are both learning to trust the love and acceptance each of us holds the other in, and as we discover the huge relief of this, and the joy of being able and willing to shift patterns that we thought were simply ‘who we were’, we’re finding the virtuous spiral of motivation and joy that comes from discovering that, when I give you what you want and need, the floodgates open and, rather than losing myself, suddenly I am receiving everything I ever longed for, which means that I am more than happy to share that overflowing joy and love with you, and on we go.
The Space between Us flows out of this emergence of our own marriage. We look forward to sharing this dance.
I feel simultaneously like an experienced mountaineer on this mountain of relationship, and at the same time like a novice just emerging onto a new level, amazed at the view, awed by the beauty I find here, breathless from the climb, inspired to continue, and so grateful for my love beside me and for everyone who has witnessed and supported the space between us over the years.
Wishing the blessing of good relating, however long-term or fleeting, to all of us, Susannah Darling Khan
Workshops with Susannah:
23 Oct-1 Nov: Apprenticeship Programme, with Susannah and Ya’Acov. Rill Estate, UK. Ongoing study into living, facilitating and teaching Movement Medicine. Contact Roland: +44 1803 762255; Roland@RWEvents.co.uk
21-22 November: Trance-Formations, with Susannah. Paris, France. With Move! Evening, 20 November, in Paris, France. Discovering the connections with ourselves and between each other in new forms and through dance, we can experience and strengthen a sense of community that always leaves space for each unique way of expressing and being. Contact Pierre-Henri: +33 615 325 816; email@example.com
28-29 November: Ceremony in the City, with Susannah. Basel, Switzerland.This is an invitation to a dancing vision quest in a city setting, and in a non-religious paradigm. It takes courage and curiosity to dive into the dance of vision, purpose, and the truth of self expression, yet the rewards can appear in the beauty of uniting all of your sources of intelligence, and in the guidance and support present.Contact Kristin Glenewinkel: +41 78 801 32 10; firstname.lastname@example.org