Most men and women long to find a partner who is their soul mate…even if they don’t think that such a person exists outside of the imagination. Over the years, I’ve heard many of my patients describe their longing for a soul mate, and a few of them believe they were fortunate enough to find one. But most have concluded that it’s just an elusive dream, fueled by idealized illusions. And many of them have had to face how their longing for a soul mate drew them into relationships that ended up distorted or dysfunctional, partly because of their idealization of their partners.
Of course, one reason for that is the damaging impact of our adolescent model of adult love that I described in a previous post. Many people become socially conditioned into a view of love that they equate with an intense yearning for the feeling of being “in love.” That heightens desire for an idealized lover, especially when he or she is elusive or unavailable. Longing for the unattainable ideal is more of an enthrallment with your own experience of feeling in love, than a reality-based interest in the real person of your partner.
Beyond that flawed experience that colors most people’s romantic lives, many relationships that begin with a positive charge, emotionally and sexually, crumble under the weight of daily life, with all it’s pressures, conflicting desires, bills to pay, career conflicts, children’s needs, and so on. Therefore, many assume that boredom with your partner and the corresponding sexual decline is “inevitable.” And that can reactivate old yearnings or hope for a soul mate who might be out there, after all, beckoning you to a simple, pure, passionate love. Of course, that’s what leads many people into affairs – a subject I’ll go into in a later post.
But I think there’s another way to envisioning what the soul-mate experience is and how it can grow and develop, as part of a mature adult love relationship; something that’s attainable in reality. In essence, sustainable adult love blends together erotic desire, friendship, respect and support of each other’s growth and development — as independent, different human beings. Think of the way in which a new substance can arise from the joining of two separate elements, like water emerging from the coming together of hydrogen and oxygen. Similarly, adult love is the product of two self-sufficient, “non-needy” people. It’s more of an art that you practice and cultivate, not a set of techniques that you acquire from a how-to book.
So how do you build it? I think there are three sources of the adult version of a soul mate: what I call “radical transparency;” “words-into-actions;” and “good vibrations,” sexually-physically.
In brief, radical transparency is a shift away from hiding out, concealment, or secret manipulation that characterizes so many typical relationships. It’s not that people want to be hidden or deceptive; it’s how you learn to relate to men and women as you grow into adulthood in our culture. In contrast, radical transparency means two-way openness: openness to being fully receptive to your partner’s feelings, wishes, desires, and differences from yourself; and, openness in revealing yourself completely to your partner. If you don’t think that’s hard, try it sometime!
The other two aren’t easy, either. By “words-into-actions” I mean letting go of trying to control or dominate your partners, whether through overt or subtle maneuvers; and instead, demonstrating equality in your actual behavior, not just in words. It’s practicing “power-with” rather than “power-over;” and building genuine mutuality between partners. For a man, that means behavior that supports a woman’s autonomy, independence, and competency, while valuing her emotional sensitivity and responsiveness. For a woman, supporting the man’s capacity for emotional connection, openness and vulnerability, while also valuing his strength and solution-oriented tendencies, as well.
In other words, each demonstrates through actions support for the underdeveloped capacities in the other; that is, “underdeveloped” by virtue of how particular tendencies and strengths of each gender are socialized and reinforced. You demonstrate that, especially, in daily decision making, especially where there are differences or conflicts. How do you serve the relationship rather than your own ego?
Building “good vibrations” refers to building and sustaining a heightened sexual/physical connection. That’s also hard to do when you’re conditioned to expect decline in your relationship, and relate to each other in ways that create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The key here is working to let go of inhibitions, fear, and stop using your sexual relationship as a vehicle for unspoken emotional grievances. “Good vibrations” between you and your partner build naturally as you become more open and communicative about your sexual desires and needs; and when you take the time and the setting for focusing on each other, physically and sexually.
Typically, couples give short shrift to that part of their relationship when dealing with the pressures and demands of everyday life. And when sexual interest and excitement wanes as a result, too often they become fixated on finding the right technique or new sexual position to restore it. While mechanical “functioning” may improve as a result, your sexual relationship with your partner won’t. Sexual practices and techniques – even taking the little blue pill — enhance your relationship only when they’re linked with the other two practices I’ve described. For a little more detail about these three parts of adult love, see the extended version of my Washington Post article, “Relighting The Fire.”
In an adult love relationship, both partners recognize and validate each other as separate people. They experience difference as exciting, not something to be feared or squashed. That includes our difference from each other in perspectives, outlook, and desires. In fact, difference provides that exciting edge that helps a relationship stay alive — especially when there’s a larger, shared connection around vision, values, and overall purpose of life together.
The sum total of all this is the “transcendent” experience that people have in mind when they think of a soul mate. It’s clear that both men and women want that. They want sustained connection and vitality over the long run — the soul mate experience as a reality, not a fantasy. In fact, surveys, as far back as a 2000 Gallup Poll, along with other research, indicates that both younger and older men and women — straight or gay — report that they want a soul mate who will be their lifelong partner. They want to avoid breakups and serial relationships, and say they long for lifelong relationships of vitality and connection in all realms — emotionally, sexually, and spiritually. That’s hopeful news for the prospect of men and women being able to evolve beyond our adolescent practice of love and towards love that is “for adults only.”