by Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD
The anima and animus may help us find passionate relationships, but research shows that there are a lot of things that can destroy them. From a Jungian perspective, a relationship is doomed to crumble when you’re real-life lover can’t live up to the idealized image of the anima or animus you’ve projected.
Story characters who fall in love with a fantasy—like Scarlett O’Hara’s infatuation with the undeserving Ashley—are doomed to be disappointed when the real, flawed person shows through. Sometimes falling in love with one’s anima or animus isn’t what’s really best for us. As Scarlett learns when she meets Rhett Butler, sometimes what we need most is what infuriates us the most.
Attraction is an interesting thing, and it comes in different flavors. According to Robert Sternberg, all types of love and attraction can be arranged in a triangular shape. The points are:
1. Liking (intimacy and sharing - alone, this is “friendship”)
2. Passion (strong emotions and sexual attraction; alone, this is “infatuation”)
3. Commitment (intentions to stay in spite of difficulties; alone, this is “empty love”)
Between liking and passion is romantic love; between liking and commitment is companionate love; between commitment and passion is fatuous love. When you have all three, you have "consummate love," which is essentially the strongest and most perfect love.
Anima/animus attractions usually start with passion—they’re that jaw-dropping desire for someone you don’t know well, but who just “does it” for you. The danger of anima/animus attractions is that they’re actually projections of our own anima/animus. As we get to know the other person, we are either disillusioned because they don’t fit the idealized image we’re projecting onto them, or we come to know them as people and fall in love with them because we also like them.
Love that includes liking, passion, and commitment is what Sternberg calls “consummate” or perfect love. But while it’s solid and makes us feel whole, it’s not effortless. Psychologist John Gottman researches what makes relationships last or fail, and he can predict whether a couple will divorce with 96% accuracy.
Gottman has demonstrated that the four behaviors, which he calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” endanger any relationship, and when combined with an inability to “make successful repair attempts,” they doom it.
The horsemen are expressed through body language as much as through verbal behavior; when they appear often, they predict divorce in the 80% range.
About 85% of couples who are able to make successful repair attempts by using humor or taking a break to deescalate and regain perspective stay married.
As uncomfortable as conflict usually is, it’s necessary for a healthy relationship. People who don’t argue aren’t communicating, and when their relationships begin to fall apart, there’s nothing available to patch them back together.
Interestingly, the breakdown of traditional relationships has contributed to the conflict that causes so many divorces. When men and women had strictly defined roles, society disdained attempts to cross the gender boundaries in real life—for example, the only way to get your fill of “feminine” if you were male was to spend a lot of time with your wife. Modern society is still reconciling the blurring of the gender lines, sometimes more smoothly than others, and the resulting confusion can only really be addressed through healthy communication.
When the anima and animus come together, they create Syzygy, a term that represents the same kind of cohesive whole Plato described when the two halves of sundered humans wrap their arms around one another once again become one.
In real life, finding and getting along with your “other half” is difficult. Have you ever read a story in which the characters constantly misunderstand, insult, and stonewall each other, yet by the last page you’re to believe that they will live happily ever after with none of the conflict that filled every page before the last? In real life, it doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t in fiction, either. Conflict is the engine that keeps every story going, and the love relationships between your characters are one of the most important parts of that engine.
Think about it this way: There’s no way Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler would settle down without ever arguing again, but what fun would they be if they did?