A Model for Relationships and Partnership

Love is the child of freedom,
never that of mastery.

Erich Fromm

Oh, would that be nice – it would be the end of all longing.
But even the words are divisive.
What is love? What is freedom?
Where does one begin, where does the other end?

From what angle do we look at love and freedom: from a selfish, from a strictly moral or from a libertarian one?

However, one thing is certain: the perspective from which we look at these seemingly simple terms is shaped by our biography and culture. And since everyone grew up and developed differently, the common understanding will only ever be an approximation.

Acknowledging how different the world is for each individual is the journey of every relationship.

Every interpersonal encounter can help us to recognize our own history and thus ourselves in the mirror of others.

However, this is also where the conflicts begin, because what is right and natural for one person may be alienating or even threatening for another. In order not to let the differences escalate, most people look for the one truth: in the cultural, in friends, in what seems normal and usual, and in all kinds of advice literature. Possibly both also do couples counseling in the expectation that there is a higher authority who knows the one “right” way and will bring the other person who deviates from their own ideas to see reason.

But this does not work, because after all there is no truth valid for always and all.

Even if we long for security and structure; since love is the child of freedom, it will wither in a dictatorship of rules, however small.

But a world without any rules does not work – everybody does what he wants!

True. And that is exactly why respect, mindfulness and compromise are needed.

Respect means respect for any other view of the world. Even if I do not share it, or it is even abysmally repugnant to me. Values are conditioned by conditioning and biographies – even mine, as good as they seem to me, they might be inappropriate for others: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Mindfulness means being considerate of the other person’s possible interpretation of my actions: What is natural for me may mean assault or even cruelty for another. However, mindfulness does not mean that I withdraw and betray myself, but that I always “see” the other person in the interaction.

Compromise does not mean rules, but temporary agreements that make it possible for several people to live together – in a sincere and spoken way. Compromises should not be made out of fear, but above all out of compassion.

There can be no generic model or rules for relationships – the world is multicolored and everyone’s perception is different. Also, couples or relationship counselors are not knowers or judges.

What there is, however, is a model, about the many wrong ways, misunderstandings, but also the magic on the way to self-knowledge and personal maturity.

This is no more than a rough guide to the relationship jungle: it is not a map, but rather a positioning guide with indications of what new perspectives, but also dangers, await you.

The start – Being alone:

Man is looking for a mirror or, like most, simply can not be alone.
You meet a person with whom you want to start the journey and it seems that this person has everything your heart desires.
This attracts them magically.

Falling in love:

They decide to open up further and embark on their first big journey. Or else you hesitate: Is he, is she really? Do you want to set out together or is something better waiting around the corner?
And what about the first compromises?
Do you both have similar ideas about a relationship – fidelity, children, career?

Be a couple:

They are on the go and everyone has their projects and responsibilities (kids, career, personal development, etc.). At first, things go really well – they seem like the perfect team, but very slowly, husband and wife get lost. You are just team and something inside you starts to starve. You may find you can talk to each other less and less, but you also can’t live without each other.
You have fallen into a strange dependency, perhaps you are already having an affair and thinking of breaking out.
But where to?

Back to yourself:

They start to take themselves more important than the partnership again and manage to leave the relationship base. Maybe they travel alone for a few days or go different ways.
This can be the beginning of the second great journey.
However, they can also remain anxiously in the relationship jungle, watching each other starve.

The second spring:

If you have embarked on the second great journey, it is quite possible that they have been able to extricate themselves from the relationship jungle and look respectfully and benevolently into each other’s eyes like adventurers who have mastered a dangerous challenge.
Along the way, they will shed the familiar skin of their conditioning and question many perceived certainties.
Therefore, do not expect quick solutions during this development step, because this can be a long, and sometimes painful, process.

Being alone – the autistic phase

How shall we recognize ourselves alone?

The ego needs a mirror and this mirror will always be another.

Through this mirror we learn to become a collective being – through reflection we become part of a community.

In the autistic phase, we have clear I boundaries and largely feel like an autonomous individual. We are more important to ourselves than others.

Nevertheless, there can already be entanglements here: For example, we might have a kind of surrogate relationship with our parents and feel responsible for their well-being. It is also possible that we maintain longer, more or less platonic contacts with good opposite-sex “friends”. If that is the case, we should start thinking. We don’t have a partnership yet, but should one arise, it will not be a two-person relationship, but we will bring in a third or fourth. In the long term, this will in many cases become an unwanted guest, which can ignite conflicts at a later date.

Another way is not to consider the autistic phase and being alone as a temporary condition, but to make it a dogma. To a commitment that some call “free love,” but at this level is nothing more than commitment anxiety and a flight from closeness – from the things that unfold only within a partnership.

We can also remain in the autistic phase for a very long time, as the saying goes: “Let him who commits himself test himself to see if he can find something better.

Often the autistic phase is also a relationship break after a separation. A space for mourning, but also for personal growth with ourselves – a time of self-realization that we put aside in the day-to-day of relationships.

In any case, this stage is dominated by the I: it is in the center, it finds itself and it searches.

This search, however, is not only an introspection, but, with the continuation of the autistic phase, is directed more and more outward.

The I is looking for a mirror.


Falling in love – the first journey

Once we have spotted an object of desire, two programs run immediately.

The first is the biological or genetic program. At this very rudimentary level, every living thing strives to reproduce. The fact that we nevertheless do not mate with everyone is to a large extent biologically determined. By means of imperceptible odorants, so-called pheromones, taste and many other signals that are exchanged unconsciously, nature ensures that only the best-matching gene combinations attract each other.

The second level of mate selection, meanwhile, has nothing to do with such disillusioning things as smell and genetics. It is the level that we perceive as romantic. But as beautiful as romance is, it is a fallacy.

In fact, what we like to interpret as magical moments is often nothing more than an attachment pattern driven out of our biography – a repetition.

Some part of our highly complex personality is just looking for a mirror and no sooner do we think we have found it, we feel butterflies in our stomach.

The fact is that when we fall in love, we first fall in love with ourselves: with our current charisma and a buoyant dreamy saunter with which we catch the glances of passers-by and which makes us feel: We own the world.

All of this feels like magic and indeed, in those moments, we are the sole creators of our universe. However, not because Cupid’s arrow hit us or we met a soulmate and are now riding the wave of a never-ending feeling of happiness, but simply because we are tipsy – because we are on drugs.

But we didn’t grow it on our balcony or buy it from a shady street dealer – it’s a powerful mixture of substances that we produce ourselves: Dopamine, norepinephrine and others. Our blood is flooded with them. At the same time, our serotonin levels drop, similar to people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It is so beautiful.


Being a couple – the symbiotic phase

At the latest, when the pressure of mating has fallen off us, the magical sounds of the bush drum in the belly also fade away and give way to an increasingly partner-centered focus.

No longer do we create the world from our magical love consciousness, no longer does it obey us, but the partner. And as always in the transition from the animistic-magical to the mythical, from now on we need a god outside ourselves. A person we can look up to and who is responsible for the course of the world from now on.

While we used to generate the feeling of being in love to a large extent ourselves, we become more and more dependent on the partner in this phase. No longer do we generate our feelings of happiness, no longer are we the magicians and creators of our universe, but this role is continuously shifting to the other person. More and more we make his charm, his way of looking at us and touching us, responsible for our well-being.

It is no longer ourselves but the partner who determines how the stars of fate shine and suddenly we find ourselves in the beginnings of a dependency web. In the beginning, this is not unpleasant, because the partner still tries to read all our wishes from our eyes. And yet the dependence begins to grow.

This dependency will not necessarily interfere as long as we are busy with joint projects such as children, house, career and others. We function as a team. Intimacy will steadily decline, but this is also convenient for many – after all, it was often an affair fraught with stress and pressure to perform.

The lines of conflict now run between:

Wanting to possess and the fear of being alone again.
Longing for security but also longing for freedom.
Insisting on one’s own positions and wanting to be right – there must be a right and a wrong.
Abundance and lack – and both emotionally and materially.
Demands on the partner and refusals of the partner to fulfill these demands.

All these conflicts are most likely to ignite over trivial matters at first, but over time they take on a relationship-defining dimension. It can feel like it’s a matter of life and death.

Both seem to be lost, love as well as freedom, and yet often both cannot let go of each other. What often remains is hope for a saving affair and increasing bitterness.

We are on the journey partnership at a fork in the road.

One path leads toward an adversarially dependent relationship – as more and more often one refuses to meet the needs and desires of the other.

The other way leads to a fused cuddly partnership where we are more friends like husband and wife.

In this situation, many couples cannot clearly decide for one way or the other, but oscillate between quarreling, reconciliation and despair. They are frightened at themselves and desperately seek harmony.

But the “next time” is sure to come, because there will be a Sunday or vacation. Conflicts cannot be swept under the carpet. For the most part, it will become more violent and hurtful with each passing time.


Back to yourself – the second journey

In desperate moments we think that we have lost everything: we feel neither loved nor capable of love, the partner no longer sees us and almost everything grows over our head.

What most overlook, however, is that we have lost neither the partner nor the partnership, but only ourselves.

In the effort to find our partner, we have given up many parts of ourselves, that which really makes us, in the previous stages. We sacrificed it for the partner, for the family, for the future, for our image of a harmonious life together. Now many will say that I was happy to do that and that you have to compromise to be happy. All true, but this image – this image of a harmoniously happy family – is this really your image?

Where does this image come from?

Our imaginations and ideas come from our past. Maybe we want our children to be better off than we were. We may want to avoid divorce at all costs because we are children of divorce ourselves. Perhaps we have never known anything else.

The first challenge we face is to figure out where we got our ideas and perceptions about relationships, to explore who painted our maps and calibrated and labeled our compass?

The second task is to check whether our maps and instruments are suitable to lead us out of the jungle or whether they do not in fact lead us more and more astray. This is a challenging process, but it means finding out what our own truth is – independent of parents, in-laws, magazines and glossy magazines.

These are questions that we can often only approach throughout our lives without getting comprehensive answers: Who am I? What makes me lovable? What is the point of it all?

But it’s not really about answers, it’s about a development from a dependent partnership to ourselves.

It is about rediscovering the lost feelings and the lost love in ourselves.

For only what is within us can we give away.

Three steps on the way to yourself

It is easier to leave oneself than to find oneself: Finding oneself” is an individual development process – a path that one walks alone – like birth and death.

New partners or ex-partners can listen sympathetically, they can give impetus, but they cannot help.

Whoever embarks on this journey separates himself – not from his partner, but from his ideas, from his judgments, from his illusions and from his longings.

This separation is more challenging than that of a human being. It’s not a breakup, nor is it a divorce – rather, no stone is left unturned. All habits and supposed certainties are questioned and the sickeningly hurtful and paralyzing are cut off.

The separation

When you love something,
let it go
When it comes back to you,
it’s yours.
If it doesn’t come back,
it never belonged to you.

(Adapted from Confucius)

To separate is to let go, not of affection or goodwill, but of the idea of an everlasting oneness. And even if the partnership has already become uncomfortable, many want to persist in the toxic ambience of being right, supposed securities and demands.

To acknowledge that the expectations and illusions from the beginning of the relationship will never be fulfilled hurts too much.

A separation is therefore inevitable, because it is to be assumed that there are only points of contact but no permanent all-oneness with the partner. That there are no universal values and perpetual consensus or harmony, but only clear and open exchange. That everything unspoken must find a language.

With children and other joint commitments, it is important to practice mindfulness and develop respect for the partner’s otherness at this stage. It is necessary to learn that there is always more than one way and not the one right path.

The learning

Learning means, above all, getting to know oneself and reflecting on one’s own shortcomings.

This includes recognizing that one’s own biography is life-determining and that a partnership can only be a supplement.

It means accepting that every relationship is a gift, without a right to receive or possess anything, and that there are no guarantees or assurances in love.

Everyone is responsible for the balance of his life – without ifs and buts. Love, compassion, kindness and warmth are gifts – they are not enforceable.

That, too, is part of growing up: getting out of a victim mindset, putting defense mechanisms aside and naming fears.

At the end is the realization: No one but me is responsible for my life and my feelings.

It is a great challenge and often a balancing act to take care of yourself in the first place without losing sight of others.

A possible Second Spring

Have we mastered the turbulence of the second great journey and have we, at least in part, arrived at ourselves and are on a good path to adulthood. We should have learned to take ourselves more important than others without being inconsiderate and selfish. Likewise, we should have realized that many of our ideas and perceptions have less to do with ourselves than we think.

We have grown and matured and have acquired one or two scars in the process. But even more crucial is that we can show ourselves the scars without shame and blame and without the hope that the partner will perform cosmetic surgery on them. From many faces the eternal smile will have disappeared and what is commonly called charisma will begin to develop. It is a connectedness with oneself, with one’s wounds and pains, with one’s joy and pleasure that one sees in people of this phase.

The poet Khalil Gibran said about this: “Facial features that reveal the secrets of our soul give a face beauty and grace, even if these soul secrets are painful and sorrowful. Faces, on the other hand, which – like masks – conceal what is going on inside them, lack all beauty, even if their outer forms are perfectly symmetrical and harmonious.”

The second spring resembles a rekindling of a love that had already been written off. However, this rekindling has nothing in common with falling in love at the beginning of the journey.

The autistic phase is characterized by the search for a partner who fulfills as many needs as possible, for whose self-sufficiency we do not want to take responsibility.

In the second spring, on the other hand, we look at the partner with respect: we see him as the one who has borne and endured our cutting the cord and fledging. We look at a person who stayed with us even though many things spoke against it – we look at a person who truly deserves our respect and our gifts.

Does that mean staying in a partnership with your current partner at all costs and moving on?

Not necessarily, because we may have met other people on our way to ourselves. However, we will most likely look upon the partner who accompanied and assisted us on this path with kindness, respect and goodwill, regardless of any previous disputes.

Love is a child of freedom – where it leads we do not know.

Arrive – Be at home

The mind is powerless
In the face of love …


Love is a gift and I give it regardless of whether it is accepted.

Respect is a gift and I give it to every being.

Tolerance is a gift and I know that there are many other worlds besides my little world – I know that there is no right or wrong.

Mindfulness is a gift, because I know from my own experience how vulnerable people are.

All my gifts I give freely – no one has a right to them and they cannot be offset.

Background and sources

This model is derived from Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic object relations theory. Margaret Mahler confirmed it through many empirical studies in the 1970s. A direct application of Margaret Mahler’s child development model to partnerships was first described in 1988 by American therapists Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson in their book In Quest of the Mythical Mate. In the same year, the American psychotherapist and Sufi A. Hameed Ali published his book “The Pearl Beyond Price” under the pseudonym A. H. Almaas, in which he applies the object relations theory to the various steps of spiritual growth.

In couples counseling, we combine this model with a systemic view (Virginia Satir), with elements from transactional analysis (Eric Berne) and Gestalt therapy (Fritz Perls), and with work on the inner child (John Bradshaw).

In addition, there are experiences of many other therapeutic and spiritual directions, as we were allowed to gather on our journey; and our own personal path.