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The Neurotic Couple

The Neurotic Couple
Dialectics in Couple Therapy

Josep M. Moreno Alavedra -  ©


Ponencia presentada en la 2016 ISPDI Conference, celebrada en California, EEUU, el pasado Mayo.



This presentation is an attempt to articulate the dialectical mode of interpretation to the phenomena that I have to deal with on daily basis as a couple therapist. It started as a curiosity to consider whether the problems of the couple can be explained by the neurosis of each member and/or by psychic factors, as if only the symptoms of each person can make them intelligible. This question lead me to ask if the couple's pressing problems can be addressed as the workings of an internal logic of the soul opus and its particular articulation in our present time.

Mainstream Couple Therapy

"What makes love such a chronic source of discomfort, disorientation, and even despair, I argue, can be adequately explained only by sociology and by understanding the cultural and institutional core of modernity." E. Illouz1

While agreeing with the main conclusion of Illouz about the role of modernity in the mentioned despair and discomfort, I would argue that Psychology has something even more significant to say about it. Usually, in mainstream couple therapy there are two basic psycho-technological approaches. One comes from the more personalistic and positivistic stance where the conflict between the partners is seen as the conflict that arises when two people and their cognitions, expectations, desires and pathologies clash2.  Relationship, on this account, is the result of two distinct entities coming into contact. Two otherwise selves, that are fundamentally two separate units with individual problems that when in relationship manifest themselves as arguing, exchanging criticisms, mutual blaming, etc. Therapy has the mission of teaching and/or helping them to relate better to each other.
The other approach, called the systemic, assumes that the members of the couple form a system and the attitudes and behaviors of each one is conditioned by the dynamic and roles acted out in the system, being its main epistemological foundation circular causality3. The focus of attention then shifts from the individual to the intra systemic dynamics and the analysis is directed to the flow of communication in the system. The idea is then to see the dysfunctional couple as a "system determined by the problems"4. In this approach we see the first emergence of an entity, the couple as a living system but framed in a positivistic notion of system that is forced to act out the idea of relationship of two entities to excess. From the standpoint of the external observer the two members of the couple act as two opponent psychological forces. Their dynamic interactions and the resulting conflicts are conceived as factual, irrational or dysfunctional events. The therapist focuses on how the system can be changed. Classic is the work of the Milan school of therapy, and the development of circular questioning as a method to change the communication pattern of  the couple.

From these points of view conflicts are associated with power differences and violence (Sagrestano, Heavey, & Christensen, 1999), differences in desire for closeness and independence, femininity–masculinity, gender roles, and division of labor (Eldridge & Christensen, 2002), etc. The goals of therapy are to attempt to modify behavior exchanges, emotional  and communication patterns, biased and negative cognitions, etc., and therapeutic techniques are built to foster problem solving training, emotional intimacy, behavior change and psychological compatibility. Without discrediting the merits of these strategies in relation to effectively help couples improve their relations, we already are aware of the personalistic reductionism that emerges from these approaches. In this paper, I want to make an effort to work these phenomena up from the level of conventional therapeutic thinking to that of psychological awareness as it is understood in Psychology as a Discipline of Interiority (PDI). I consider that the symptoms manifested in problematic couples offer a privileged lens through which we can perceive the psycho-logic structure of modernity and its contradictory forms and movements.

Giegerich's work (2013), "Neurosis. The logic of a Metaphysical illness" has made us all aware of the highly complex dialectic process that pervades the symptoms of individual neurosis. The interplay of soul with itself, the engagement between the civil person and the logic of the neurotic soul is very well described in Giegerich's seminal work. In my private practice I work in-distinctively with individual and couple therapy.  Giegerich´s insights have helped me cope and deal with the phenomena that my patients bring in search for help, where I am confronted with a pathological relationship where both partners are suffering intense conflictive interactions that slowly condemn the relationship to an unavoidable and traumatic ending after a more or less prolonged process of deterioration. I have had to fully assume and follow the thinking process that emerged from the question: Are these interactions conditioned/produced by a neurotic soul logic or perhaps by the influence of merely psychic and neurotic factors in each member?

The Couple as Notion

"I do not mean relationships between otherwise separate selves, but rather, a process of coordination that precedes the very concept of the self. "  K. Gergen5.

The analytic stance of this work is that the PDI principles and methodological tools can be used when you consider the problems of today's couple as the prime matter,  and the couple an existing concept. Consequently, I envision The Couple not merely the gathering of two people to have a relationship, not as an entity, neither as a system, but as a living Notion, a logical form of consciousness, a soul's self-expression, a logical process that entails and expresses through two people a dialectical movement with its own internal complexities. The partners are embebed in a logical relationship between identity and otherness that takes paramount relevance when we seek understanding of their psychological relationships and the problems that they show when they come to the therapy room. To perceive the logical relationship requires seeing through the individuals embebed in their literality, as sociologist Gergen (2009: xxvi) notes,

"... using a language that inherently divides the world into bounded entities... I will invariably rely on nouns and pronouns, both of which designate bounded or identifiable units. The very phrase,” I rely on you....”  already defines me as separate from you. Similarly, transitive verbs typically imply causal relations, with the action of one unit impinging on another... the conventions of language resist. They virtually insist that separate entities exist prior to relationship."

The modern experience of the couple goes along the vision of two subjectivities that commit themselves to a close, durable and intimate relationship. This commitment is intended through two very different concepts, Individualism and Romantic Love. In relation to the first concept, Individualism,  each member of the couple, as an ego, lives according to its logical status as an individual who only accepts as truth what comes from his interior: "be yourself, live your life, accept only what it sounds as truly to your inner self”  (Taylor: 110). This consciousness seems to have an inevitable resort to act as possessing and "using" other people in the form of a collusion. Besides, the individualistic. The uprooted ego of modernity is grounded in the split subject/object, and is built as a being whose reality is the act of choosing, i.e. to choose a couple, and whose aim is to have the only experiences that he/she is attuned to.

The glueing together of  two people based on the sense of one's own ego inevitably amounts to the logic of appropriation, of treating the other to a greater or lesser extent  as commodity that one may possess, an object to a subject. The logic of the interaction that emerges is at odds with internal otherness, the other is merely experienced as an external other, and never realized as its own internal otherness. As I have said above, this split amounts to the logic of having a couple versus being a couple. Each partner, deeply rooted in the idea of ​​individuality, wants to live that experience of partnership yet also wants to keep a personal sphere that is non-negotiable and results in a type of union  that can only exist in  a space of collusion (my needs, my desires, versus yours).  As Gergen, (2009:176-7) says:

"We recognize each other as fundamentally embarked on separate journeys. In this case, bonding requires that we accept “unnatural” constraints on individual autonomy. Choosing to “go my own way” is seldom questioned. However, we may well wonder why a friend chose to marry, or join a religion. And, in replying to such questions the answer is typically in terms of some individual need, desire, or inadequacy. One desires children, wants security, needs to settle down, and so on. Or one chooses, for instrumental reasons. One marries so that she will bear my children; he will be a good breadwinner; she will make me happy; he gives me support."

In relation to the second concept, Romantic Love, we live a couple relationship anchored in relation to a neurotic form of an Absolute which has been sunk in a form of otherness that only contemplates the literality of the empirical ego. To elucidate the contradiction that stems from this it is necessary to consider the historical process that the notion has undergone, whose analysis I will develop in the next section.

Historicity of the notion of Couple

"Spirit has broken with the world it has hitherto inhabited and imagined, and it is of a mind to submerge it in the past, and in the labour of its own transformation.... The frivolity and boredom which unsettles the established order, the vague foreboding of something unknown, these are the heralds of approaching change." G. W. Hegel.

The couple has a soul or better said, is a soul form and as soul is essentially related to history. In order to think and understand the problems of the couples of our times it is mandatory to review the historical changes that its notion has undergone. I will shortly reflect about the last changes, those which Giegerich has thought as a result of a great revolution in consciousness.

According to  the author (2012:174) in premodern experience, "the prevailing essential relation of people (individuals) during those ages was, rather than between each other, the relation to the "metaphysical" or "religious" substance, to the truth of the whole culture or people of whom they were members". But Modernity drastically changed the soul status. The birth of man out of the inness and the emergence of the split subject/object as the epistemological horizon of positivism set the foundation of a subjectivity anchored in individualism with the psychological expression of the centrality of the ego in human experience and its associated ideas of freedom, will, self-reflexivity, and personal  "inner life".  In the late eighteenth century, it begins to be noted in Europe the ideal of romantic love, which implies in its definition the ideas of freedom and self-realization.  These ideas are the building blocks of the modern notion of subjectivity that also needs to be related to the idea of choice (the defining cultural hallmark of modernity, and according to Illouz (2012:19), emotional authenticity, rationality and autonomy. In his words:

"one of the most fruitful ways to understand the transformation of love in modernity is through the category of choice. This is not only because to love is to single out one person among other possibilities and thus to constitute one’s individuality in the very act of choosing a love object, but also because to love someone is to be confronted with questions of choice: 'Is s/he the right one?', 'How do I know this person is right for me?', 'Won’t there be a better person along the way?'."

Romantic Love also presupposes some degree of self-interrog­ation. 'How do I feel about the other?', 'How does the other feel about me?', 'Are our feelings 'profound' enough to support a long-term involvement?'. On the other hand, sociologists state that "...what is properly modern in modern couple suffering is the overwhelming importance of love for the constitution of a social sense of worth. The logic of emotional authenticity demands from people a great deal of self-scrutiny, 'Do I really love him/her, or is it just lust?', 'If I love him/her, how deep, intense, and real is my love?', 'Is this love healthy or narcissistic?'.

Romantic Love was embraced by early modernity as a source of existential transcendence6, as a power that can transcend daily life, but at the same time individualism was emerging as an all powerful idea that pervaded the entire experience of life. This ambivalent perspective of modernity is at the heart of the "conflicts" that as  an epidemic  questions and shatters the foundation of the Couple in our era. In Illouz (2012:9) terms: "the individualization of lifestyles and the intensification of emotional life projects generates a (and is the result of a) profound split in consciousness." The inflation of the notion of the couple experienced in early modernity through the idea of Romantic Love is the result of this split that has been deeply thought by Giegerich as the condition through which the logical life of soul has been articulated in modernity. On one hand, according to the author (2013: 322), we have that "the modern soul's project of establishing itself -in its present-day form as private, solitary subjectivity and personalistically conceived individual -as the focus and target, the new battleground where the essential action is." Modern Man is born out of the soul as an autonomous individual, an ego, and has lost the "inness"  with its logically associated look up to verticality, the Absolute in Religion or Metaphysics. This loss and its impact can be traced in the shift to Romantic Love and the transformation of the other into the Other, Giegerich (2012: 175) says it as follows "In a truth-less age 'personal relationship'... had to become so important, so loaded: the sphere of the personal was the only 'truth'- substitute left."

This historical process is phenomenologically experienced in the model of romantic love as a type of couple relationship that diverts the pressure of the Absolute to the partners. The Couple becomes itself an Absolute in the sense that people expectation´s condemn it to bear the prior dignity and unconditionality of the metaphysical Absolute that in former ages was experienced via Religion or Metaphysics. Giegerich (2012:165) affirms that "neurosis comprehended as a project means the soul wants something, it wants to establish “The Absolute” as an unshakeable powerful truth and principle … It wants this principle to become real in lived life: a present reality, an obliging, committing truth, a fact…" Partners are surrounded, embebed, in an atmosphere of shoulds and oughts that become easily unbearable, "The unbearably exaggerated I-You relationship"7. Each partner has to bear the weight of and ideal that inherently exists in the Absolute. The relation of the ego with this ideal or Absolute is a self-relation, encapsulated in its opaqueness and closeness towards the real other. In this sense, we might argue that pathological dependency is the experience of the relationship with an absolute Other without which the person cannot exist. That's why many couples very easily break, or they stay together despite deep suffering, even more, it seems that their quarrels, breakdowns and turmoils are experienced with the intensest devotion. These are the neurotic couples.

The neurotic couple

"As deplorable as the exaggerated I-You relationship may be, the fundamental soul-lesness of man and the irreducible otherness of the other together with the easily appearing feeling of victimization and indignation are irrevocably the modern situation, our situation, our truth." W. Giegerich.

There is a powerful trend that leads many people from romantic fantasy to disappointment. An old friend of mine used to say ironically, "it does not  really matter who you marry, because first she is the Princess, later she becomes the Mother and she always ends up as the Bitch and viceversa, from Prince to Father to finally ending up as Blue Beard". In Firestone (1970:129) words:

"For every successful contemporary love experience, for every short period of enrichment, there are ten destructive love experiences, post-love "downs" of much longer duration–  often resulting in the destruction of the individual, or at least an emotional cynicism that makes it difficult or impossible ever to love again. Why should this be so, if it is not actually inherent in the love process itself?"

By positing that the problem resides (is inherent) in the love process itself the author is pointing out the need of going beyond the positivistic view with its focus on the personalistic and the empirical. In order to go beyond we have to consider that these conflicts despite being apparently caused by external circumstances to the couple or by the attitudes or behavior of each partner, constitute an opus, with a complex structure (logical life). According to PDI we should say that what is inherent is the contradictory logic that pervades the modern experience, so well established by Giegerich (2013:418) approach, "Coniunctio: union of unity and separation. As far as matrimony is concerned, the usual sequence in our time is: first marriage, then divorce. But psychologically a true relationship should from the outset be the logical unity of both. A marriage should be based on a (logical) divorce." This logical divorce amounts, in my opinion, to the realization of the otherness in oneself, which in itself implies a consciousness that is able to relate with its own other as an inner relationship.

The dialectical notion of the Couple by definition stems from the idea that two partners are the unity in which they exist, being this unity the expression of the logic of the unity of unity and difference.  In the experience of the neurotic couple, this type of dialectical unity cannot be achieved because the couple is trapped in  the fixity of the two elements above mentioned:  

  1. The horizontal gap between subject/object position of the ego that amounts to a form of otherness that it is not allowed to sublate into the form of a self-relation and therefore it is no allowed to undergo the process of Negation of the Negation.
  2. The vertical absolutization of the Other8, where she/he should bear the weight of my ideal and ideal that inherently exists in the Absolute. The relation of the ego with this ideal is a self-relation, encapsulated in its opaqueness  to the other.

The phenomena in which my analytical attention focuses is the fact that the contradictions that can be observed in the dynamics of an individual symptom, often acquire, in the case of the neurotic couple relationship, the form of conflicts between the members of the couple positions9, where two contradictory logical moments are encapsulated and frozen in the fixed empirical conflictive position of each member's attitude and behavior. Conflict inside the couple, always starts as the clash of two independent positions, but logically this amounts to the systematic work of the negation, where partners are compelled again and again to experience the negation of their position as an unbearable threat. Each time the "conflict" arises a "ritual" of negation is compulsively acted out. The couple despite the theme on dispute encloses itself in a hermetic vessel where the putrefaction of the congealed positions is loosened at the cost of immense suffering. Eventually this decomposition is acted out to the dissolution of the couple itself. When quarreling, each member negates the position of the other in a scenario where each interaction:

  1. It is aimed to the behavior or the attitude of each one, which is contained in the realm of positivity, therefore the undialectical negation starts and ends up as egoic self-assertiveness. Ego primarily stands for endurance and security to continually exists as it is. Ego, therefore is attuned with the logic of control, the control as which it exists via an unbroken oneness.
  2. Each participant experiences the position of the other as an absolute contrary position, an absolute opposition, where "... one's being rejected, has the effect of a metaphysical annihilation, not merely on an empirical wound. The necessity inherent in a neurotic compulsion has the character of metaphysical indispensability, not of practical unavoidability" (Giegerich, 2013:36).

In every conflict there are two elements, the first is created as a difference of opinion, of interests, proposals of solutions to a problem, which acts as a semantic trigger for many different topics of discussion. The second element is the scenario in which the situation and representation that takes place, despite its various themes, topics and their importance or meaning, it always relate to the logical presence of the Absolute, embodied in the form of the confronting other. Then the attitude of the other partner, or behavior, or their motivations becomes a form of absolute impossibility. Both members, beyond the semantic level of their dispute are embebed in a pattern of mutual denial that only creates fatigue, weariness or intolerable rise in emotional stress. This is called the symmetrical escalation, a negation process that is not allowed to sublate itself. We are facing an endless semantic diversity of content and, at the same time,  a single neurotic form that hides a syntactic identity. The mise en scène that occurs involves the "unconscious" intention of the couple to always represent and act out the same logical position. The couple transforms these contradictions into a kind of folie à deux, in a new scenario, which expresses the psychological contradictions in which the soul of the epoch is immersed.

From the logic of control to the logic of love and truth

"Since anxiety is existential, it cannot be removed. But courage takes the anxiety of non-being into itself. Courage is self-affirmation "in spite of," namely in spite of non-being. He who acts courageously takes, in his self-affirmation, the anxiety of non-being upon himself. ... Anxiety turns us toward courage, because the other alternative is despair. Courage resists despair by taking anxiety into itself." I. Tillich.

By way of illustration, I want to explore this stance by reflecting on  the dialectics of the conflictive tensions and disputes that take place in the well known demand/withdraw neurotic pattern of couple interaction. It is commonly accepted, in several therapeutic theories, that in this pattern one of the partners suffers from an avoiding compulsive hyper sensibility and the other with its opposite, a demanding need that confronts and hyper reacts to the attitudes and evasive behavior of the avoiding partner. The demanding partner acts out a compulsive need of feeling loved via and insistence on responsibility, the other acts out compulsively its need to be respected and accepted via its insistence on freedom and privacy. In the back the neurotic anxieties of separation and  fusion are at work.

The result of it is an escalation process that generates a vicious circle where the couple falls and remains trapped in feelings of frustration, anger, disqualification, resentment, pain, and their polar opposites, disconnection, loss of intimacy, emotional isolation, etc. Other times, the polarity in demand/withdraw roles is varied in strength and direction depending on which the topic for discussion is.  In some areas of the common life one partner positions himself or herself in the demanding role and in other areas viceversa.  Partners are always trying to find a solution for their conflictive differences, without realizing that it is precisely this (ego)intention of making efforts to solve the problems what really perseverates them and makes them worst. That often results in a situation where each partner tries to control, to "win the battle", defending stubbornly an idea, an interest and/or a need as an absolute stance in front and against the other. Power battles10 are an everyday experience and every aspect of the couple's life or interaction can act as a trigger for it. From love to war, is the title of a chapter in Jacobson and Christensen book (1996) that metaphorically describes the couple relationship's fate.

The undialectical opposition between demanding/avoiding interactions is ruled by a self-assertion versus self-reservation pattern, a fixed, neurotic way to solve a conflict that, despite the appearances, has nothing to do with the empirical, with the contents or topics on dispute, and has everything to do with the logical form of the ego and the logical status of absoluteness that pervades the form of the otherness. By avoiding or demanding, the ego of each partner is stubbornly trying to be in control of the situation and/or the other partner. That opposition is, dialectically seen, an identity, because beyond the opposing views, attitudes and strategies, both share a common stance. and to get rid of it, as Giegerich's proposes, "instead of seeking future solution, we have to go under; to make explicit the presuppositions... to go  back and down to the deeper Ground that had been there all the time and had merely not seen"11. In our case, we have to help the partners “think through to the end” the notion of control through, a dialectic movement, a process of Er-Innerung, absolute negative inwardization of their control maneuvers, which amounts to becoming aware of control itself. The notion of control recursively applied to itself reveals the uncontrolled criteria upon which it is builded. This realization might show us a way out to the neurotic couple. The criterion (ideas, beliefs, etc.) that determines and conditions the judgement of what is to be controlled (among the immense variety of factor always involved in any situation) implies that there is always a selection of some aspects to be controlled, leaving the others automatically discarded without further or deeper consideration. By definition, control always ends up stuck in the same situation of not allowing real change to occur. It establishes itself and forces the situation or interaction in a horizon of sameness where the other and the changes are systematically excluded, negated. Effectively, as Hillman (2012:106) says, "the idea of control controls the controllers, we don't have control o the power of controlling". Despite the intensity of the conflict and the emotions aroused, there is in the scene an inadvertent coldness that implicitly pervades the interactions. It is the soul's coldness, the cold logic of our-being-in-the-world in modernity.

If we follow the dialectic of the notion we discover that the negation of control is precisely the realization of the notion of control because by accepting and consequently reflecting about the chaos under which we assume a control stance in a determinate situation, control has to open itself and be pervaded by its dialectical opposite: the uncontroled, chaos. This chaos, when allowed to be acknowledged and thought it sublates itself in a form of control that not only does not reject chaos but assumes it as the very necessity of its truth,  obtaining a "real control without controlling"12. The systematic auto-application of the control to itself amounts to a control that is equal to the truth of the situation. In other words, there is nothing to control because everything is controlled by its inherent truth. In this process the ego feels usually very threatened because for the neurotic modern ego there is not a clearance to open itself to a dialectical relation with otherness.

The negation of the negation is the moment of the dialectical process that might be addressed as the moment of love and truth. Here it is not meant the idea of love as emotion, sentiment or feeling, I am pointing to a more logical concept of love, the sublated union resulting of the transformation of the conflict and its fixed and opposing moments of  immediate affirmation and negation. Love as the type of union that stems from the dialectical relation between the union and the separation. In therapy this amounts to the couple's self exposure to the different moments of truth that the conflict reveals. Truth is considered here as the logos eôn (the existing prevailing logos) that wants to be made true (disclosed, unconcealed), so as to become in the first place what it implicitly has been all along:  alêtheia.  (Giegerich, 2012: 188).  This is the basic idea that informs the therapeutic effort towards helping the couple to become aware of the logic that is present in the interaction, helping them to raise the level of consciousness of consciousness.

There are two dimensions of the logic of interpersonal love that I pay attention to here, love as unio (surrender) and separatio (letting be). Love as unio is that stance that opens and transcends the boundaries of individual concerns and interest in favor of some other. In this sense love relates phenomenologically  to sacrifice, surrender, which becomes the experience of union.  In the last century, Martin Buber13 used to distinguish between two modes of consciousness (phenomenological states), in terms of one’s relation to the other. In the most common mode (I–It), the other is an object, fundamentally separate from self. However, in his view, the I–Thou relationship demands that the other is encountered without boundaries. In this sense he spoke of a mutually absorbing unity where the conceptual distinction between persons disappeared.

Regarding separatio I mention a creation narration from the jewish tradition that expresses well this dimension of love, it is a sacred story that belong to Kabbalah, its name Tzimtzum refers to the process known as "the first constriction" or "tzimtzum harishon" by which the Godhead contracts its essence, so to speak, by retreating “from Himself into Himself,” abandoning a space in order to create an “empty” region,

"In the beginning there was only God... and nothing else. God was an all-encompassing Divine Presence/Light called the Light of Infinity. Since nothing but God existed before creation, when God decided to create something from its Ein (i.e., "nothing"), God needed to "make a space" or to "provide room" for that which was not God (i.e., otherness). God therefore "emptied himself" by contracting his infinite light to create a conceptual space for the creation of the universe... "15

This self-imposed "contraction"of the Infinite Light is a picture of God "allowing" the space for the other to exist and it is done for the sake of his love to creation. Love here means leaving space for the other to be and exist as an other.

Sticking to the phenomenology of the neurotic interaction that we are analyzing we see that one partner embodies the concept of "love" as union (the demanding) while the other the concept of  "love" as autonomy or freedom (the withdrawing or avoiding). Both concepts keep stuck in one side of the contradictory reality of the union of union and distance. The self-unfolding of each position leads to the realization of the partner's position in an interiorized/exteriorized self-relation where the only way to live and express the union is through the distance and the only way to feel free and respected is  through the dialectical surrender of the withdrawing strategies union that can only be fulfilled as distance.

Being a couple versus having a couple, the sublation of the me and you in the us, a term that when it is considered as a psychological notion only anchors in positive and empirical reality as a relational being (Gergen, 2009), an ontological term that points to the de-substantiation of itself to a pure relation, movement. Love and truth instead of ego control and power, a relation of love freed [absolved] of a union that opposes separation and the presence of an Absolute freed from its incarnation through the empirical other and transformed in the logical form of commitment to truth.

The obsolescence of the couple in medial modernity

"In a two-person relationship that chooses its own self-evolving definition rather than the choice of a static externally imposed definition, there is at least the chance of a respect for the natural history of a fully lived-out relationship" D. Cooper

Following the notion of neurosis that Giegerich (2010: 413) proposes "[n]eurosis and psychological problems are exclusively due to the soul's mal-adaptation to itself, specifically to the discrepancy (dissociation) between its self-understanding, self-interpretation, self-stylization, its mental attitude on the one hand and the logical constitution or status that in fact happens to be on the other hand....",  we see that like in the symptoms of individual neurosis, the interactions in the neurotic couple shows themselves as a living contradiction between couple's self definition of itself through romantic love and the real soul status that partners as individuals live in the locus of modernity16. A status in which it prevails the irrelevance of individuality, the disappearance of the ego-consciousness in the virtuality of the networked multi-identities. By building the relationship on the ideal of romantic love in early modernity, in which the other acquires a numinous dimension, the soul on one side rejected its own de-substantiating process that renders the individual logically obsolete.

The recent changes that have occurred in the phase of medial modernity explicit the unstoppable process that threaten both the disappearance of the neurotic couple, partly because of the ongoing dialectic sublation that we see in the field of interpersonal relationships. Today the couple is evolving to exist in the condition of the substance-less and virtuality, a logical horizon which entails the sublation of the concrete I-You. Soon when the boy leaves the parent's house maybe he won't find a literal person to cleave on but a network of virtual relations whose fluidity and changeability will express the structure of the aquarian consciousness.

In our liquid times17 that manifest the prevailing logical character of modernity (its having entered the status of logical negativity) it is well known how easily couples break as a result of the most insignificant conflicts. Close relationships are very fragile. Increasing rates of divorce, the phenomenon of LAT (living apart together), and declining rates of marriages are seen as symptoms of the prevailing commitment phobia18. Indeed in our medial world, the percentage of the population choosing to live alone is becoming the majority. Committed relationships are replaced by an extended and superficial network of acquaintances.

As Stepp explains:
" [Y]oung people have virtually abandoned dating and replaced it with group get-togethers and sexual behaviors that are detached from love and commitment – and sometimes even from liking. Relationships have been replaced by the casual sexual encounters known as hookups. Love [...] is being put on hold or seen as impossible; sex is becoming the primary currency of social interaction" (cited in Illouz, 2012:105).

In effect, we are in a historical situation where promises have become a burden on the self. "While promise-keeping locks the future in the present and the present in the future, now the future is open-ended and radically inalienable. It cannot be given to someone else" (Illouz, 2012:100), to what extent this impossibility of the promise is related to the logical obsolescence of the individual? If we follow the sociological trend, it is not impossible to think that, in a more or less distant future, the process may evolve to the disappearance of this kind of relationship, by having become obsolete. Modern ambivalence takes a number of forms: not knowing what one feels for someone else ('Is it true love?', 'Do I really want to spend my life with him/her?'); feeling conflicting emotions (the desire to explore new relationships while continuing in the current relationship); saying something but not feeling the emotions that should accompany the words ('I love being with you, but I cannot bring myself to commit completely'). (Illouz, 2012:97).

We know that psychopathology is often the first immediacy of a new stage of development, therefore we can consider that the couple, in the emerging new state of consciousness that amounts to a consciousness conscious of itself, through its neurosis it is being transformed in the sense of a sublation of the I-it or the subject/object split in a process that Giegerich (2012: 286) sees it  "as the soul's own doing, its acting upon itself, its following its own necessities" we have to conclude that the turmoils that the couple are going through in modernity aim at adapting itself to the new historical locus, perhaps through a new form of otherness and/or of relationship I/You that amounts to the Heidegger's relational notion of knowledge as the two shores of a river that is created as the river moves.

The couple that struggles to break free of its neurotic soul compulsions through the alchemical process that dissolves ego consciousness  or transforms it, may become a real couple that is disciplined enough to avoid falling into a false commitment that violates the respect to the union and the separation (distance) that each must have for the other. This couple has to embody the prevailing experience of the irrelevantification of the individual and at the same time, must experience this historical process to its logical consequences. The actual soul process together with its logical determinations seem to push the couple relationship to fully be exposed to a new form of status where the experience of the union as much as of the separation point to the necessity to live in a radical contingency where the fluidity and the impermanence are its phenomenological hallmarks  and constitute the key factors that allow to construe a relational being grounded in the logical love.


1. Illouz E. (2012:12).

2.  For Giegerich that is what belongs to the psychic "behavior clearly motivated by subjective emotions, fears, desires and informed by subjective mindsets and personality traits" (2012:109).

3.  According to Gergen (2009: 376) "Systems thinking begins when one realizes that all effects are also causes of other effects. Thus, rainfall may affect vegetation, and plant growth may affect wild-life, which in turn may affect the consumption of vegetation. Attention shifts away from single cause/effect relations to larger patterns of inter-related sequences. Systems analyst, Anatol Rapaport, describes a system as “a whole which functions as a whole by virtue of the interdependence of its parts."

4. The idea here is that a problem creates a social system and not the opposite, the social system "has" a problem. See Ludewig, K. (1990).

5.  Gergen K. (2012:xv).

6.  "Motzkin’s argument is that the process of secularization of culture consisted, among other things, in secularizing religious love. Such secularization took two different forms: it made profane love into a sacred sentiment (later celebrated as romantic love), and it made romantic love into an emotion opposed to the restrictions imposed by religion." Cited in Illouz (2012:11).

7.  "Modernity is characterized by the fact that the whole dimension of "heaven" has dropped out from our scheme altogether, so that the absolute fulfillment is sought as positive fact ("immediate experience"). Giegerich (2012: 178).

8.  Herbert Simon calls a shift from satisfying to maximizing. Satisfiers are people who are happy to settle for the first available, “good enough” option; maximizers look for the best possible option. (Illouz, 2012:95).

9.  In the words of Giegerich, "[conflicts] have their own internal dialectics and may develop in a dialectical fashion; they may also be the expression of a certain stage in the dialectics of political, social, personal development."  Giegerich, W.; Miller, D.L.; Mogenson, G. (2005:1)

10.  According to Giegerich "An existing conflict is an indication that one is precisely unconscious  of the dialectic and incapable of thinking dialectically and therefore has to act out the dialectic blindly, literalizing (concretizing) it." Giegerich, W.; Miller, D.L.; Mogenson, G. (2005) p. 2

11.  Ibid. p. 5

12.  Reflecting on the contradictions experienced as a conflict so that they become aware of the bottom from which they both stand, as Giegerich (2005:5) puts it: "... the process of deepening thought discovers and reveals the opposites had been united all along in a common Ground".

13.  Cited in: Gergen (2009:xxiii)

14.  I owe the knowledge of this story to my mentor, friend and colleague Enrique Eskenazi.

15.  Seen in: "" date Feb 8 2016.

16.  "The ultimate unit is the isolated, atomic, individual, and larger units, e.g. a people, a society, are accumulations of  these individuals..."  Giegerich, 2013: 84).

17.   See Zygmunt Bauman, (2013).

18.  "From a cultural standpoint, there are two ways of experiencing commitment phobia: as hedonic, in which commitment is deferred by engaging in a pleasurable accumulation of relationships; and as aboulic, in which it is the capacity to want to commit that is at stake: that is, the capacity to want relationships. Another way to describe this divide is that one category includes a series of relationships and an inability to fixate on one partner;93 and the other is a category of those unable to desire a relationship... the difficulty to settle on one object is due to the abundance of choice and to the permanent sense of possibilities. " Illouz (2012:78).



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