Sex, Love, and Relationships: Nurturing Our Humanity

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

These iconic lines are from the opening of Charles Dickens, epic novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Although written in 1859 about the years leading up to the French revolution, it could well describe our world today.

In our politics, community life, and personal relationships, things seem to be in turmoil. We have great hopes and deep worries. We’re hungry for love, but our relationships are often roller-coaster rides of uncomfortable ups and downs or times of silent disconnection. There are many counselors and “experts” who offer quick-fix solutions and others who say there’s no hope and we need to wait for the afterlife to find stability, comfort, and joy.

We need new visions and creative solutions for our love lives and for our lives in general. I’ve recently reconnected with an old friend and colleague, Riane Eisler. Many remember her book, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. She’s recently written a new book with Douglas P. Fry, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future. I found it to be a wonderfully helpful and hopeful book that offers real understanding and guidance that can help us all to live more fully, love more deeply, and make a positive difference in the world.

Riane is a social systems scientist, cultural historian, and attorney whose research, writing, and speaking has transformed the lives of people worldwide. Her collaboration with Douglas Fry, PhD. who is Professor and Chair of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, gives us a rich, and deeply satisfying, gift of insights and understanding that can benefit everyone who cares about having more peaceful and productive relationships in our homes, our communities, our countries, and on the fragile planet we all share.

Rather than viewing societies through the lenses of familiar social categories such as religious versus secular, Eastern versus Western, rightist versus leftist, or capitalist versus socialist, which only describe a particular aspect of society,” say Eisler and Fry, “the Biocultural Partnership-Domination Lens uses two larger cultural configurations at opposite ends of a continuum: the partnership system and the domination system.

Dominator and Partnership Systems Contrasted

In the domination system, somebody has to be on top and somebody has to be on the bottom. People learn, starting in early childhood, to obey orders without question. They learn to carry a harsh voice in their heads telling them they’re no good, they don’t deserve love, they need to be punished. Families and societies are based on control that is explicitly or implicitly backed up by guilt, fear, and force. The world is divided into in-groups and out-groups, with those who are as different seen as enemies to be conquered or destroyed.

In contrast, the partnership system supports mutually respectful and caring relations. Because there is no need to maintain rigid rankings of control, there is also no built-in need for abuse and violence. Partnership relations free our innate capacity to feel joy, to play. They enable us to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This is true for individuals, families, and whole societies. Conflict is an opportunity to learn and to be creative, and power is exercised in ways that empower rather than disempower others.

Bringing Men and Women Together

In my book, 12 Rules for Good Men, coming out in November, I detail the ways men and women can come together rather than continue the separation that has often kept us in conflict. One of the primary causes of the conflict has been the impact of a dominator system on our understanding of males and females.

“One hierarchy has been of supreme importance in all known human societies: the hierarchy of gender,” says historian Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.  “People everywhere have divided themselves into men and women and almost everywhere men have got the better deal, at least since the Agricultural Revolution.”

However, there has been a costly consequence for men’s top-dog status. In his book, The Hazards of Being Male, psychologist Herb Goldberg says, “The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power. He is out of touch with his emotions and his body. He is playing by the rules of the male game plan and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically and physically.”

12 Rules for Good Men is based on the new findings from evolutionary science demonstrating three important truths. First, there was an earlier time in human history where males and females enjoyed greater equality. Second, what we call “civilization” has improved our lives in some way but caused unrecognized harm to males, females, and the fragile planet we all share. Third, the cause of these problems is our adherence to a dominator system of relationships. Fourth, there are critical, biologically based, differences between males and females that need to be understood and respected if we are to end the battle of the sexes and co-create, in the words of Charles Eisenstein, “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”

Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future

In their excellent and important book, Drs. Eisler and Fry offer a framework that can change our lives at all levels. In the final chapter, they offer a contrasting chart that can help us move from domination to partnership and offers a new vocabulary for helping us talk about these issues.

Examples of Domination and Partnership Vocabularies

Domination/Control                                                                               Partnership/Respect 

Family values                                                                                            Valuing families

Educational accountability                                                                       Educational responsibility

Capitalist economics                                                                                Caring economics

Free market                                                                                              Fair market

Compassionate conservative                                                                   Caring democracy

Traditional values                                                                                     Humane traditions

Globalization                                                                                            Global responsibility

Traditional morality                                                                                  Moral sensitivity

Women’s work                                                                                         Caring work

Politically correct                                                                                      Personally caring

Matriarchy                                                                                                Gylany*

Patriarchy                                                                                                 Domination system

Conquest of nature                                                                                  Harmony with nature

*Riane coined the neologism gylany. It derives from the Greek gyne (woman) and andros (man) linked by the letter for the Greek verb lyo (to set free) and lyen (to resolve.)

I highly recommend Riane’s work which can help bring us together and set us free. Check it out at The Center for Partnership Studies. My own book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why The Best is Still to Come draws on her work.

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