Intimate Relationships: The Astrology of Intimacy
Love and relationships are high on the list of concerns for most human beings. There are some solitary souls who are quite content to live without a primary partner, but most of us choose to pursue intimate relationships for many different reasons. A loving partner helps keep away the cold, not only warming the bed, but by supporting your dreams and listening to your fears. Close companionship is the way of the world for the majority, but modern society has made it an extremely complex process.
In traditional cultures, when the roles of men and women were more neatly (if unequally) defined, there was community and family support for couples. But in today’s world many of us have moved far from our families of origin. And, even if they are close by, extended families are rare and community support for couples is virtually non-existent. A modern couple expects more from a relationship than did couples living in pre- industrial societies. They are not just lovers and sometimes parents, they are also business partners and best friends. It’s no longer enough to love your partner and to do the daily work of maintaining your household, you must understand one another, crossing the divide of male and female as new roles for both sexes continue to emerge. Same sex couples have their issues as well, individuality being stronger then gender.
Love is not enough. To live together in an intimate relationship there are other criteria that must be met. Love, in fact, is very different to different people. Fiery love means that I feel great when I think of you. It is a Leo-like projection of the ego, basking in the glory of romantic love. My love for you comes from my heart. You may trigger it, but it’s my creation. Listening doesn’t necessarily enter the picture. Watery love is more Lunar, it is about responding to the other person’s needs, even the unstated ones. The fiery lover may be surprised to discover that the other is unsatisfied. "But, I love you honey," I might say, meaning that my heart opens at the thought of you. Energy flows from me to you. Yet the other needs to be heard, to be felt, to be received...to be loved like the Moon.
Astrologers generally consider Venus to be the planet of love. This, however, is somewhat misleading. Venus describes the form in which an individual can recognize love or approval. The sign, house and aspects involving the natal Venus can describe the ways in which the person gained appreciation within the family structure. So someone with Venus in Capricorn might be appreciated for her sense of discipline, while someone else with Venus in Cancer was approved for her sensitive and caring nature. Venus, then, is a highly socialized planet, one whose expression doesn’t necessarily correspond with our deepest needs, but is a learned value.
Venus is a step towards intimacy, it is the sweet attraction that pulls us towards another person (or him/her towards us). Magnetism, though, is not intimacy, it’s not even love. But it is important, vital in fact, if a meaningful relationship is going to develop. However, relationships primarily built on Venus contacts may not last long or go very deep. Venus is a "horizontal" planet. It has to do with how we reach out to another person or object that attracts us. It does not, however, necessarily reflect our deepest needs. These needs, this pathway to intimacy, falls in the domain of the Moon.
The Moon is the primary feminine archetype in astrology. The relationship with mother is the basis for all future relationships. It was one of total dependency, the only physically necessary relationship in life. We can not exist without mother’s presence (at least until birth). Fathers are vital for conception, after that they’re optional, albeit desirable. Closeness, then, comes through the Moon. It comes through connecting with our deepest needs, recognizing them and taking the risk to share them with the person we love. This vulnerability is a key element of intimacy. If we don’t let our partner in, we live parallel lives, rather than lives of true intimacy. Now we don’t all have the same needs here. Someone with the Moon in Cancer is likely to have a very different notion of closeness than someone with the Moon in Aquarius. Each has lunar needs, needs to be fed and to be heard, but the forms can be very different. The Moon in Cancer needs, above all, to belong, to have that watery connection of feeling that you are both in the same circle. The Aquarius Moon, though, needs space and freedom, and can find security within a less tightly bound relationship. In any case, though, the Moon is what allows us to join at a deep emotional level.
When we stay at the level of Venus, however, the need to be liked dominates the need to be heard. Closeness requires a willingness to move past the approval level and touch the soul. When we share our deepest feelings, fears and secrets we can open ourselves. Letting the other in is a challenge, particularly for men or women with strong Fire in their charts. Receiving is as much of an art as giving. Working with the Moon means allowing for changes, for inconsistencies. We’re not talking about a fixed model of ideal partnership, we’re seeking a living relationship between growing and changing human beings.
We can understand Venus as describing what we like, sort of what tastes good to us. But like sweet sugar in the mouth, the pleasure it gives is nice, but might not be very fulfilling. The Moon describes what feeds us. Therefore, it is important that we understand the relationship between Venus and the Moon in our natal charts. If the two are in conflict, extra attention may need to be paid to make sure that pleasure feeds us, rather than leaving us undernourished. Someone with Venus in Cancer, for example, might appreciate the cozy and caring aspects of a love affair. But if the Moon is in Aries, space for spontaneity must also be included. This person can be very responsive to the partner much of the time (all other chart factors being equal), but suddenly pull away to reclaim her/his individual space. This can lead to confusion for both partners. It’s really about addressing two very different needs. The difficulty is that Venus and the Moon are close enough in their natures to mislead us into reading one for the other. Liking and needing are not the same thing. The form of love (Venus) and the substance of emotion (the Moon) may or may not be similar for a given individual.
Conflicts in the horoscope, as with conflicts in life, are not about choosing one over the other. If we place the intimacy needs of the Moon over the pleasure needs of Venus we can have unpleasant closeness, like a couple locked together in a grim dance of survival. If the more superficial aspects of Venus dominate we can dine at the table of pleasure yet still feel empty inside. The key is to acknowledge and accept our conflicting needs. Knowing which one is appropriate at a given moment is helpful. That means dragging out your Scorpio Moon need for intensity in a public place might not go over very well. Or that your Venus in Aries taste for independence showing up when your partner is in emotional crisis may be ill-timed. Everything has its time and place and overcoming much of astrological conflict is about putting the right foot forward at the right time.
Another take on the conflict, lets’ say between Venus in Aries and the Moon in Scorpio, is that there are many steps between their seemingly contrasting positions. We often find ourselves stuck between two choices. However, we are whole, the universe is whole and there are connections between any two elements in existence. Learning the many subtle steps between conflicting points means building bridges between the disparate parts of ourselves. Astrology does a good job of dicing and slicing us up into so many planets, signs and houses. But, we need to remember that no piece is isolated from the rest. Even a seemingly isolated planet, one without aspects, for example, lives within the same solar system and within the same person as the rest of the chart. The lack of connections is apparent, not real. You can take the isolated planet and imagine conversations with the other planets. What are their common points of interest? If you can’t find any you need to expand your astrological vocabulary, because underlying the obvious differences between the planets and the signs is a unifying pattern that connects every part with every other part. In fact, learning how to merge and then separate is essential to attaining intimacy.
While the rewards of intimacy are considerable, the fears of intimacy are equally strong for most people. This is because intimacy, coming closer to another, merging fields and feelings, threatens one’s identity. As much as we want the closeness, there is a natural resistance to it. If I include you in the center of my being where am I? Where is my old familiar self? The unconscious works powerfully to maintain the status quo, even an unhappy one. Fear of losing oneself is a powerful motivation to avoid too much closeness. However, this too can be included as part of the dance of love.
Love, in a living form, is not constant. We don’t feel the same way about one another every day, because we don’t feel the same way about ourselves. Now I’m not talking about wild mood swings here, just the natural ebb and flow of attraction that is part of the human condition. Venus’ attraction is balanced by Mars’ struggle to maintain individuality. This is why couples need to fight, to push one another away to regain their individuality. When this is conscious it can be included in the dance, a normal process that neither has to be ashamed of. I’ve often found that after my wife and I have moved yet another step closer to one another, when we’ve push aside another veil of separateness, we react soon after by creating distance between us. We need to assimilate this deepening of our partnership. I need to be sure that Jeff is there in the middle of the expanding intimacy with my wife. When this is allowed no feelings are hurt, we don’t have to dramatize our individual needs and can stay in a flow that will bring us closer again the next time around.
While Venus and the Moon present one pair of issues around intimacy, the 7th and 8th houses present another. The 7th is the traditional house of marriage or primary partnership. The 8th, though, is the "body" of the relationship, the place where the meeting begun in the 7th is consummated. If a partner meets the symbolism of the 7th, but not the 8th house, it’s likely that the relationship will not deepen. The front may be fine, but the core may stay unfulfilled. If the 8th house contact is good, but the 7th is not, you might not even meet the other person. Since there are often different signs on the cusps of the 7th and 8th houses, signs that are adjacent to one another, not natural allies (i.e. trine or sextile one another), the implication is that intimate relationships require several different qualities to make them work. Connecting at a deep level is not like putting a key into a lock and turning it. It’s more like a combination lock in which a number of different pieces need to fit into place before it opens.
Since houses 7 and 8 refer to "others" they are ripe for projection. This means that rather than expressing ourselves in these areas of the chart we seek partners to fulfill their qualities for us. If you have Mars in the 7th you may seek out partners who are dynamic, independent self-starters. While this is not inappropriate, the concern is that you will not be dynamic, independent or a self-starter yourself. This is projection, giving away parts of yourself to others. The 7th and 8th houses (as well as the rest of the chart for that matter) are about you. They are about the qualities you need to express in any partnership. Ideally, your partner will support these qualities in you. If not, the relationship will not be a place of growth. The 7th and 8th houses are about you. Don’t give them away to someone else.
What is compatibility? Astrological convention holds that harmonious aspects between charts are the significant factors for a positive relationship. Certainly, a degree of harmony (or similarity) is necessary for successful partnership. However, it may be useful to have a blend of challenging and easy aspects for best results. For example, Venus and Mars have a great deal to do with sexual compatibility. Mutual trines and sextiles can make for an easy flow of energy, yet that might become boring over time. However, some harmony mixed with a challenging aspect, i.e. your Venus is trine your partner’s Mars, your partner’s Venus is opposite yours, can keep a level of dynamism that will continue to make sex an interesting subject for you two.
Couples tend to create their own little universe. If both agree on something then it must be true. This can limit the development of the two individuals when their charts, or parts of them, are too similar. What’s called compatibility may simply be shared neuroses. It is useful, then, that couples don’t have all their planets align harmoniously. A little tension not only makes life interesting, but it helps keep perspective in the partnership. The esoteric writer Dion Fortune believed that an ideal relationship showed alternating similarity and dissimilarity between the seven chakras. This pattern may deepen a relationship by bringing the right balance of the old and new so that a relationship grows, rather than remain static.
It’s also true that some people don’t want or need traditional compatibility. If Uranus is in your 7th or 8th house you likely need to experience differences through relationship, to be awakened to new patterns. Gravitating to someone who is very different than you doesn’t have to be a disaster. With a few key positive connections to hold the relationship together, it might be just what you need. These key connections are most likely to involve the Moon, Sun, 1st-7th axis or the Moon’s Nodes. These are all critical points that can provide the glue to help a couple work through their differences and maintain a growing partnership. Sometimes you’ll see a chart with wonderful Venus and Mars aspects, but if none of these key points are included it’s not likely that the relationship will endure.
Of course, the length of a relationship is only one measure of its success (or its partners’ stubbornness). We can have successful short-term relationships if we are able to learn from them. Each of us has our own way of measuring whether the investment of time, energy and emotion is worth the effort. We can meet someone who will help us open one door within ourselves, making the contact very important even if it fails on other levels.
When I do compatibility analysis for a couple I don’t start by comparing the two natal charts. I begin by examining each chart individually. This provides the foundation for understanding the couple because it recognizes the individuality of each of the partners. The natal chart is the key to intimacy. For example, it is very difficult to receive love from someone else when you are unable to give it to yourself. The primary work in counseling couples is to help each person become aware of his or her issues and needs. When a person has a healthy respect for self and a willingness to be vulnerable the doors of intimacy open. The ground of a healthy relationship is two healthy individuals. Health here is not about perfection, total clarity or lack of ignorance. Health is the willingness to learn, to open ourselves, to speak and to listen. When this kind of aliveness is present intimacy arrives. And, with continued care and watering, it will flourish for a long, long time.
By Jeff Jawer