As the virus that knows no boundaries pervades the sanctuaries of our homes, and lodges in our dreams, we grieve those things we have cancelled, the celebrations that never took place, the hand we couldn’t hold at the end. We worry about our adult children who live in another city. We are consumed with concern about elderly parents.
We may feel inexplicably exhausted, drained by the grief that drags at our bones. The cupboards we planned to tidy, the books we intended to read, the routine that now seems rather pointless in this shapeless, formless state of suspension.
We’re all in this together. And we aren’t. The rich cocoon in comfort and the poor huddle together in refugee camps and council flats. Yet, we’re sharing our stories, swapping jokes and recipes to stave off loneliness, boredom and fear. Our boss, our co-worker and our oldest friend enter the messy ordinariness of our homes as the kitchen table becomes a place to work and a place to socialise. As Venus moves through the mercurial sign of Gemini we’re talking to our screens, caressing our devices, responding to the slightest ping or gentle vibration—often with more enthusiasm or presence than we give to the one we love.
At this time of enforced togetherness or the purgatory of physical separation, we may be learning a new style of relating as we begin to realise that for so many years, we have concealed our vulnerability behind the cement wall of intractable beliefs about our partner. Many of us will return again and again to that stuck place, that sterile landscape littered with the bleached bones of broken promises, eroded by silence. For others, as physical distancing brings more emotional honesty, we realise that we’ve been alone and yet together for far too long—we’ve sublimated our desire, displaced our passion, jettisoned our joy. Perhaps we recognise that we talk, but seldom listen, or feel heard. That we speak about empowerment and boundaries, but really don’t value ourselves enough to say No. During this time of enforced togetherness, some of us may be learning to assert ourselves—giving way, leaning in. Perhaps we’re profoundly grateful, as we celebrate and champion the love we have now rather than the love we haven’t had in the past.
Pluto (ruthless destruction, purging, elimination) and Jupiter (amplification) are in conjunction all through 2020 (the aspect perfected on April 4th and will do so twice more on June 29th and November 12th). These conjunctions contain an explosive energy that so often coincides with turning points in our human story—as all that is corrupt and rotten in governments, institutions, and in the often flimsy structures of our own lives is revealed. Pluto/Jupiter conjunctions can be combustible when they brush against our birth charts or the chart of our relationship, dredging up buried truths, destroying what is, and inviting us to revision a new future. They may ignite tinder dry resentments. Set ablaze those innocent promises we made and forgot to keep.
In the war about who’s right and who’s wrong, how much you love me and who’s in charge, there’s no room for relationship. Says psychologist, Terry Real, “proving just how right you are can be a tough temptation to walk away from. But relationship grown-ups understand that being right is not the real point. Finding a solution is.”
In his book, The New Rules of Marriage, Real writes, “letting go of the need to be right is a core principle of relationship empowerment: learning to live a non-violent life. Non-violent between you and others. Non-violent between your ears. Scolding your partner as if you were his mother, passing judgement on him, humiliating him. These are all forms of psychological violence.”
Today, a hot-headed Sun conjoins Eris (goddess of strife) at 23° Aries and both are in a tense square to Pluto/Jupiter, auguring a time for radical honesty—or more stringent control and power-play.
We may feel as though we are suspended, dissolving, putrefying, as we are locked within a sarcophagus of physical confinement, too close for comfort.
“We always marry someone with the purpose of finishing our childhood,” says psychologist Harville Hendrix, who suggests that we’re unconsciously drawn to people who will guarantee a re-enactment of the old, familiar relationship dynamics we grew up with. It is through our sentimentality, our innocence, our insistence in the “happily ever after” and the romantic dream of the relationship made in heaven, that we meet the dark challenges that a soul-ful union demands. It is through the sojourns in hell, that we refine the prima materia, the raw stuff of life, and learn the phases of Love in all their complexity.
Power struggles in relationships have soared to new heights of psychological sophistication with easy access to often dubious “self-help” offerings on the internet. We can diagnose our partner as being a Narcissist or having signs of Asperger’s syndrome. We can play Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor in the tawdry soapie of our own lives. Labels, like headache pills, can be an easy way of dealing with the symptoms, but not the cause.
“Toxic relationships can sneak up on almost anyone. And controlling behaviour on the part of a partner knows no boundaries—people of any age, gender, sexual orientation, or socio economic status can be in controlling relationships, playing either role,” writes psychologist, Andrea Bonior in Psychology Today.
Toxic relationships don’t sneak up like thieves in the night, robbing us of our joy and our autonomy. We create them all by ourselves. Adult power struggles resemble “the terrible twos”. We use avoidance, manipulation, verbal and very often physical abuse to get our own way. We stamp our feet and sabotage moments of tenderness or connectedness. We withhold or demand sex or money. The old Berserker brain takes charge. Reason, compassion and wisdom fly from the bloody battle fields.
The anatomy of love and desire requires boundaries and structure, whether it’s the ritualised control and submission of bondage and sexual play or the intricate web of rules that we weave around ourselves when we become a couple.
What do we share and what do we keep private? Do we stay friends with our ex on Facebook? Does honesty always nurture trust and intimacy? How do we come together and stay present for one another amidst the distractions that trip-wire closeness? How do we soothe and repair those bruised silences that hang like dust motes above our sensitivities? Sex therapist, Esther Perel believes “relationship boundaries are not a topic that you negotiate only once. Your personal and couple-dynamic boundaries may change based on your relationship or your individual preferences at varying stages of your life. The most successful couples are agile and allow this to be in an open and ongoing discussion.”
At this time of physical distancing, our devices can offer connection yet Eric Pickersgill’s series of photographs, Removed, depict the phantom limb of our treasured devices that signal our busyness and unapproachability. This invisible addictive force splits our attention and takes us away from those who are physically present.
Connection is an energy. It manifests when we feel seen, heard, and validated. When we draw nourishment and strength from our relationship. When we feel like allies not foes. When we find our own wings to fly between the spaces and the coming together, even in captivity.
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