Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to reduce the chance of having another unsatisfactory relationship

My first tasks in addressing the matter of marital satisfaction are to reduce a treatise to a few paragraphs and to avoid the glib wisdom – “all is lost.”  Deep emotional attraction, at least in the client population, is like the runner with a knife in his back: He will not be able to run in a straight line or achieve victory.  His vision is blurred by pain.  He will flail in distress and need, stumble, and fall head-first upon the first caregiver who offers a painkiller and a bandage.

Most of us, injured souls from the tip of our childhood roots to the tip of our adult defenses, are attracted to soothers: people who make us feel better and feel different from our deeper selves.  What would, in a healthy person, be the magnetism of admiration in a medium of mutual autonomy, becomes the draw of need.  This can have many forms.  A need for distraction from emptiness: marrying a partying or funny or chaotic person.  A need for hope: marrying someone like our parent, whom we try to please love out of.  A need for semi-closeness but that does not challenge our defenses against loss: If we have buried our heart from loss of love, we find someone we can reach out to but who cannot reach in to our inward self.  A need to not grow up and wake up: We marry someone who will take charge.  A need for revenge: We marry someone who piques our deepest frustrations, our rage, our imprisoned power.  And in all or most, a need for the symbiotic embrace that is always attributed the vague concept “love.”

Does this seem unlikely, that we are attracted to others more by our “negatives” than our positives (eHarmony and the rest of them notwithstanding)?  Look again at the runner.  Where the analogy doesn’t work, it is yet worse for our psychology.  A physically injured person may have a healthy and loving spirit.  But an injured psyche, a malformed seed, must grow into a weakened tree.

The problem for relationships is that human beings are organic paradoxes of determinism and hope, where determinism makes us the hollow tree and hope makes us believe the loved person can heal us.  Soon, we become disappointed.

What can help is that our pain needs to be seen by the other person.  I once helped a fifty-year-old woman, suicidal throughout her life, by acknowledging her need to rest in the most radical way: to take leave of her job, stay in bed or sit at home, timelessly, to simply feel who she is apart from the life conveyor belt that had carried her from cradle to now.  To no longer be a “human doing” living others’ expectations but to simply feel and think and know her own body and nature.  To stop being “other.”  In that place of living, finally, she knew that to live she had to throw her anger in her mother’s face.  Her husband would also know that she had found herself, and who she was, when the clocks had been burned, and there was all the time in the world to be a person.

Also helpful is to find your inner child and its adult personas, in therapy, before you join a relationship.  If you come to know this self – with its starved needs and stillborn feelings – and the personality you’ve grown to bury it, you will see how a prospective mate may entice hope, frustrate these deepest needs, challenge or fail to challenge the defensive personality that keeps you safe but entirely alone.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.