A Polarity Therapy “Three Principles” Perspective on Relationships
By John Chitty, RPP, BCST
In an era when long-lasting marriages are increasingly rare, Polarity Therapy principles offer guidance for strengthening this vital institution.
Divorce has many negative consequences, including financial loss, emotional distress and one person ending up more wounded or disadvantaged in the process. When children are involved, the stakes increase dramatically. Divorce can be a psycho-emotional disaster that reverberates for decades, even generations. Sadly, most divorcing parents are oblivious to these consequences and often deny or trivialize the effects of the divorce on their children. The literature on the subject1 is unequivocal and should be required reading for parents contemplating divorce.
In addition, people often “start over” after divorce. They lose years of effort only to find that old patterns repeat in their next relationship. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the divorce rate of first marriages is roughly 50 percent compared to 60 to 67 percent for second marriages and 73 to 74 percent for third marriages.
Despite the many benefits of marriage including wellness and longevity, divorce has been steadily increasing in America. The percentage of individuals who are divorced or separated has tripled since 1960, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data. The percentage of married couples who reach their fifth, tenth and fifteenth anniversaries has also been slowly declining since the 1960s.
The Unstable ‘Hollywood’ Marriage
Many well-documented factors contribute to the increase in divorces, but one important factor is more subtle. Unfortunately, modern couples have been set up to fail due to the prevailing marriage paradigm in Western culture. This paradigm, propagated by Hollywood, creates an unstable foundation for marriage because it does not actually accommodate the laws of nature.
The typical intimate relationship model in Western culture is based on an unstated but pervasive “Hollywood model” in which boy meets girl,2 they fall in love, experience passion, overcome obstacles, ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. The marriage works because of their continuing attraction, infatuation, affection, respect and loyalty (and many more potential meanings of the catch-all word “love”) for each other. This paradigm is intuitively appealing because it is based on valid, all-powerful, magnetic forces of nature that everyone can experience.
Unfortunately, this is not a stable foundation for marriage because people change, pressures build and new challenges arise that weaken the initial bond. Because the focus or foundation of the relationship is the other person– who is constantly changing– the base of the relationship is constantly in flux. This often leads one or both individuals to say, “This is not what I signed up for” and the separation process begins.
Polarity Therapy principles suggest that the Hollywood marriage is actually likely fail at some point. Polarity Therapy founder Dr. Randolph Stone wrote, “Opposites attract on the ingoing waves and repel on the outgoing currents, such as the top and the bottom, the center and the circumference, the within and the without, the “I” and the “you.” Love itself is an attraction in one direction– toward its center.”3
The last sentence has profound implications. The basic nature of all phenomena includes cycles of attraction and repulsion, expansion and contraction, yin and yang, night and day. There are no exceptions to this pervasive pattern throughout the natural world, even scaled down to the atomic level or scaled up to the size of galaxies. Why would we expect the relational field to be different? In a romantic relationship, we call the attraction phase “Love” and it is compellingly irresistible in its power as a centripetal pull to the blissful neutral center. Even the sexual act and related biological processes exhibit pulsatory rhythms.
But surely a centrifugal phase will follow. Many passionate love relationships end in tragedy including the surprisingly large incidence of domestic violence, and “hell hath no fury” like what happens when “love” attraction turns to its natural repulsion complement in an “I and You” Hollywood relationship. The Hollywood model has offered no understanding about energy principles or expectations that would help the couple to recognize and buffer against what is happening. They may feel blind-sided by what is actually just a natural phenomenon.
A Three Principles paradigm, in contrast, greatly softens the cyclic effect because the center (the neutral third node in the triangle) is neutral, constant, non-reactive and stabilizing, and the two other nodes of Yang and Yin are more able to fluctuate without so intensely disturbing the other person. Also the triangulated Yogic approach will have a context for understanding, so the centrifugal part of the experience will not be so shocking.
The negative consequences of divorce make it worthwhile for unhappy couples to explore this paradigm before dissolving their relationship. Similarly unmarried couples can study this model for guidance on how to find a life partner and make the relationship endure.
Stable Model for Marriage
The Hollywood model can be visualized as a faulty would-be table that only has two legs– I and You, or Self and Other. To make a useful table (and marriage), another leg is added, the “Ideal of Relationship.” This three-part approach can be observed in the many cultures that don’t use the Hollywood model. Instead of focusing mainly on each other, the focus is on the ideal. The commitment is to a mutually-agreed concept, more than the partner personally.
Much of the world uses an “Arranged Marriage” model, in which the partners may not even meet each other until the ceremony. Of course Arranged Marriage is inconceivable, even preposterous for a modern Westerner, and it is not being proposed here. The point is just that other models exist, so the Hollywood model is not a biological imperative or the only alternative. The existence of another model being effective invites inquiry about what is happening, that can result in successful longevity.
By committing primarily to the concept of marriage, Three Principles partners shift the focus, responsibility and pressure from the other person (who will inevitably fall short of the expectations created during the initial romance) back to themselves. This creates a higher, more durable intention for the whole arrangement. The partners support each other in the mutual intention to perform at the highest possible level according to the criteria that they have set for themselves. There will be less blaming and more taking responsibility. There will be less disappointment and betrayal because each person will be well aware of his or her own deficiencies when compared to the ideal and therefore much more forgiving of the other person.
Yang and Yin Archetypes
This model can be further enriched by including the archetypes of Yang and Yin as part of the overall agreement. In this approach, the man agrees to constantly strive for “best performance” as the Yang representative of the triangle, and the woman agrees to constantly strive for “best performance” as the Yin representative. Yang seeks firmness while avoiding Tyrant and Wimp extremes (too much or too little Yang). Yin seeks softness and avoids Critic and Doormat extremes (too little or too much Yin). This helps relieve pressure spouses put on each other because each person is primarily focused on (and responsible for) his or her own conduct and development, rather than constantly being irritated and distracted by the other person’s inevitable frailties. Thorough study of the Yang and Yin archetypes should be a core part of premarital counseling and negotiation, as well as a part of the education of teenagers: kids may know how to diagram a sentence but have no clue about the all-important topic of how to be in a relationship, beyond what they observed with their parents.
The archetypes are visible in other relationships where they are a source of great stability. In a corporation or military organization, the boss-employee or officer-soldier functions can be somewhat independent of the personalities. If the officer changes, the soldier is trained to continue to function in the same manner in the new situation because the focus is on the role, not the person. Of course it is easier to perform when there is compatibility of personality and goals, but the validity of the model can be observed even when there is not.
Using Marriage to Increase Consciousness
The resulting dynamic is similar to a Yoga or Mindfulness practice. Many wisdom traditions have described the process of living each day, even each minute, in maximum mindfulness, intentionality or awareness. Many teachers have explained how even the most trivial or burdensome aspects of daily life can be experienced as awareness or personal growth opportunities. The result of such a practice (Sadhana– from Sanskrit, meaning personal or spiritual practices that enhance connection with higher powers and forces) is increased capacity for understanding, compassion and service. Being in a long-term intimate relationship can be a supreme Yogic enterprise, if the triangle approach is used. If the Hollywood approach is used, the relationship is vulnerable to shifting emotions– often leading to decreasing consciousness, not increasing.
Intimacy can be a crucible in which impurities of the mind, including ancestral patterns and projective identification (“object relations”) can be pulverized and transformed in the fire of daily interaction within life’s challenges. But the experiment has to be sustained long enough to fully harvest the fruits of the process. When people grow tired of the relationship, they erroneously believe that they can just start over. But each start-over does not begin with a clean slate, it picks up pieces and impressions made in earlier attempts. Multiple marriages often have problems similar to promiscuity because comparisons arise from the shadows that remain after the former lover has gone. The next partner has to navigate through the incrementally-increasing fog including remnant feelings such as betrayal, distrust, disappointment, frustration and fear.
Dr. Stone wrote, “The purpose of life is the fulfillment of consciousness.”4 He taught that much suffering comes from the absence of a clear sense of purpose, or understanding why we are here in this material world. His cosmology, one of the keys to his whole approach to wholistic wellness, described how spirit coalesces into matter to gain self-awareness, self-realization and eventually God realization. If this concept is brought into the marriage relationship, everything has a larger purpose and the couple can set a clear intention that can withstand the trials of life’s setbacks and confusions. Then the long-term harvest will be more likely to be sweet, as the elderly couple enjoys the coherence and security of each other’s support and clarity together.
The contrasting Hollywood concept would be that the purpose of marriage is happiness and pleasure, as if the other person could make one happy. From a Polarity perspective, these are much-enjoyed, highly-valued side effects of the marriage triangle, not the main intention. Even the word “Love” changes in meaning over time.
Polarity Therapy’s Guide to Intimate Relationships
The Polarity Therapy approach to intimate relationships includes a certain general sequence. Following these steps can enrich and lengthen marriages.
Step 1 – Clear Intent
A clear intention can be very helpful before embarking on a relationship process. Many people never set a clear intention about their dating or socializing activities. Once a clear direction (such as, “I am ready to find a life partner”) is established, many superfluous distractions, such as interactions with people who do not share the same purpose, simply fall away. Fear of failure (such as, “If I don’t play around I may not end up with anyone”) can be a big obstacle to arriving at this clarity, but this fear creates a Catch-22 because lack of clarity begets failure which further undermines clarity. How much psychological damage has been created by the “musical chairs” game in which pre-schoolers are ritualistically hypnotized about the supposed dangers of not having a place when the music stops? Interestingly, the rise of internet dating has a major advantage because some pre-qualification or intentionality can be stated at the outset.
Step 2 – Delay Sex and Intoxicants
Sex and intoxicants (drugs and alcohol) create emotional confusion because it is very hard to maintain a conscious process in the presence of ecstatic intensity or induced unconsciousness. Sexuality, including attraction and fulfillment, is perhaps the strongest force in nature, able to bend careers and families into ruin as is seen so often in the celebrity headlines. So often the two people do not actually share the same values or intentions, with one hoping for more commitment and the other wanting to just have fun. Intoxication can create enough disorientation and mental chaos to lead to random choices and actions; suddenly the pair is bonded emotionally without ever really qualifying or selecting for qualities that later will be essential for mutual coherence. A conscious selection process applied before sexual intimacy begins can reduce emotional turmoil and increase consciousness in the dating process.
Step 3 – Find Common Ground
Instead of sex or intoxicants, new couples should have other kinds of fun together while talking about values and intentions. To endure, most relationships will need a basic commonality about the meaning of relationship. Are there shared mutual attitudes and expectations about the key areas of potential stress: sex, children, parenting styles, health practices, money, division of labor, politics and religion? Can the two people reach a common agreement about using a Three Principles triangular approach instead of the Hollywood approach, making a commitment to the ideal and setting an intention to be the best possible role-player in the ideal? Can there be common understanding about what constitutes highest performance? For example, for the man, what is the true meaning of Yang and how will that look in the context of this particular relationship? If one could define a few main threads of endeavor and sincerely resolve to be the best (lover, housemate, responsible supporter, co-parent, etc.) possible, the pressure is now on each person rather than just the other. Each one can constantly study how to perform at a higher level, as part of a lifelong Yogic intention to seek maximum consciousness.
Step 4 – Observe Traditional Courtship, Engagement and Marriage
Traditional phases of courtship, engagement and marriage have been scrambled, so the process will probably not be as linear as it might have been in the past.5 Courtship means putting on one’s best face to maximize the attraction. Engagement means intentionally revealing the whole truth about attitudes and expectations in as much detail as possible, to minimize surprises later. This is when the “contract” is written and scrutinized. Marriage is a transformation into a higher frequency, when commitment is actually established between each person and the ideal. Commitment brings enormous energetic resources to the equation. From then on, the partners are each doing their best to fulfill their roles as they have been mutually defined, while also knowing that the other person is also doing their best to do the same. The realistic expectation is that the other person will invariably have to go through the obstructions of his or her parental imprints in approximately equal measure to one’s own.
Step 5 – Get Help
Intimate relationships are hard enough already, especially as new challenges emerge. Just as the marriage triangle model reduces pressure, so a third person such as a trusted counselor can be very helpful. Perhaps in other eras, some respected elder in the extended family or community provided such a service, but that kind of support seems to be less available today. The use of counselors without the stigma of psychological judgement is relatively new. However, be careful that the counselor is not a Hollywood Agent in disguise; many counselors have been through their own divorces and will not actually support really doing the hard work of overcoming obstacles. Some even seem to want to validate or justify their own actions by leading others in their direction. It sometimes appears that there are more divorced counselors than long-tenured married counselors, so a certain selectivity will be needed.
- Reading for parents considering divorce: Children of Divorce (Andrew Root, 2010) and The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (Judith Wallerstein, et al, 2001).
- Polarity Therapy concepts also apply to same-gender relationships, which often have similar functional polarities. In this discussion, the language used is male-female as a baseline for explaining the ideas, but they can be extended quite readily.
- Stone, Polarity Therapy Vol. I, Book 3, p. 14.
- Stone, Polarity Therapy Vol. I, Book 3, p. 11.
- This discussion is not intending to glamorize the past. Every generation has challenges and the past was probably no better or worse, just different. In particular with relationships, the past had terrible misogyny while the present seems to induce de-polarization.