When animus and anima meet, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction. The outcome need not always be negative, since the two are equally likely to fall in love. – Carl Jung, “The Syzygy: Anima and Animus,” Aion, CW 9ii, par. 30
We all want someone to love and someone to be loved by. But intimate relationships are fraught with difficulty. There are any number of landmines to be negotiated before two people feel comfortable with each other; more when they become sexually involved, and more again if and when they live together. On top of the twin devils of projection and identification, there are each other’s personal complexes and typological differences. In truth, the very things that brought them together in the first place are just as likely to drive them apart.
Most relationships begin with mutual good will. Why, then, do so many end in acrimony? There are probably as many answers to this as there are couples who split up, but in terms of a common pattern, typology certainly plays a major role.
Following the logistics implicit in Jung’s model of psychological types, an extraverted man has an introverted anima, while an introverted woman has an extraverted animus, and vice versa. This can change through psychological work on oneself, but these inner images are commonly projected onto persons of the opposite sex, with the result that either attitude type is prone to being fascinated by its opposite. This happens because each type is complementary to the other.
The introvert is inclined to be reflective, to think things out and consider carefully before acting. Shyness and a degree of distrust result in hesitation and some difficulty in adapting to the external world. The extravert, on the other hand, fascinated by new and unknown situations, tends to act first and think after.
As Jung notes,
The two types therefore seem created for a symbiosis. The one takes care of reflection and the other sees to the initiative and practical action. When the two types marry they may effect an ideal union. [Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, CW 7, par. 80]
Discussing such a typical situation, Jung points out that it is ideal only so long as the partners are occupied with their adaptation to “the manifold external needs of life”:
But when . . . external necessity no longer presses, then they have time to occupy themselves with one another. Hitherto they stood back to back and defended themselves against necessity. But now they turn face to face and look for understanding—only to discover that they have never understood one another. Each speaks a different language. Then the conflict between the two types begins. This struggle is envenomed, brutal, full of mutual depreciation, even when conducted quietly and in the greatest intimacy. For the value of the one is the negation of value for the other. [Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, CW 7, par. 80]
Clearly such a couple has some work to do on their relationship. But that doesn’t mean they ought to discuss the psychological meaning or implications of what goes on between them. Far from it. When there is a quarrel or ill feeling in the air, it is quite enough to acknowledge that one is in a bad mood or feels hurt, as opposed to psychologising the situation with talk of anima/animus, complexes and so on. These are after all only theoretical constructs, and head talk is sure to drive one or the other into a frenzy. Relationships thrive on feeling values, not on what is written in books.
How you work on a relationship
You work on a relationship by shutting your mouth when you are ready to explode; by not inflicting your affect on the other person; by quietly leaving the battlefield and tearing your hair out; by asking yourself—not your partner—what complex in you was activated, and to what end. The proper question is not, “Why is she do- ing that to me?” or “Who does he think he is?” but rather, “Why am I reacting in this way?—Who do I think he or she is?” And more: “What does this say about my psychology? What can I do about it?” Instead of accusing the other person of driving you crazy, you say to yourself, “I feel I’m being driven crazy—where, or who, in me is that coming from?”
That is how you establish a container, a personal temenos, a private place where you launder your complexes.
It is true that a strong emotion sometimes needs to be expressed, because it comes not from a complex but from genuine feeling. There is a fine line between the two, and it is extremely difficult to tell one from the other without a container. But when you can tell the difference you can speak from the heart.
Working on a relationship involves keeping your mood to yourself and examining it. You neither bottle up the emotion nor allow it to poison the air. The merit in this approach is that it throws us back entirely on our experience of ourselves. It is foolish to imagine we can change the person who seems to be the cause of our heartache. But with the proper container we can change ourselves and our reactions.
“Letting it all hang out” – ?
There are those who think that “letting it all hang out” is therapeutic. But that is merely allowing a complex to take over. The trick is to get some distance from the complex, objectify it, take a stand toward it. You can’t do this if you identify with it, if you can’t tell the difference between yourself and the emotion that grabs you by the throat when a complex is active. And you can’t do it without a container.
Those who think that talking about a relationship will help it get better put the cart before the horse. Work on yourself and a good relationship will follow. You can either accept who you are and find a relationship that fits, or twist yourself out of shape and get what you deserve. The endless blather that takes place between two complexed people solves nothing. It is a waste of time and energy and as often as not actually makes the situation worse.
Of course, as Jung points out in the passage that heads this chapter, the meeting between anima and animus is not always negative. In the beginning the two are just as likely to be starry-eyed lovers. Later, when the bloom is off the rose, they may even become fast friends. But the major battles in close relationships occur because the man has not withdrawn his anima projection on the woman, and/or the woman still projects her animus onto the man.
We may understand this intellectually, but when our loved one does not behave according to the image we have of him or her, we are instantly complexed. Our emotions override what is in our minds. Our reactions run the gamut from violence to anger to grieved silence, and it is bound to happen again, with this one or the next, unless we reflect on what is behind it: our own psychology.
© from Daryl Sharp’s Digesting Jung, reproduced with kind permission of the author.