The Archetype of Relationship

imagesToday’s my anniversary. Not only have my husband and I been married for 23 years, but we lived together for eight years before we tied the knot. (So yes, you could say we have been known to have difficulty making decisions.) But in those early years, the decision was never about our commitment to each other. Nope. It was about how much we actually needed the institution of marriage to confirm that commitment.

sutro_heights_parkWhen we did finally make it legal, I think we were motivated equally by the exhaustion of trying to explain to people why we weren’t married as by a burning desire to walk down the aisle. And as it turned out, we didn’t even choose to walk down an aisle, but instead gathered with a few relatives on a beautiful fall day in Sutro Heights Park. The memory of it makes me smile.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m glad we went forward with the marriage thing.

Of course, we’ve had our peaks and valleys, our smooth roads and pot holes. Our share of dicey times. But all told, I think it’s worked out quite well, considering that we’ve spent 31 years together. At times that number amazes me; lately, though, it just floats by, because deep down I know that this relationship has a life of its own, an internal combustion engine that keeps it moving, chugging, veering, changing, course correcting, sometimes even in spite of the two of us.


If you’re unfamiliar with that word, archetypes are universal stories, images, patterns, and symbols that are hardwired within us, that cut across all cultures and history. I like to think of them as our inner cast of characters, operating at a deep unconscious level. In fact, when I use them in my work, this is how we usually approach them, from an individual point of view, using the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator.

So it’s exciting for me to branch out from the “individual as archetype” construct and think of my relationship in archetypal terms. And I have Lisa Kramer at the Institute for Life Coaching Training to thank for that.

You see, just this week I’ve started training with Lisa. (The goal is to add relationship coaching to my bag of tricks.) And something Lisa said in the first class immediately captured my imagination: “You coach the relationship, not the individuals in it.”

Of course! The relationship is a container all of its own, with specific needs, values, experiences, and history. An archetype, if you will, with its own character and essence. A meaning making entity, with an unfolding story and narrative.

When I think of my relationship in these terms, I feel a sense of ease and calm about its next act. And I realize how beneficial it will be to ask often:

What does the relationship need right now? What character is it playing?

How about you? Have you ever thought of your relationships as archetypes with lives and needs of their own? And how do you separate yourself as an individual from the entity of your relationship?


Why Not Start Now?

18 thoughts on “The Archetype of Relationship

  1. Happy Anniversary Patty,

    Thirty one years together is well worth celebrating. My husband and I have been together for almost 25.

    Because I’ve always been independent, I haven’t had a problem separating myself from the relationship, but for awhile when I was a stay at home mom I began to feel I was losing my own identity. Everyone knew me as Mrs Swafford (or the wife of…), but no one knew me as Barbara (the individual). I rectified that when I went back to work.

    Now, even though we are self employed and I work at home, I’ve kept my own identity. I have my hobbies (blogging being my favorite) and my husband has his. It’s always fun to “meet up” and share stories.

    BTW: How exciting you will be a relationship coach. That sounds like a fun career. Hopefully you’ll share more here on your blog.

    • Hi Barbara – Thanks so much for stopping by. Sounds like you and your husband have quite a history of understanding the relationship’s needs as well as your individual needs. And yes, I’m excited about adding relationship coaching. I’ve been counseling and coaching individuals for over 10 years, and I’m ready for the new adventure of working with couples too.

  2. Hi Patty,
    I enjoyed reading your post about the archetype of relationships. Aside from your wonderful writing style, I really like this perspective of relationship as archetype with needs, values, etc. So true!
    Thank you for including a link to my website and to ILCT. I am sure the other participants would enjoy reading your post as well!

    Happy Anniversary,

    • Hi Lisa – Thanks for joining the conversation! You really got me thinking about this, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

  3. Relationship has slowly generated a character in my personality. At first it was difficult, my relationship with my wife always transgresses the who in me. But I realize that I need to grow, and hence another part of me has evolved within the realm of our relationship. 🙂

  4. I’m a day late but HAPPY ANNIVERSARY PATTY!!!!!!

    I hope it was a wonderful day for you both. 🙂

    Great article and I gained some things from it that will help me in my relationship. Thank you very much!


  5. Hi Walter – Very interesting how you recognize it as an evolutionary process. Thanks for the comment.

    Hi Keith – Thanks for the good wishes! I’m so glad to hear you took away some insights.

  6. Patty, I just celebrated my 8th anniversary with my wife. It was an interesting one. We had a long talk and figured out the reason things are going so well is because we really don’t need each other. Not in that Courtly Love, Don Quixote type of way where not to be with someone is to be sick and pale.

    But rather, I could make it on my own. So could she. But we chose to throw in our lot together and that is what is creating real strength.

    Thanks for the post. I’m always here lurking but finally needed to say thank you.

    Take care.

    • Hi Josh – I appreciate your coming out of the shadows for a bit. I absolutely respect lurking and do so myself. But I’m particularly glad you joined in for this one, because you perfectly articulated the archetype of relationship. Individually, you and you wife are independent (and not needy), yet in coming together you create a third entity that’s even stronger, with a life of its own. Well said! Thanks so much.

  7. Happy anniversary, Patty!

    I love how you call a relationship a “meaning making entity”. It establishes the relationship’s own identity, separate from those of the two people in it. It’s so full of promise and sets the stage for collaboration and growth — for building something great. It frames the question as “what elements does this relationship need to thrive” instead of “what am I not getting from this relationship”.

    Thank you for this.

    • Hi Belinda – Thanks for your comment. I like the idea of meaning making in all areas of life, so it just occurred to me that it is part of the archetype of relationship too. And yes, it does seem like a big difference, going from me to we.

  8. Hi Patty, I too am a little bit late for the party but better late than never.
    For me bringing the best out in each other and NOT have the other become a lame duck is what counts for me in relationships.
    For me seeing it like a sponsorship has opened up a lot for me.

    • Hi Wilma – Never too late for the party at my place! Thanks so much for your comment. So I’m guessing the opposite of lame duck is positive, healthy, proactive? Sounds like a great recipe to create the archetype of relationship.

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