We all have relationships. Romantic ones, friendly ones, animosity-infused ones, parental ones; they are everywhere. But how do we relate to these relationships? And more importantly, how can we witness ourselves in the process of relating so as to increase our awareness and accountability?
I used to read a lot of psychoanalytic theory, and a bit of the theories that came right after that. Heinz Kohut, Harry Stack Sullivan, and Carl Rogers were three men that really emphasized the importance of empathy in the therapeutic relationship. Their theories have nothing to do with why you get mad when your spouse looks at another person with a romantic smile, or do they?
It is my theory-of-the-moment that we tend to confuse our relationship-relations with object-relations, and because of this, we suffer. If we had more empathy, more of an objective-emotional view of the relationship itself as we experienced it, we would be better off.
There are an awful lot of people that live happily in polyamorous relationships. Some of us that are not in these types of relationships may have a hard time understanding how someone could actually feel a sense of joy at seeing their partner feel attracted and have a “crush” on someone else. We may think that is impossible; but clearly, it is not. It is our minds that make it so. When I talk to my best friend about his polyamorous situations, I am always dumbfounded at my incredibly narrow-minded view of “how relationships work”. But I can tell when he is not being truthful, and when I hear him honestly being happy for his partners finding happiness with other people without feeling threatened himself, I am literally flabbergasted. Secretly, though. To him, I just pretend that I get it.
Furthermore, the more I live, the more I see healthy relationships that naturally ebb and flow; and realize that this makes sense for some people. Two primary partners that break up every so often, taking space, doing their own thing, and then coming back together. Not breaking up in firey bouts of Facebook-publicized fury, of course, but just basically separating with mutual understanding and then coming back together.
I don’t know about you, but when I grew up, relationships seemed to be an all-or-nothing thing. Your parents were married, or divorced. You were going steady, or you were not. There were no in-betweens, half-ways, or open-ended situations. Sometimes there was a naturall in-between, but such a thing was a source of immense anxiety and excitement,which would persist until it became a solid form of relationshp: either you were going out, or you were not.
This is a huge problem.
You probably like some of my blog posts better than others. I probably feel the same about your blog. Maybe you feel squeamish with nausea when someone follows your blog and you check out theirs, only to see that they have eighty comments, all of which are “thanks for following my blog,” and you realize that you just got duped by the duper. Maybe not. Either way, we all have multiple facets of our personalities, and ideals that are usually met by some parts of people and not others. We like how they feel about food, but not about freedom. We like that they want to eat a delicious bacon breakfast, but we don’t like that they want to kill their own pigs and blog about it. They like all the things that they do; we like some of the things that they do. This is normal, natural, and pretty much the only possible way for things to be.
Why would we want, or sanely expect, our relationships to be solid like rocks?
I am not advocating for Polyamory; God knows that I would have a hard time with it. Rather, I am wondering about how we all relate to our relationships. Do we approach our just-starting friendships with the same vigor and enthusiasm that we approach our long-held relationships? Do we become just as heartbroken when our friends ignore us as we would if our spouse/domestic partner did? Do we feel a sense of loss when we realize that our partner does not particularly like this one part of us?
Why are things expected to be so solid?
I, for one, change my mind a lot about things. I feel many different ways; I get in bad moods and good moods, I feel like a saint and also like I should be condemned. I’ll catch myself in a week-long fit of jealousy before I label it, or realize that for the last few days I have helped a handful of people to feel better about things without even trying. There are may parts to us, many sides to us; we are human. Besides the edges of your longest bones, there are very few straight lines that have anything to do with you. Even your bones are full of sacred and all-important growing mushyness known as marrow…there is nothing solid about us, physically; so why should there be mentally?
Your mind is a collection of patterns of synapses firing, of neurotransmitters swimming, of chemical substances interfering; why should you have any control over it, or any expectations of it? Half the time it is just compensating for the perils you have put it through (if you are like me, and enjoy strong coffee all day until you switch to whatever wine was on sale because you feel that it will help you with your life’s work) or not.
Empathy. That is what it comes down to for the therapeutic relationship; and that is what it comes down to for your therapeutic relationship to your relationships.
Can you see them empathically? Can you stand back and look at your relationship to your spouse as if you were looking at a child’s relationship to their favorite doll?
Because you might say that you relate to your spouse in a different way than that child relates to their doll. But if you expect your relationship to be constant, predictable, and fully controllable; is it really all that different?
I’d like to know how you guys experience your relationships and your awareness of them; and if you spend time looking at them from an objective empathic distance, or if you feel that you tend to react a lot without that distance. I know that for me, I am making the intention to take a more of a stance of empathic awareness on my relationships, so that they can be based less on reactions and more empathic awareness.
How about you?