Is it love or war?
Dan had the most content look on his face that I had ever seen on him when he came into therapy that day. He and his wife Linda both reported that their time since our last session had been “smooth”. They held hands as they talked. Dan said “I think the thing that has made the difference is that when Linda gets upset and critical, I don’t react the way I did before. Now, when she gets upset, I hear can hear her fear and her pain, and I don’t think it’s about me being wrong and bad.” I asked him what seemed to have made that happen. He wasn’t sure at first, but then he thought about it and said, “I think the thing that makes the difference is that I can recognize that she is trying, that she is stretching to help me and to connect with me in ways that are not easy for her.”
Linda chose that moment to rehash and old wound that got triggered by one of their activities over the week. She told him that when he chose to not give her full disclosure, that when he kept things “secretive” it made her feel abandoned and pushed away.
About that time, I explained that our need for control kicks in when we feel threatened and that is when we revert to self-protective behaviors and stop being compassionate with one another.
Then Linda asked Dan what he was afraid of when he failed to disclose things to her. He talked about how in his childhood his parents got angry with him whenever he tried to tell them anything about what he felt or wanted, so he learned to shut himself off from other people. This was something Linda could have empathy for and could see how it could have impacted him to have difficulty disclosing things to her.
Dan and Linda have come a long way in the time I’ve been working with them. They have worked really hard to let go of the idea that their partner, whom they dearly love, is their enemy.
Love and Hate
This is why love and hate are so closely tied. Our expectations of our most intimate partner are that they will want what we want, and they will never do anything to make our lives difficult. But of course anyone who has been married for any length of time will tell you, our partners frequently do exactly those things. Now, I know my husband doesn’t set out to make my life difficult, in fact, I’m well aware that he does a LOT of great things for me. Nevertheless, there have been times in our relationship where I questioned if he was more interested in getting what he wanted and needed than in what I needed.
The interesting thing about this is that in psychology, in the past, our norm for the “psychologically healthy person” is that he or she could get their own needs met without needing someone else. So, if my husband is “healthy” by those standards, he would leave me on my own to take care of my needs, and I him.
Fortunately, we now know that what makes up psychological health is something called “interdependence”, not “independence”. Interdependence is when we can lean on each other, when we can get our needs met by the other person and meet the needs of the other person. The give and take required does not come naturally in our Western civilization where “independence” in KING.
Our whole lives we have been taught to be independence adults, and this had made it very hard to be interdependent couples. We have to really stretch to allow ourselves to let someone help us and to let ourselves be there for our most beloved. We fear engulfment if we let them help us; and we fear abandonment if when our partner fails to meet our needs.
But in order to let ourselves move into that interdependent state, we have to move into a level of understanding that is, for most of us; very difficult. We have to let go of the idea that we are on our own. We have to let go of the fear that we are on our own. Both fears keep us trapped in isolation and a battle for control.
Without taking the time to step out of our egocentric view of ourselves and what is happening in the relationship we become trapped in a world where there is no love, no connection and no hope for feeling safe.