Thursday, July 06, 2006

Integral Relationships: A Preliminary Developmental Model

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This model is in its early stages and has more than a few kinks to work out -- one of which was pointed out by Kai in the comments to an earlier post (please check this post for the source of some of this theory). He points out that not all relationships begin in a fused state, which I think is true.
Fusion isn't an inevitable step in a relationship ("limerance," though, is, I think, and might be more skillfully substituted for the idea of fusion.) . . . . I agree that we all begin in an unskillful space, however; perhaps that unskillfulness manifests differently for different folks, though.

I think that one way around this objection -- which seems valid in terms of romantic relationships -- is to suggest that this model applies to all relationships. David Schnarch talks about how our first romantic relationships mirror patterns we inhabited with our parents.

Hal and Sidra Stone, in talking about bonding patterns in relationships, also look to the parent-child relationship as the source of adult bonding patterns. So in these cases, the fusion stage is one we all move through as children. If that stage is not adequately resolved in childhood (teen individuation is when it often happens), it will shape our adult relationships to a lesser or greater degree.

My preliminary model uses David Schnarch's language to a certain extent – touching on what I think is one of the defining characteristics of integral anything.

* Schnarch talks about the fusion stage as identity created through a reflected sense of self. We are undifferentiated and unable to define ourselves separate from our emotional ties to the other. We see ourselves as we are reflected in our meaningful relationships.

* The next stage may then be identity created through the opposition of self to other (and the successful attempt would reflect emotional separation - the end of fusion), which Schnarch mentions as one way that people try to break the fusion pattern. Too often however, we are unable to break the fusion, which results in bickering to establish boundaries or leaving to escape the fusion (which doesn't really end it).

* Then we might discover identity as a result of maintaining self while in relationship with others (we no longer define ourselves through emotion, but rather, through a more aware ego sense). We have access to a core self that does not fluctuate based on the conditions around us, yet is capable of maintaining strong emotional connections to others.

* I think the first truly second tier or integral stage would be differentiation with the ability to take on the other's role and experience their point of view. True empathy, to me, feels like the bginning of an integral awareness. When we can take the role of another, the separation between self and other begins to break down – we begin to see all the ways are alike, and with empathy begins pure compassion.

* Finally, we might know and experience that we are all one at some absolute level, yet still maintain our separate self-sense. This would be the ability to hold Welwood's absolute love and relative (fully differentiated) love in our interior space simultaneously. With this stage we are fully integrated in our relationships, and able to experience true compassion and empathy based on an experiential awareness on oneness.

In all likelihood, there are intermediary stages, as well, especially at the top end.

I think many people mistake fusion for the touch of the absolute or nondual. Another variation on mistaking a pre-personal state/stage for a post-personal state/stage.

What makes it all the more confusing is that a fused couple might actually have access to absolute love as Welwood defines it as a state experience, while still existing in a pre-personal stage of relationship. It's easy to see how a couple could confuse the two.

For more discussion on this conception, please see the Integral Relationships pod at Zaadz.

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