blurred people dancing Family Constellations

Leading and surrendering in relationship

In Love, Sex and Sexuality by Jonine Lee GabayLeave a Comment

A relationship flourishes when there is a continuous and generous exchange of giving and taking bound up in love – so give everything.

This is all very well to say, of course, because we have many reasons why we hold back. How do we unravel these? Bert Hellinger, developer of the Family Constellations’ Orders of Love system in Europe more than 30 years ago, has wise insight as to what goes on in the relationship dynamic. He advises that we should clear up unconscious entanglements and unhealthy binds to parents and/or previous partners – or we are not actually FREE to be present in our current relationship.

In addition, our relationships came before the children. So the clue is to create appropriate boundaries to protect our time and space. And to keep the juicy fun and play in the relationship.

In these times of women learning how to assert their power and strength, it is often confusing for both sexes to know where they stand in relationship. Indeed, many strong women will likely baulk at the following advice:


– Be clear in how you lead the embrace. Women want to be taken on a journey of discovery to unknown places within themselves. What is desired is your clarity of intent, direction and presence.


– Be the light and grace of the feminine that entices, enchants, opens and receives the masculine. Be the inspiration for his lead. Allow the strength of your beauty to shine.

So it is in the hope of untangling some of the angst and confusion that I will describe more about the Family Constellations philosophy. If you want to know more about the process itself, refer to the information below.

‘The Orders of Love’

Hellinger observed in his many years of family therapy that the family system, just like any other system, has its own natural order, and when that order is disrupted, the effects are felt by subsequent generations as the system tries to right itself. There are natural laws operating to maintain that order and permit the free flow of love between family members.

Key foundational principles that underpin Family Constellations are that “love is at work behind all human behaviour”, that there is a deep and profound need for “balance in giving and taking in the family system even across generations”, and that there is a natural order and a healthy hierarchy where each member has a rightful and respected place and which also includes “every member, living or dead, having an equal right to belong”.

These Orders of Love can be interrupted when:

  • children or young adults die and are not mourned
  • stillbirths and abortions are not mourned or talked about
  • children are given away for adoption and no longer talked about
  • adoptive parents don’t acknowledge the natural parents
  • previous partners or important relationships are not acknowledged and honoured between couples
  • extra-marital relationships are kept secret
  • experiences of war are not remembered and the dead honoured
  • there are family secrets

Most personal difficulties, as well as problems in relationships, are results of one or more of these orders/principles not being honoured. Effects of the orders of love not being honoured can be felt by two or three subsequent generations, and can be manifested by way of: unhealthy, destructive relationships, lack of relationship, depression, childlessness, suicide, mental or physical illness, and addictions – often without any conscious awareness of what has occurred in previous generations.

“When we understand the systemic laws that allow love to unfold, we may be able to help suffering families and individuals to find solutions. It’s profoundly moving to observe clients approach the Orders of Love and spontaneously melt into soft and intimate love, even after a lifetime of hate, anger and abuse”. [Love’s Hidden Symmetry by Bert Hellinger]

Our roles

If each member takes his/her appropriate and actual place, is clear in his/her roles in life, taking care of him/her and avoids intervening or meddling in the other’s destiny, there is peace and harmony in the system.

The first requirement of the Orders of Love for men and women speak to the heart of the balance of giving and taking, and that is that the man admits that he is missing and needs what the woman is, and that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot achieve what the woman already has; and love requires that the woman admit that she is missing and needs what the man is, and that, no matter how hard she tries, she can’t achieve what the man already has. That means that both feel incomplete and they acknowledge that.


When a man admits that he needs a woman and that he becomes a man through her, and when the woman admits that she needs a man, and that she becomes a woman through him, then their mutual need binds them deeply one to the other. Precisely because they acknowledge their need for one another, this bonding allows the man to receive the feminine from his partner as a gift, and the woman to receive the masculine from her partner as his gift to her.

In some circles, men are encouraged to develop the feminine in themselves and women the masculine believing that this is good. However, imagine the bond between a man who has developed the feminine in himself with a woman who has developed the masculine in herself. Because they do not need another, how deep can their relationship become? But if both resist the temptation to develop the gender opposite in themselves, then their need for one another holds them together.


The second most important principle in the Orders of Love is the honouring of the relationship between a man and a woman as the foundation of the family system when they decide to have children. It is important, if you want a truly loving and juicy relationship that survives the test of time and life’s challenges, that each has separated from their own family of origins and/or previous relationships and are willing to make one another more important than anyone else, including children.

However if a woman has been wounded by the first man she ever loved (father) she learns to defend against further hurt by not allowing herself to fully trust a man again, always holding back a little – or a lot! If a woman has received from the masculine in an inappropriate and deeply wounding way (as is the case with sexual abuse) again the best way for her to defend against this is to shut down her receptivity, making the masculine wrong (as it was in the original situation), never allowing herself to surrender and receive the masculine fully. Here she is developing what I call super-independence and self-reliance. She’s ensuring she can take care of everything within herself, never risking to rely on or need a man. It isn’t true, of course, and it’s pseudo independence really, but we buy the lie and pay the price.

All of us are vulnerable

Equally if the man has been wounded by either an absent or over-protective smothering love, that was never about what he wanted, but only about what mother wanted, he defends himself by guarding his freedom fiercely, never willing again to be that vulnerable and or any number of variable defensive measures of holding back or needing to control.

Our minds say yes to a relationship but our bodies say NO.

When either has been wounded and holds back from diving into the relationship and fully giving all that they have to give to their partner, it is often safer to give this to the children. It seems that here there is no risk – the children cannot leave and will always love us. But, if we make children a priority over our partner, the relationship suffers and therefore everyone suffers, including the children! Because the relationship between the couple is the foundation for the family.

Following and serving

An illustration of what works to support love in the relationship between a man and a woman from a Constellation perspective is contained in this wondrous piece from Tiiu Bolzmann when he uses the tango Argentino as an example of what Bert Hellinger means when he says: “The woman follows the man and the man serves the woman.”

The tables in the dance room are arranged in a rectangle; in the middle is the dance floor. The man seeks a woman with whom he wants to dance and the woman seeks a man with whom she wants to dance. They search with their eyes, almost unnoticeably to others, and, if both agree, they meet on the dance floor.

An unknown adventure

With the decision to dance together, a couple set out on an unknown adventure. The man takes over the leadership and the woman surrenders. But leading and surrendering both follow a particular order and exchange. The man must study the woman before he can lead her. How does she move? Which ways does she make her steps? How does she receive impulses? Only in this way can he find the right orientation and support her.

In surrendering, the woman studies the man’s impulses and reacts to them; she gives him the central place he needs in order to be able to lead. She surrenders and this gives meaning to his leadership. The man’s task is to remain alert and concentrated in regard to the movements of the woman. The woman remains trusting in her surrender.

To surrender does not mean letting oneself fall, and to lead does not mean imposing one’s will forcefully.

In the embrace an interchange occurs. When the embrace is open, the pulse is transmitted through the body into the arms. When the embrace is close, there is a heart exchange. Both give and both take. One takes up the impulse, transforms it and causes the other one to react, originating a new movement.

Movement is the result of giving and taking

The relationship of a couple is based on needing something from the opposite sex. The man must allow the woman to carry the feminine and he must renounce any movement to become or be like a woman. The woman must allow the man to carry the masculine and she must renounce any movement to become or be like a man.

The woman takes from the man something she does not have and transforms it, which strengthens her femininity. The man takes from the woman something he does not have and transforms it, which strengthens his masculinity. Each gains from the other. The woman follows the man into his energy circle, into his way of moving, and he makes it possible for her to unfold.

The man’s task is to show the woman’s beauty. If all that is masculine clearly remains with the man and all that is feminine clearly remains with the woman, beauty appears. When these energies join, the masculine and the feminine merge. A movement comes into being: the dance of life.

Looking toward or away

If instead of looking to one another, safely trusting and surrendering into being held respectfully and lovingly by each other, we continue to look to our parents (longing for them to give what they were not able to give) there is little possibility of being present in a new relationship. When we are entangled with our parents (which is the case if we are still angry and blaming them) we make them a priority over our current relationship. This looking back takes away from the love and energy that rightfully belongs to our partner and children. How can there be balance of giving and taking if one or other is giving elsewhere? Or not giving, or only taking? The most basic ingredient necessary for a relationship to flourish is generous balance of giving and taking.

Equally if partners are still bound to the rules of their family of origin, a power struggle for who is right will take away from the development of deep intimacy. Resentment can build and the relationship become dissatisfying for both. What is necessary is simple – taking the best from both their families of origin they create their rules together; ones they can both support. In this they create one movement, which generates a respectful and joyful movement together towards their future. If they can’t agree, the power struggle continues and no one is happy; they are moving and pulling against one another both looking in different directions – not a fun dance!

What is Family Constellations and how does it work?

Family Constellations shows the ‘client’ the dynamics operating in their family system and or relationship. (This is often what are inhibiting the flow of love.) This is done by choosing representatives from the group to substitute for the client and his/her family members.

As the client you will choose from the group a representative for each aspect of your issue or member of your family, including yourself. You then position them according to your intuitive, inner feeling. Representatives once placed begin to access information about the family member/s they are representing. This can be physical sensations, thoughts, a desire to move closer to or away from someone, feelings such as sadness, guilt, etc.

By looking at how people are positioned and asking them how they feel, the therapist begins to get some idea of where the system may be out of order. The therapist can identify, through simple movements and healing sentences, who has perhaps been excluded, not been acknowledged or appropriately honoured.

Open hearts

This usually leads to a heart opening moment of insight and awareness felt by the whole group. It can be truly life altering.

A constellation takes between 20 and 90 minutes, depending on the theme and the amount of participating representatives.

Developed by Bert Hellinger more than 30 years ago, Family Constellations is tremendously popular in Europe. Although still relatively new in Australia, many counsellors and psychotherapists experiencing Family Constellations feel it is the most dynamic development in the field of psychological and physical healing in decades.

About the author

Jonine Lee Gabay


Jonine Lee Gabay is principal of Core Connection Trainings and is a Breathwork and Family Constellations practitioner and trainer.

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