In my last three columns I attempted to show how intimate relationship is often a frustrating and swirling dance of contradictions, of opposite qualities attracting – that is sometimes ecstatic and seductive, sometimes painful and conflictual, sometimes energising and sometimes agonising. This dance looks to the individuals to be able to consciously flow back and forth between polar opposites – between closeness and separateness, holding and letting go, engaging and allowing aloneness, leading and yielding, surrendering and holding firm. To dance this dance requires a good degree of personal maturity on each party’s part.
Regrettably, many couples, owing to unresolved emotional conflicts from their early years, quickly step on each other’s toes, fail to develop any rhythm and wind up deadlocked in oppositional positions, each struggling for control, pushing and pulling, attacking or withdrawing. The problem is if we hold too tight or let go too much, we lose our balance, but only because we do not possess balance within ourselves. Typically, individuals enter a relationship with particular needs that deserve to be met, but when not met, the responsibility for meeting needs rests with the person who has them, not with their partner! Once a person identifies with his or her needs, then any refusal or forgetfulness is personalised and all hell can break loose or long silences can ensue. When a partner continuously fails to meet needs, there is something going on in him (or her) that is far deeper than an unmet specific need. Enquiring about such a possibility is a step in the right direction towards the resolution of what appears to be unreasonable intransigence.
Nonattachment in relationship does not mean not having needs or not paying attention to them. If we don’t respond to our needs or we ignore or deny them, we cut ourselves off from part of ourselves and consequently bring an incompleteness to our partner. Nonattachment in the mature sense means not confusing ourselves with our needs, likes and dislikes. We identify certain needs, yet when we are self-contained we have a connection to our sacred being, where we do not give those needs a hold over us. Relating from such a solid interiority, we own and take responsibility for our own needs and we can make requests, but not engage in demands and commands.
Relationship is full of contradictions; on the one hand, we crave freedom, yet we also crave stability and commitment. Is it not possible to have both? The answer is ‘yes’ when each appoints self and the other the guardian of their solitude and their togetherness. If we simply merge with the other, we lose ourselves in relationship; equally, if we keep our distance, we lose each other and ourselves. The dance needs to be a stepping in to closeness and a stepping out to aloneness. When we learn to swing back and forth between intimacy with the other and with self, we maintain the mystery of our individual nature and guarantee the endurance of the attraction.
When I enquire of people what they most seek in falling in love, they talk about qualities such as excitement, joy, passion, kindness, curiosity, aliveness, creativity, purpose, authenticity, openness, mystery, expansiveness and appreciation. All of these qualities are aspects of our true nature that have often gone dormant due to, when children, not being received with unconditional love or not seen or encouraged to be ourselves. Abandonment in our early years leads to a creative shutting down of the above qualities so as to protect ourselves from the enormity of the pain of rejection. Falling in love offers the possibilities of a resurrection of these dormant seeds and in the early ecstasy time of a new relationship hope springs eternal. However, ultimately the glimpse of our true nature can only become permanent when we recognise these wonderful qualities in ourselves and not depend on a lover to make us feel good. It is when each person supports that inner intimacy with self that the couple relationship becomes the fertile ground for each to discover self and the other. When the latter happens the relationship, like the cosmos itself, not only endures but expands into infinity.
Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. His books Myself, My Partner and, with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationships: The Heart of a Mature Society are relevant to this article.