Loving Your Partner: A Marital Line of Development by Tom Habib, Ph.D. and Don Eulert, Ph.D. (cont.)


Because too many of us are looking back in a futile attempt to resume the earliest stage of love. New love is, admittedly, a wonderful experience. A love where the intoxicating feeling last for hours rather than minutes. A love we never want to end and unconsciously expect to keep burning. A love free from the extinguishing dose of reality that arrives with more time. A love that can only exist in the earliest stages, prior to our eviction form the garden of Eden after we have eaten from the tree of knowledge.

Pre/Trans Fallacy

A Pre/Trans Fallacy (Wilber, 2000) is the mistaken interpretation that a behavior, motive, or understanding originates from a higher stage of development. Wilber (2000) frequently cites narcissistic baby boomers with authority issues who are nevertheless proclaiming peace, love and harmony as an example of an individual or group operating under a pre\trans fallacy. He also offers as example those judgmental religious fanatics (proclaiming a message of love) and the disastrous German culture of the 30’s (catastrophically believing they were building a greater good) as fallacious pre-transcendent thinking. Wilber (2000) remarkably recognized that a pre\trans fallacy occurs when one confuses emotional enthusiasm fired by bodily sensations with the much more developed capacities of empathy and understanding.

My central premise is that one of the most pernicious pre\trans fallacy (ptf2, elevationism) we struggle with involves love and marriage. Our collective obsession with this fallacy can be seen in movies, romance novels, fashion styles, plastic surgery and a highly eroticized and romanticized culture, all divorced from the person. The cultural expectation teaches that we can return to the garden of early love, to the admittedly wonderful “subjective feelings heavily influenced by the sensory body” (Wilber, 2001). Other lines of development inform us that this experience is neither “sustainable . . . or recoverable” (Wilber, 2006). In my work, I have heard the words of so many couples repeatedly looking in the wrong direction in a futile attempt to recapture this experience.

What is the result of this societal fixation with this stage of love, one might ask? A black hole that effectively freezes progress along the marital line of development. By looking back to what has passed rather than looking forward, many fail to reach the stage I have called First Love. My premise is that new love, with its powerful emotions and sensations, is plagued by a pre\trans fallacy that is unique to the lowest stage of the marital line of development. This stage I have called Safety & Attraction. Despite its name, there is a huge black hole at the center of this stage that threatens those newly in love with permanent residency in a purgatory of hope.

Marital Line of Development

fig1.habibFigure One lays out the stages of a couples’ development alongside Wilber’s individual stages of development. This is a preliminary attempt to identify this line of development that I believe has not yet been proposed. As mentioned, the reality of our partner’s humanity, for better and for worse, ejects all of us from the wonderful feelings associated with Safety & Attraction.

As a couple moves into the Roles Stage, often taking place in a matter of months, many, but not all, are painfully aware of the lost of the early idealized love. In the earliest part of the Roles Stage the powerful feelings linger only as a recent memory. There can be feelings of love as we move along but they are not what they use to be. This can include positive feelings and devotion to their children if they have them. There may indeed be some who will be enormously content with the fact that they have a partner, a roof over their head and food to eat even at this stage. However for many it can feel like “going through the motions” as they carry out the tasks to feed, clothe and house their family. At this stage they are establishing their roles as  Husband/Father and Wife/Mother.

When they get good at it, they are moving to the Relational Level where communication, reciprocity and flexibility become a useful part of their relationship. The couple are beginning to work together at a basic level. However they still live without an empathic appreciation of how much their partner does and who their partner is because their gaze is still back toward what their relationship seemingly use to be.

Much of my work as a marital therapist addresses the Roles Stage & Relational Stage. It is only by taking an all quadrant approach, one that specifically challenges the cultural messages in the lower left quadrant, that it becomes possible to push a few couples to the Centauric level of First Love. Simply reminding them of their ever present choice to feel love isn’t enough. I call it First Love because you are actually in love with the person, not a projected idealization of the other. In First Love the partner is appreciated because on a day in and day-out basis they indeed do even more than our great neighbor. At this stage we are choosing to feel grateful, and this feeling grows in frequency. There is acceptance that love can never be sustained at the Safety & Attraction Stage. We choose to tap the abundance of contentment when we slowdown from a the pursuit of new love that was never sustainable, other than in the false images of a culture that is collectively stuck.

The Spiritual Level of Love is attained by few. Both members of the dyad have made the leap to the second tier , the Soul level of development. They are mindful of their partner’s efforts and dedication and their spouse is enveloped in the seamless love that expresses it. The experience is of appreciation and acceptance. The focus is upon the present and the loss of that fleeting interlude with new love is fully accepted. The couple reacts much less chaotically to irritations, disappointments and ruptures in connection. The relationship is capable of transparency and they easily achieve empathy and understanding that only comes with this rarified ground. The non dual nature of their connection allows them to be one, to sample the One Taste (Wilber, 2000). The experience is of the beloved.

The clinical psychology community might benefit from the an awareness of this proposed couple’s line of development, and the persistent cultural messages that obstruct this developmental progress in relationships. It is important that the clinician works with the couple to challenge the myriad of cultural messages that sustain this pre\trans cultural fallacy. I believe that an awareness of the juxtaposition of Safety & Attraction to First Love might enable the clinician to help the couple mourn the lost of their respective pre-transcendent fantasies and to celebrate the opportunity for higher stages of development. For men, Aphrodite becomes somewhat more like Athena and for women, the vision moves from Adonis to Apollo. After mourning and honoring their pre-transcendent ideals, the path is clear for movement along the marital line of development and to discover the direction in which First Love resides. In my work …when I am guided by the marital line of development and the impact the quadrants have upon it… I have seen couples increasingly experience contentment and deep appreciation for their spouse, once relieved from the pursuit of Eden.


Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology: Consciousness, spirit, psychology, therapy.Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Wilber, K. (2000) One taste: The journals of Ken Wilber. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Wilber, K. (2001). A theory of everything: An integral vision for business, politics, science, and spirituality. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Wilber, K. (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Author Bios:

Tom Habib, Ph.D. is a skilled Clinical Psychologist, founder, and managing partner of Mission Psychological Consultants, Inc. (MPCCares.com). MPC is an integrated group of Psychologists. He is also the author of If These Walls Could Talk.

Don Eulert, Ph.D., Professor of Integrative Psychology for over 30 years at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego, and Director of the Center for Integrative Psychology, he has given thousands of clinical psychologists-in-training a transpersonal context to inform themselves and their work. 


A marital line of development is proposed in an attempt to map out the development that couples should undergo to find acceptance and awareness of whom they married. Ideals from the lower left quadrant are challenged and the pernicious role of the pre-transcendent fallacy of early love is identified. It is only by recognizing and letting go of this experience of a  pre-transcendent fallacy, central to early love in the Safety & Attraction Stage, that couples are able to move along the marital line of development.  This culturally supported pre/trans fallacy (ptf2) prevents First Love,  the third stage where they no longer grieve the loss of nor try to resurrect a projected ideal that only existed for the briefest of time.  The juxtaposition of the stages of Safety & Attraction and First Love, and the role that the widely accepted pre/trans fallacy plays could be helpful to clinicians working with couples searching for connection.

AHP Perspective October – November 2011

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