In relationships, we can fall into patterns that lead us to repeat the same mistakes, which is why it is important to understand what we’re looking for.

Romance has the potential to be the biggest hindrance or the biggest catalyst to growth. Consequently, if you’re committed to personal development but don’t want to sacrifice love, it’s important to explore the concept of attraction. As the saying goes: “opposites attract.” But have you considered why this is the case?

In the introduction to the Shadow Work series I explain the function of psychological projection: we project our unconscious mind onto the external world. As an extension of this, fundamental to Carl Jung’s analytical psychology was the theory of the anima and animus, the unconscious feminine side in men and the unconscious masculine side in women.

Before we begin it’s worth noting these concepts don’t have to exclusively belong to binary gender. What’s important is the understanding that the unconscious contains a balancing element of masculine or feminine and the process of individuation (or self-actualisation) is integrating this part of ourselves.

Opposites attract

Jung discovered that we often operate from the unconscious, even when we’re not aware. In no area is this more distinct than romance. According to Jung’s theory we are often attracted to people who represent the anima or animus within ourselves.

For example, when I’ve been at my most self-disciplined, driven, structured (masculine traits), I found myself attracted to partners who balanced this with feminine traits such as spontaneity, expression, and feeling.

When I look back on all of my relationships, I see how I was attracted to partners who represented part of my anima and aspects of myself I felt I was lacking. When I was struggling with my mental health, I enjoyed a nourishing and deeply supportive relationship with a partner who was very stable and very grounded. Unconsciously, I see now how I was drawn to this stability because I felt I couldn’t provide this to myself.

We might find ourselves drawn to people who represent other shadow qualities too. The shy introvert might find themselves attracted to someone who is outgoing. The analytical, rational, logical person might be instinctively drawn to someone who is more emotional, feeling, intuitive.

Understanding attraction as a way to grow

The lesson in this dynamic is exploring whether there is genuine love and attraction or whether you are seeking a part of yourself you feel you’ve lost. To clarify, true love resides when we are not looking for someone else to complete unconscious “lost” elements. It’s common for relationships to serve a function whereby someone reminds us of this lost part of ourselves, and once discovered, the attraction fades.

As a serial monogamist, I have come to learn that all relationships have spurred on my growth by showing me parts of myself that had been long-hidden. This doesn’t make us selfish or self-centered; it shows the mutual reciprocity of romance (friendships, too) through the alchemy of two complementing reflections.

My most recent relationship is the first where I’ve been conscious of Jung’s theory (Jung wasn’t alone: many esoteric teachings explain the dynamic of mirroring and projection for growth). It’s been fascinating to see how, at various times, I project needs onto my partner. These needs are archetypal and psychic.

For example, when going through financial difficulties I felt insecure. From the perspective of personal development, the big challenge was developing a sense of security from within myself, independent of the fluctuations of financial flow. Rather than look within, I started to unconsciously project this psychic need of “security” onto my partner.

When I was spending time with her or hanging out at her apartment, I was aware of the feeling of security. Eventually I realized this feeling was attainable without any change in my circumstance. It was coming from me: yet I was projecting it onto my partner. Aware of this, I went to work. I looked at how to cultivate a feeling of security within myself, and, lo and behold, it worked. I started to feel the same sensations when alone.

Delving into the depths of romance for spiritual growth

If this all sounds a little sterile, know we’re really looking at deep spiritual work. It’s not for everyone, and there’s no necessity to delve into the depths of the unconscious mind if you’re in a relationship where these psychic needs are mutually and healthily met. However, issues arise when we consistently and repeatedly seek these parts of ourselves in others.

Not only does it prevent us from looking within, familiarizing ourselves with these inner-resources before allowing them to permeate into our personhood, it makes us dependent on our partner to fulfill these needs. What happens when they’re not around? What happens after a break-up?

As a prompt, explore your relationship patterns. Are you always drawn to those who are in touch with their emotional capacity? Do you feel you only connect to your own emotions when around such partners? If so this highlights a starting point for self-discovery and the need to journey into your own psyche to uncover this part of yourself, outside of the relationship dynamic.

Humans are social animals and we learn through reciprocity. Beyond surface level, relationships can and will reflect many lessons to us, the parts of ourselves lost or in need of healing, or the parts we are resisting or failing to acknowledge.

The key is in learning to witness these qualities in ourselves, cultivating them from within, and learning to love another for who they are and the qualities they possess.

When we aren’t looking to be compensated by someone else, there are no conditions to our love, there is nothing we need. Instead of an obligation, we are making a free choice to spend time with someone. Then we enter romantic relationships and give our partner the best gift we can give: freedom.

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