Ed doesn't want to take the garbage out at night. It's too cold, he's tired. Susan finds this frustrating. In the morning it's too full, or too smelly. If he forgets then she has to do it. They have this fight a few nights a week before bed.
In and of itself, this is not an issue that would bring a couple to see me. Ed and Susan are very functional. I meet a lot of couples just like them, who operate as a team in one or two key ares of the partnership, such as parenting or finances, but the full spectrum of possibility for partnership is eclipsed.
These couples are reportedly very close, and often, as daily life requires, very tired. They are good at bickering. They are frequently pissy and edgy with each other and on one level, accept it as "just the way things are".
But not completely.
They struggle with physical intimacy. And usually, one partner misses it more. They try to soothe their ache for deeper contact with the facts that in a modern relationship the role of friend, employee and /or parent overrides the lover role. There simply isn't time for it all.
And they probably feel guilty about this, because they've seen Dr. Phil, or Oprah, and they know that a perfect or at least healthy relationship is balanced and sex is a part of it. There is a simple solution, but it's not date night.
Perhaps even something else is going on. Perhaps deep down, they each mourn the loss of their alone time. Perhaps they are too close to effectively come together.
The concept of taking space in relationships is not new. If you've ever read those sublime and essential Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke encouraging the preservation of the other's solitude, or newer publications such as Esther Perel's groundbreaking Mating in Captivity, you understand why taking space is important for modern intimacy: it allows for the restoration of the magnetic forces that draw us together.
I define taking space as the simple act of engaging yourself in your life (not only your work), apart from your partner. Intimacy expert David Deida suggests that only men really need space, but I see this as a gross distortion of the way the culture has shaped gender. Women need time with themselves apart form their partners. Sometimes, the space women take involves more connection with others. We often confuse "taking space" with isolation.
You will provoke your partner and push him or her away in an effort to regain some personal equilibrium. But it doesn't work. The fighting becomes all intertwined with intimacy, and, in a sense, a replacement for sex.
So when you are once again fighting over the dishes or the garbage or who is making the lunches tomorrow, keep in mind that the conflict may actually mask a deep inner one: "How can I be by myself without losing my partner?"
In a working team:
•Together you must recognize the consistent bickering AS A SIGNAL.
•Together you must negotiate and honor the needs for individual time apart.
•Together you must endure the discomfort of separation, so you can long for and celebrate reunion.
Take an overnight apart, or start with 20 minutes. Even if you are not used to being alone or away from your partner in your down time, strive to make a habit of it.
See what happens.
Of course for those habitually entrenched in each other's space, this will be easier said then done, and I am always here to help.
I have helped many couples learn how to create ecstactic relationships. Find out more from my Teamwork in Relationship series.
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