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A Jungian View on Couples by Kathleen Wiley

Tuesday, November 08, 2022 1:00 PM | Anonymous

Individuation, embodying one’s full essence, is not a solo endeavor even though it is an innately driven process of psychological differentiation from the collective. The process is inseparable from embodied moments of conuinctio with people in your life and the union of opposites within your psyche. Relationships, particularly intimate couple relationships, are an alchemical vas for encountering the unknown within yourself. As you adapt to living with the differences in your partner, your vital energies (innate essence) take shape in daily activities. As the specifics of your nature interface with the “other”—someone separate from you, your psyches naturally intertwine. This conuinctio offers an opportunity to live into your wholeness by embracing aspects of psyche that arise only in intimate relationship; or you can remain one-sided with an ego ideal that is identified with collective expectations or defended against your personal history (personal unconscious). 

You open to the gift of Self by seeing your primary relationship as a transformative vessel where your partner mirrors unknown aspects of you. Your commitment to the “other” is bonded by unconsciously activated energies in psyche that want to be connected to your ego consciousness. This means you encounter yourself in every interaction with your partner as psyche filters the experience through your complexes. Strong, out-of-proportion affects, activated by non-harmonious exchanges, are the doorway to knowing yourself more deeply. 

C. G. Jung writes, “The unrelated human being lacks wholeness, for he can achieve wholeness only through the soul, and the soul cannot exist without its other side, which is always found in ‘You’.”  (CW 16, par. 454) The reality of psyche as a phenomenal world coexists with the reality of the external “other” world where people are who they are, not our projections or images. Individuation demands conscious differentiation of your inner imagoes and the outer partner as an individual in their own right. 

Imagoes carry both desirable and undesirable feeling tones. The desirable traits and affects are projected in the romantic love phase of relationship. Sooner or later, these are destroyed by reality that forces you to see beyond the one-sided idealized images. As the positive illusions die, there is often the projection of negative states of the imago onto the partner. Projection is an unconscious mechanism that transfers powerful, unmediated archetypal/instinctive energy that evokes certain ways of being and acting from the other. Unknowingly, a projected complex pulls your partner to act in sync with the projection. To be whole and to have healthy relationships, you must be willingly to see and claim the unintegrated bit of your psyche instead of exporting it.

By addressing the projection of the internal imago onto your partner, you can differentiate internal factors that shape your experience from the external realities that trigger the perceptions. This necessitates withdrawing projections through consciousness of your complexes. This increased consciousness brings a clearer perception of your partner and a more focused use of the previously split off or projected psychic energy. You become more whole in the process of owning the projected energies or shadow. 

Owning your projection can be difficult as there is always a hook for the unconscious material. An example: Sally has a harsh and critical father complex, so she unconsciously attracted a partner who is harsh and critical. The partner is an easy projection screen as they mirror her inner father/partner. Exporting the negative, she is left with an accommodating sweetness that lacks healthy aggression and fuels blaming the outer partner for feelings of inadequacy and failure. This keeps her psychologically stuck, thwarting her individuation, as she does not consciously address the inner aggressor to claim her autonomy and initiative for life. 

Over time, Sally let go of blaming her partner and began dialoguing with her inner critical father/partner. She now listens deeply to connect with the seed of the Self that is cloaked by the negative father complex. Through this conscious relating, she connects with the vital energy of her larger Self that holds the needed opposite to balance the negative. When this happens, she experiences an inner coniunctio that results in inner and outer boundaries rooted in healthy self-respect and self-responsibility. She becomes more whole by standing with herself internally and with her outer partner.

Jung writes,

Wholeness is a combination of I and You, and these show themselves to be parts of a transcendent unity…. I do not of course, mean the synthesis of two individuals, but the conscious union of the ego with everything that has been projected into the ‘You.’ Hence wholeness is the product of an intrapsychic process which depends essentially on the relation of one individual to another. (CW 16, par. 454)

The relationships to yourself, the Self, and another individual are the heart of individuation. Couples relationships are a particularly fertile ground for individuating as your most deeply rooted, personal needs and vulnerabilities are experienced. Your willingness to engage the intertwining worlds of inner and outer relationships simultaneously is the key for fully embodying your essence. Relationships are essential to individuation.


Kathleen Wiley is a Jungian Psychoanalyst, LCMHC, and LMFT in Davidson, NC. Her work empowers individuals to fully embody their essence through conscious relationship to the Self and other. She is an articulate and engaging speaker who moves her listeners into their depths. She leads an online community with self-paced courses focused on embodiment practices and processes rooted in Jungian psychology and alchemical symbolism. Learn more at and 


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