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A Match Made in Heaven: Yin and Yang

By Sara Calabro

There’s a famous saying. Many of the couples who are celebrating Valentine’s Day today have been told it. Just as many of us have said it.

“You two are like Yin and Yang.”

We use this phrase all the time to describe how two seemingly opposite people complement each other in a couple. But what do the terms Yin and Yang really mean? How can they help us make sense of the differences we wrestle with in relationships?

Yin and Yang represent the theory that underlies all of acupuncture: Something can only be understood in relation to the whole. In other words, context determines reality.

This is the single most important concept in acupuncture. It is vital to understanding how acupuncture differs from Western biomedicine, which is premised on the notion of direct causation. Yin-Yang theory is the lens through which acupuncturists view all aspects of their practice. It is the foundation of their work.

Qualities of Yin and Yang

Acupuncturists use Yin-Yang theory to determine how one thing functions in relation to another. Those determinations are based on the defining characteristics of Yin and Yang. Here are a few:

Yin is cold, dark, quiet, contracting, deficient, weak. Anatomically speaking, Yin refers to the front of the body, the lower half, the internal organs. Yin is the delicate, soft-spoken, contemplative, introverted woman.

Yang is hot, bright, loud, firm, expanding, excessive, robust. Yang parts of the body are the back, upper half, skin and hair. Yang is the large, energetic, chatty, extroverted man.

Five Principles of Yin-Yang Theory

More than textbook qualities, the principles of Yin-Yang theory are what make Yin and Yang so important. Applied to matters of the heart, these ideas can help us resolve some of the challenges we face in romantic relationships.

1. Everything has a Yin aspect and a Yang aspect.

With human beings, woman is Yin and man is Yang. Seasons: Fall and winter, relatively passive and inactive, are Yin; spring and summer are Yang. Time: There’s night (Yin) and day (Yang). Temperature: cold (Yin) and hot (Yang). We tend to think of these as opposites but they are actually relative aspects of the same thing.

Keep this in mind next time you feel like your partner is from another planet. Rest assured, he/she is in fact of this world. It might take a while to find, but somewhere there’s common ground.

2. Anything Yin or Yang can be further divided into Yin and Yang.

A woman, by nature of being female, is Yin relative to her male partner. But she also has a Yang aspect. When we say a couple is like Yin and Yang, we tend to mean one is Yin and one is Yang. But actually, both are Yin and both are Yang.

For example, perhaps Ben is nervous that his girlfriend Beth, who is quiet and shy when socializing with her gregarious stockbroker colleagues, won’t be talkative enough at dinner with his parents. Then dinner happens and she is asking engaging questions, sharing interesting anecdotes and making jokes. Beth is Yin in the context of her work environment but Yang when surrounded by more introverted personalities. Her behavior is relative.

Remembering that Yin and Yang are always both present can help us avoid putting our partners in boxes.

3. Yin and Yang create each other.

This means that the existence of Yin qualities depends on the existence of Yang qualities, and vice versa. They create each other. If one ceased to exist, so would the other.

Here’s an example. Jack is the short-tempered one. His partner John gets frustrated by Jack’s frequent complaining at restaurants. He said medium well, not medium! And I wanted a dry red. This tastes like syrup! John may be genuinely less bothered by these things, but his acquiescence (a Yin quality) positions Jack as confrontational (Yang). If Jack were dating someone who threw his sweet glass of wine in the waiter’s face, Jack would be the passive one—the Yin to the rager’s Yang.

Whether we admit it or not, we contribute to our partners’ less-than-desirable qualities. Becoming aware of this can go a long way in conflict resolution.

4. Yin and Yang balance each other.

This is a similar to number three. Not only are Yin and Yang qualities created by their opposing forces but the strength of those qualities is controlled by the strength of their relative opposites.

In the example of Jack and John, the extent to which Jack rips into the waiter depends on how conceding John acts.

Yin and Yang are like levers controlling each other, always seeking balance. When one goes up, the other comes down.

5. Yin and Yang transform into each other.

From an acupuncture perspective, change is constant. This idea stems from the final principle of Yin-Yang theory, which speaks to the destructive nature of extremes.

Jack and John can’t go on forever in a pattern of Jack doing all the yelling and John doing all the eye rolling. Eventually, either mutual adjustments will be made or one will act out in defiance. One way or another, transformation will take place. Either Jack becomes more Yin and John becomes more Yang or the relationship ceases to exist.

This can be a grim or motivating sentiment. Change is inevitable. Couples who embrace it remain open to experiencing constant evolution and new possibilities.

This Valentine’s Day, give the gift of helping your sweetie understand Yin-Yang theory. It’ll last a lot longer than flowers and chocolate.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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