The Difference Between Soul Mates and Life Partners

The idea of Soul Mates is one often brought up. Soul mates. Those people that so many of us feel will ‘complete’ us in some way, were ‘made for us’ — and us for them — and who we very possibly have known in past lifetimes.

It is an appealing idea indeed — there are very few notions more romantic than this. The idea of ‘the one‘ is an idea that seems to haunt each successive generation with ever increasing strength.

Long gone are the the days of “married for life, regardless of how you feel about it” (see most of 1950’s America) — and arranged marriages, while still surprisingly prevalent in many parts of the world, are also on the decline. The conditions for finding your soul mate, it seems, have never been more ripe. The ocean is vast and the fish are plenty.

Now, if we could just find that one person, that person we know in our bones that will bring everything into perspective and provide us the sense of peace, love and overwhelming ‘rightness’ we’re all seeking…

And so the search commences. While the ‘hook-up culture’ of the millennial generation is the strongest ‘free love’ movement we’ve seen since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, and has, on its surface, an appearance that seems to be seriously playing with polyamorous ideas — which it may well be — this article is about those involved in the search, whether consciously or unconsciously, for ‘the one’– for a soul mate.

Even in the midst of such a resurgence of sexual liberation, it is safe to assume that the idea of the soul mate lurks deep at its centre for many. This is understandable. It continues to be one of the most prevalent cultural myths transmitted by Hollywood. Everything from sitcoms to serious romantic films to the latest children’s offerings continue to reinforce the idea of a perfect other and a happy romantic ending.

Yet if the divorce statistics have anything to say about it — not to mention the amount of people who remain trapped in unhappy marriages, for which there exist no dependable statistics — a happy, life-long romantic ending would appear to indeed be a myth.

So does that mean soul mates don’t exist? Not necessarily. Not if one is able to ask a different kind of question about the whole thing. There is an illuminating quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, that says:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever?  Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.

A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”

Given this perspective, it is actually possible that a soul mate could be anyone, not just a romantic interest– a friend, family member, colleague, the list goes on… And what are all of us ultimately searching for in the idea of a soul mate, anyway? Happiness, of course. Inner peace. Love. It is an easy conclusion to come to that these things remain the end goal of everyone alive, however their means of searching may differ.

Yet what things are most conducive to finding happiness? What is it that creates the conditions for inner peace and love? Challenges, of course. Things that make us grow by showing us to ourselves. Whether we’re aware of it or not, this is the real game being played at the heart of all the others.

Going through the gauntlet of love relationships is one of the most intense ways of forging self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is the only honest tool any of us possess that can be used in the making of proper choices as we mature. As Rumi once wrote:

You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens. ~ Rumi Click To Tweet

Out of this fire it may just be possible to find someone we can call a life-partner. Once the psychological and biological passions of our all-too-human needs have been traversed, and survived, we may just know enough about ourselves to make some informed choices, and we may just meet someone else who is in a similar place. It is then that the foundations for a truly stalwart relationship can be built, however absent they may be of the myth of ‘romanticism’ our culture is drowning in.

But really, how can the flash and glitz and oh-so-fragile structure of such a fairy tale compare to a relationship built on transparency, loyalty, integrity, trust and a deep understanding of oneself and the other? It simply cannot. It’s a house of cards vs. a pyramid.

Yet, interestingly enough, one of the most important elements in the building of that great structure was the far-too-painful relationship with the soul mate(s) that served as the catalyst for the growth that was necessary to reach that next level. This is why long-standing emotions such as guilt, regret, anger and grievances are ultimately poisonous and only serve to cripple our emotional, mental and physical well-being, long after their usefulness has passed.

It takes a particular amount of maturity to understand this, but ultimately, each of us should be grateful for our encounters with the soul mates in our lives, no matter how painful they were, or how ‘ugly’ the sides of ourselves or the other they may have shown us were. Just as Ram Dass once said:

We're all just walking each other home. ~ Ram Dass Click To Tweet