Editor's Introduction (Chris): Based on the positive recommendations of some colleagues of mine, I contacted Martin and asked him if he would like me to review a copy of his book for Beams & Struts. He very graciously agreed.
Integral Relationships: A Manual for Men by Martin Ucik is a very intriguing text. Ken Wilber describes something he calls The Kosmic Address. The Kosmic Address is the location of any reference in existence, be they thoughts, emotions, systems, or places, and so on. We might even say each person has a distinct Kosmic Address (or perspective) within existence. The metaphor of a Kosmic Address takes something from the physical world and applies it to our inner worlds. This locational metaphor allows Wilber to describe integral theory as a kind of navigational or guidance system. So while integral theory can get quite complex at times--with its states, stages, lines, types, etc.--deep down its purpose is always about finding or locating the reality of beings and tuning into their worlds.
In Integral Relationships, Martin Ucik has taken the navigational dimension of integral theory--this desire to locate the experience and inner world of another--and sets its parameters to the experience of a man seeking to find a beloved woman. Ucik is very upfront that this book is for straight men and that his work is not geared towards gay men nor does he feel that he is in a position to speak to their experience. (For those interested in the subject of same sex relationships from an integral perspective, see The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada).
The book follows a deeply logical and consistent pattern. It is also very heavy on the theory, a combination not uncommon in German writers, I suppose. It's a very deep study of the topic of heterosexual relationships from the vantage point of men. Ucik makes what I think is a persuasive case for the need to have a text on relationships focused for men. He gives what I found to be wise advice that men are better advised to simply read the book, absorb its perspective (as they find it helpful) and then go about being more compassionate, present, centered beings with women. They should follow that pattern rather than necessarily sharing the book and trying to talk about quadrants and levels and lines and how this is helping them understand love. To put it mildly, that latter approach might not work so well.
There's great value in a book written especially for (straight) men that takes seriously their inner lives. Issues like pain and shame and vulnerability are not ones men typically address in our society.
Full disclosure: As a reviewer I'm not in a position to make any determinations relative to Ucik's dating advice (Chapter 13 in particular). All of the men I've talked to who have read this book are, like me, in long term relationships. As someone in a long term committed relationship, I did find the book to be very helpful in coming to terms with both the past and the present of my marriage.
Likely, the most controversial piece of the text is its emphasis, right from the beginning, on the evolutionary and biological conditioning of heterosexual men and women. Ucik calls this the Primary Fantasy: for men attractiveness and fertility signals in a woman's body; for women signs of a man as a successful provider and protector. Now immediately all kinds of alarm bells are going off, I'm sure. Ucik does not say that the Primary Fantasy is the only driving factor in what makes relationships work, but The Primary Fantasy is what draws such relationships into being in the first place. This position immediately cuts against the grain of perspectives which emphasize the ways in which gender is constructed (which is true) and deemphasize the ways in which biological sex is not.
Ucik's strong stance on this topic brought me to look into my own relationship with my wife Chloe, especially around our initial romance. From that introspection I found that I had disowned this part of myself. What I discovered is that yes, I deeply love my wife, and also the reason I first became interested in her was for strong physical attractiveness. Both were true. The attractiveness was not the only reason by any means that we became attached, nor certainly is it what has kept us together for 7+ years, but it is a fact that needs to be acknowledged.
Ucik points out that relationships grow, develop, and last because the lovers form common interests, values, ways of being, goals, and so on. This has certainly been the case in the Dierkes household. Chloe and I spent our engagement seriously studying and putting into practice the advice of John Gottman's Seven Principles for a Healthy Marriage which is all about the formation of healthy interaction, deep values, mutual affection, and so on. But in so doing, I think I had bought into the image of myself as a good man and the notion that what drew us together in the beginning was heavily physical somehow didn't fit with that self-image as the good guy. Ucik's book allowed me to bring up this topic with Chloe and allowed her to own her own Primary Fantasy and how it played a major role in the forming of our relationship.
I realize this position will not be popular with some, but I found Ucik's overall description of the Primary Fantasy to bring more humility to my own life and my sense around my marriage. I say overall because undoubtedly one could, I'm sure, critique this or that individual point within the larger narrative, but the overall inclusion of this topic I found quite deepening in a way I hadn't expected.
Following integral theory's insights around discrete levels and lines of human development, Ucik articulates two sets of levels around sexual development: development of sexuality and anima/animus complex.
When it comes to levels we need to remember they are like waves--there's ebb and flow. They are not steps on a ladder. The earlier waves are enfolded into the later waves. Later developments (in a healthy situation) build on the lasting achievements of the earlier waves. None of us is ever 100% at any one stage. They are snapshots in time and seek to articulate certain general patterns.*
So with that proviso, the levels of development of sexuality that Ucik articulates are:
--Integral Relationships, pp. 56-58
Numbers one and five there seem self-explanatory. The second stage represents a physical only form of sex. In the third stage, the care for the other enters but there is a tendency towards loss of passion and what Ucik calls "lowest common denominator sex" (p.57). In lovemaking, deep emotionality enters into the life of the couple, including but not limited to their sex.
This pattern resonates deeply with my own sexual history. Since I found this articulation of the stages in this context so resonant with my own development, it again brought healing. I felt more normal--more people go through this kind of thing than just me. It also helped me to let go of residual frustrations or anger particularly around the third stage (both towards myself and towards my wife).
A question I'm left with though, is whether being raised in a more sex-positive household would change the dynamics of those stages. e.g. Would such a person have to go through a repressed stage necessarily?
The second set of stages revolves around the anima/animus line. This line of development refers to the inclusion and development of characteristics normally associated with the opposite sex: anima for men, animus for women. The concept of the animus and anima comes from Carl Jung and while I think there are some legitimate questions around Jung's theorization, again I find the basic pattern a helpful one to consider (without necessarily having to buy into all of the Jungian framework). Ucik articulates the stages of anima development in men as:
Women as mother ("He needs a mommy to take care of him")
Women as sex object ("He wants her to make him feel good")
Women as wife ("He wants her loyalty and support")
Women as guide to creativity and awakening ("He struggles with her need for independence")
Women as equal partner ("He meets her as an opposite and equal partner").
--Integral Relationships, pp. 60-61
In reflecting on my own life, I found these stages again largely to connect. I would say however that my wife and I never particularly struggled in our relationship around stage 4 moving into stage 5. Ucik comes back to the complications of the 4th stage a number of times in the book, but like I said that was not really our experience. I have however seen the challenges he outlines in the lives of other couples.
Ucik's stages of animus complex development in women are:
Men as alien outsiders ("She fears, hates, and loves him")
Men as father, God, or king ("She wants his approval")
Men as hero ("She wants him to take care of her")
Men as independent beings ("She wants her independence")
Men as equal partners ("She wants him as an equal and opposite partner").
--Integral Relationships, pp. 62-64
I asked Chloe her take on this formulation and she certainly connected in her own experience with stage 2 and 3 in particular. She saw this pattern in female friends and colleagues of hers. There were some questions around stage 1. For example, if a girl grows up in a home with a loving father figure and/or loving brothers do they really experience men as alien outsiders?
Also the description of women in stage 4 seemed a tad harsh to me. But the basic point I understood around stage 4 in both men and women is that both are developing into postmodern waves of being. They are really learning deep down that their lives are constructed and they could in fact choose to go in different directions. This individual path for self-meaning can often create difficulties in relationships, including a lot of breakups.
Passion, Intimacy, and Dependence
Chapter Nine of the book covers the idea of a relationship triangle consisting of passion, intimacy, and dependence. Passion covers the Primary Fantasy. Intimacy deals with things like common values, matching interests, connecting in terms of our developmental levels, values, mutual respect and care. Dependence is interesting--it refers to the rather mysterious potential of various couples to bond with each other and before really knowing much about each other's pasts, they have somehow hit up on a person whose unconscious ("shadow" in Jungian terms) and theirs line up in certain ways.
While I never had the language of dependence in my vocabulary prior to reading this book, I certainly have experienced what Ucik is talking about here. Chloe and I do have ways in which we align around our shadows. Sometimes one of us is clear in an area where the other has struggles and this allows the clear one to hold space for the other to grow and heal. There are other areas where we both can easily get triggered and our shadows are poorly aligned. These domains become the areas of ongoing difficulties. But even in those I would say the benefit is that the shadows want to be integrated and owned. They want to come out and they have in a sense helped us become attracted to someone who calls them out of each other.
Creating this triangle of passion, intimacy, and dependence allows Ucik to create a list of various possible types based on combinations of the three sides of the triangle. For example, dependence and intimacy but lacking passion would be companionate love. Passion and dependence lacking intimacy is crazy love. What he calls integral love lies at the intersection of all three. I found this framework also very enlightening and would I think be a very helpful one for couples to find where they have certain strengths and where they might need some work.
The last strength I wanted to point out was the inclusion of The Five Love Languages as a typing with the integral theory. This was another framework Chloe and I studied and found helpful in our marriage preparation. I was glad to see its inclusion in Ucik's text.
So there's a great deal of this book that resonated with my experience and helped me to articulate my own experience. Because of those connections, I'm supportive of the text. I suppose the response might be that because I'm a very heteronormative North American guy, it's no wonder the text speaks to me, as that's the social context of the writing rather than some insight into men and women more generally. Undoubtedly there are all kinds of variations and folks could point to any number of individual differences from the general patterns expressed above (I myself did just that), but overall I found the text pretty self-conscious about its social location in the middle to upper classes of the Western world for straight men.
That said, I do have some disagreements with the text.
Ucik's text is a fairly orthodox AQAL Integral text--i.e. it follows Wilber's understanding of integral theory very closely. I'm personally a bit of a heterodox integral thinker so I have some important disagreements in understanding with the book.
First off, the book (following AQAL integral) describes masculine and feminine as polarities of being. Masculine means autonomously-oriented, ascending in nature, and formless in spirituality, while feminine means communal, descending, and movement/form oriented in spirituality. I've written my critique of that framework elsewhere on the site, so I'm not going to rehash all that. All I say here is that I think the masculine-feminine understanding negatively colors and misinterprets actual forms of human relationship. I do think it's pointing to something real (or real enough), I think the use of gender language to what are considered polarities of being just confuses the issue in a lot of unhelpful ways.
This critique is similar to the masculine/feminine one. It is a disagreement I have with standard AQAL integral theory, not with Ucik personally. Altitude is the notion that an individual has what is called a center of gravity. While it's understood that we have many lines of development and all of us develop unevenly there is a conception that there is some basic center of our being. As in AQAL theory these centers of gravity are labeled with a color system. This text uses Wilber's, not Spiral Dynamic's, color-coding system.
How does this theoretical construct of altitude shows up in Integral Relationships?
"Out of all the elements that comprise the Kosmic Address, the level of consciousness--or altitude--is the most crucial factor to predict the quality and sustainability of your partnership. Altitude defines how individuals view and express every other aspect of their existence (Primary Fantasy, lines, levels, states, and types)...No matter how much you may be attracted to a partner and share other intelligences, interests, lifestyle choices, dreams, mutually compatible unconscious pathologies, and similar levels of vertical spiritual, sexual, and anima/animus development (which all are important), the quality and outcome of your partnership will be primarily determined by your and her altitude." --Integral Relationships, p. 153
Again, if one accepts the standard interpretation of altitude, I think this is a potentially valid statement. But I personally question the existence--to that degree anyway--of a person having an altitude. For a highly intellectual and in-depth argument questioning the notion of altitude, check out this piece by Zak Stein. The best argument for something like a very loosely held notion of altitude, there's this piece by Br. Juma.
A simpler version of the critique of altitude goes like something this: a person never is at any level and we are always all over the place (up and down the levels). The other issue is, even if there is such a thing as altitude, how easily is it assessed in a person? The tendency to "colorize" (or "altitudinizing") other people, claiming you know what level they are coming from after having read some integral theory books is really rampant. There's a potential here for blaming another person for a failure in a relationship because they weren't "as developed as I am."
Ucik takes the levels of altitude and then relates them. If a man is altitude X and a woman Y and they form a relationship, what is the likelihood of its course based on what we know about these altitude levels? As very very very general potential patterns, I think this can be helpful. But given the quotation above I read Ucik to be putting a much more strongly causative nature to the altitudes than I would be willing to accept.
I find the notion of altitude in relation to individual people quite context-less. This is why I prefer something like the lines of sexual and animus/anima development. They have a clear focus and this gives a clearer sense to how one is developed within this domain of existence.
Now in relation to specific books, I think it makes sense to talk about how a specific book primarily advocates one value structure over another. At Beams we do not use the color system, preferring instead to use traditional, modern, postmodern, post-postmodern. In that sense, while I disagree with the application of an altitude notion to individuals, I do appreciate Ucik's summaries and codification of a number of relationship books--this is found in Appendix I of the book or here on his website.
This is a helpful framework as long as people remember that vertical stages does not necessarily mean a better book. Vertical height is balanced by horizontal health and aesthetic beauty---the three together need to brought into account when evaluating a text. By creating this framework, Ucik is taking advantage of one of the benefits of the deeply inclusionary nature of integral theory. It opens up the possibility of starting to see the embodiment of all the waves of our existence (i.e. their healthy manifestations) within our relationships. What we call here at Beams "deep integral."
I would argue however that people are not books and they are not read or interpreted the same way. The integral framework is a powerful one and its application to the realm of female-male love relationships by Ucik is also very powerful. He provides a number of really great questions to interact with a woman and start to get a sense of where her heart is, where her desires are, and so forth. And as Br. TJ has pointed out, asking women questions is always a good thing.
Returning back to our notion at the beginning of locating the Kosmic Address. We need to recall it's a metaphor--I find it a very fruitful metaphor, but it's a metaphor. It shouldn't be taken too literally and my only real concern with this book is that it takes altitude a little too literally and will encourage readers to do so. The point is to connect more deeply not to become armchair therapists.
Tone Towards Postmodern Women
The book also has a fairly acerbic tone towards postmodern women (stage 4 animus complex). The kind of women Ucik describes are ones I've met, but the idea that all women at this stage of development act in the way the book describes them seems out of control.
Here are two representative quotations of what I'm talking about:
"You will notice if your partner enters into stage four of her animus development when she starts to challenge you, cares less about your needs, seeks her financial independence, and refuses to take responsibility for holding your relationship together. (p.63)."
"A healthy, natural 'feel good' appearance with no makeup and an emasculating, negative, or condescending behavior towards men point to [postmodern consciousness]." (p.140)
It's not my experience that all women at that stage of their development are ball busters. Certainly I have met plenty who are but this seems like a caricature to me. I do agree with Ucik's larger point that with the social and gender revolution brought up by women's liberation there is a great deal of complexity in the postmodern world. There are legitimate questions about the ways in which men are treated and talked about in postmodernity and it's certainly an age of a great deal of self-centered behavior (from both men and women). Nevertheless, I was definitely tweaked by what I perceived as this negative attitude towards postmodern women in the book. The integral world generally has had a condescending attitude towards postmodernsim and I think a bit of that attitude has crept into the text. In other words, unhealthy postmodernism is often being taken for normative postmodernism. The distinction made between unhealthy and healthy versions of postmodernity is not sufficiently respected.
One question I'm left with is whether a man who is unfamiliar with integral theory would be better served by first familiarizing himself with integral theory before diving into Ucik's book? The book is after all (by Ucik's own admission), heavy on the theory. He does a very good job of explaining integral concepts and how they express themselves in the realm of heterosexual relationships, but I still wonder. All of the folks I've talked to about the book are folks who are already knew integral theory before reading it (same with me). So I'm not really in a position to make a call on that one. I simply put it out there.
"Intimate love relationships between compatible individuals are seen by many therapists and modern Westenr spiritual teachers as the best opportunity for unearthing and healing the emotional wounds that caused unconscious attachments and dissociations in the first place, and to test the depth and embodiment of each partner's psychological health and spiritual realization. (Integral Relationships, p. 128)."
I began this review with a reference to Ken Wilber's notion of the Kosmic Address and how Martin Ucik has developed this teaching in relation to man-woman love relationships. The elements of integral theory are used to help locate and come to know a woman. In connecting with another, however, we come to know ourselves as well. We come to know ourselves in and through relationship. And if both individuals in a couple seek to know the other as well as themselves, then there is great opportunity for healing, growth, and for deepening spiritual awakening.
Martin has a real passion for facilitating such healing, growth, and awakening in couples. His care really comes through in this book. The Epilogue of the book briefly opens up a further context for healing through integrated relationships: that of human society and the earth itself. He doesn't develop this idea in great detail, but it is an intriguing one. The basic point, as I understood him, is that our human sexual selection process has served our species well to reach where we are today but that it also now is threatening our species, other living beings, and our planet as a whole. Undertaking the practice of an integral relationship is therefore not simply a matter of personal or relational fulfillment (though it includes those) but also a necessary act for life itself. I hope Martin develops those ideas in more detail--maybe his next book could be on this subject? I feel like that could be a potentially very transformative line of inquiry.
Martin Ucik's Integral Relationships: A Manual For Men is one of two books I'm aware of that consciously apply the integral model to relationships. The other is Transformation Through Intimacy: The Journey Toward Mature Monogamy by Robert Masters. Masters' book focuses more the development of the relationship itself through stages towards mature monogamy. Here is a video of Masters and his wife Diana Bardwell Masters speaking on the subject. Ucik's book focuses more I would say on two individuals and their development and how those two align (or don't) when they form a relationship. In that way I think the two books complement each other well.
* For the hardcore integral theorites, Ucik interprets the development of sexuality as state-stages and the anima/animus complex as structural-stages. This means that as a state, sexuality can be experienced either as a temporary state or more in a general developmental pattern. i.e. Someone could be generally speaking more at the fucking stage and still have a transcendent sex experience. Whereas when it comes to the animus/anima complex, Ucik believes that a person really has to go through each stage of development.