A Few Scenic Views of Relationships
Sex and Communication
Despite widespread rumors to the contrary, poor sex and poor communication do not ruin relationships; poor relationships ruin sex and communication. If communication skills made the difference specialists claim they make, then therapists and communication specialists would excel at marriage. They do not.
When I ask couples who come for help about their difficulties, often each partner acknowledges that the other was more adept at both love-making and communication in their earlier, better days. It isn’t that people forget how to communicate and make love; they lose interest in trying.
Likewise, partners don’t tend to need much training in communication and love-making. They need help in dissolving the obstacle to healthy relationships, which is unconsciousness, and specifically unconsciousness of the deep fears and needs of the child-like aspects of the personality.
War of the Sexes
It is also accepted wisdom that gender differences are a primary cause of couple difficulties. While such differences as the female tendency to work collectively and respond emotionally, versus the male tendency to work autonomously and respond cerebrally provide convenient and colorful explanations for couple conflict, they in fact play a modest role.
Educational, economic, religious and every other cultural difference also play at least as important a role as gender does. It is easy to imagine an atheistic, Swedish wife and a Catholic, Italian husband having more conflict around religious-cultural differences than around male-female differences.
The gay couples I see struggle every bit as much as the straight ones. And I have watched several clients leave rocky heterosexual relationships for homosexual ones, only to wind up with just as much relational conflict.
Recently a colleague completed research proving that men and women tend to anger differently. But that they both anger is the significant point. It is the anger, not its different forms, that creates the trouble. The fundamental cause of couple conflict is the exquisite fragility and emotional need that underlies all of our humanness.
Focusing overly on gender only obfuscates the much darker and more difficult region in need of light: which is our all-too-human soul in its bumbling attempt to live harmoniously with another.
Why Some Survive
Why do a rare handful of couples, including ourselves, not only manage to get through the unavoidable difficulties over the years and endure, but manage to retain a lively, respectful and joyful marriage?
Altogether it seems to be a combination of simple good fortune and the following:
* A thorough determination to make the marriage work. Faith that marriage is do-able, largely inspired by another, older couple as a model of success.
* An openness, sooner or later, to self-examination, to looking closely at all one’s own unappetizing limitations, at one’s own sorry part in marital conflict.
* The use of spiritual and emotional technology such as meditation, prayer and psychotherapy for dealing constructively with fears, needs and differences.
* Finally, and paradoxically, a willingness to give up the marriage for the moment, or even permanently if necessary. As important as it is to wholeheartedly throw oneself into a relationship, it is also essential in the course of a long partnership, during periods of being stuck, to be willing to walk away rather than spend a life in a hobbled marriage.
When one knows one’s partner is willing to do this, it forces one to dig deeper and change. Some wise person once commented that keeping a marriage alive requires an occasional pinch; but the truth is it probably requires an occasional kick in the butt.
While generally the healthiest direction for righting a relationship is to dig deep into one’s own inner deadness or discontent, on occasion the only way to significantly move a relationship forward is first to step away from it, perhaps dismantle it, then start fresh from a new beginning.