In this Field Note, I propose to reflect on love relationships: a challenge for most of us. My materials for this reflection come from five decades of working with clients in my psychotherapy practice, and my own life experiences. I will foreground this reflection with a theory that I have been developing about relationship. My Theory of Time and Distance in Relationship. In a nutshell: All relationships exist within a structure of time and distance; namely, that I can be in relationship with anybody depending on the amount of time with that person and the distance between them and me. For example, there could be a person I could easily be in relationship with, if we lived half a world apart and spoke by phone once a year for not more than ten minutes. Anything more would start to press on me in ways that I don not like, and that I do not believe to be manageable and/or good for me.
Love relationships start with an amazing desire in most cases to be with the other person as much as possible as often as possible, and to do so is often great—at least, for a while; even a lengthy while; usually about 6-12 months. Initially, there is a strong feeling that the time and distance structure is limiting the possibilities for a strongly desired level of engagement. This can be true for any relationship but surely the drive for increased levels of, and opportunities for, is strongest in relationships where there is a multi-dimensional attraction and when there is a feeling that love and long-term engagement is central. Needless to say, ‘chemistry’ almost invariably plays a very large part. Multidimensional attraction refers to being attracted to each other in many different dimensions of being, centrally, the intellectual, the physical, the emotional, and the energetic.
Eventually, one begins to see some recurrent patterns that are not so appealing, including, lack of awareness, perceived insensitivities, and some not too acceptable differences. Sooner or later, you will likely find some moments with your beloved to be at or near the unbearable point! Sooner or later, you hear yourself saying, aloud or under your breath, things like: “She drives me crazy,” “I can’t stand him anymore,” “I have to get out of here!” Most challenging is the fact that these challenges seem to show up increasingly. What is going on? What are the underlying factors and process by which this estrangement of becoming strangers to each other, happens?
The earliest and most powerful model for our love relationships are the model demonstrated by our parents/the significant adults, and in most all cases by the deficits of your models, due to a variety of reasons. What is seen, heard, and felt, is taken in as a model for intimate/romantic relationships. And, of course, many ways of being in relationship will be modelled. There is, in my view, one factor that is core, no matter what is actually seen. That one thing is that which is missing. In our culture that missing and core element is, and I would speculate in most cultures is meaningful and multidimensional connection.
What do I mean by ‘meaningful connection’? I postulate two elements. First, connecting in all dimensions of our being, which I already referred to earlier: as a multidimensional being, we seek to be connected and understood intellectually, emotionally, physically, energetically, and so on. Understanding here is reciprocal, dynamic, and creative. There is give-and-take, feeling deeply into the other person, affectively being moved, and understood. In other words, there is sharing of inner world experience in multiple dimensions, in ways that connect one to the other person, and increasingly to yourself. In such moments of connection, one is sensitive and responsive in the moment, and there is a ‘knowing’ that one is clearly received and known by the other person. To be able to communicate in such a way is an ongoing developmental process of learning, transformation, and inner work. I believe that all of us have a great desire to be known by another person and to know that we are known by the person, and so on: in short, a reciprocal and multidimensional relationship experience. It is important to note that this desire is biologically built into us; hence, it is like a river that runs powerfully and persistently below the surface and effects all things. So, let’s get back to the models, or lack thereof, for our love relationships.
Imagine the following: your parents are good and nice people. They are polite with each other, they listen to you carefully enough, and your questions are usually answered in a reasonable way. This all sounds quite good, doesn’t it? Indeed, it is quite good. This sketch might describe a relational model of civility, neutrality, objectivity, perhaps even some indifference. However, think about what is not described; what is missing. Not mentioned are emotional expressions of care and warmth, physical affection, ongoing communication between them with feeling, passion, intensity, or verbal conflict, and particularly verbal conflict with resolution, and so on.
Surely, you say, the situation could be a lot worse: for example, certain types of interactions that might claim the title of abuse, neglect, or combinations of both were not mentioned. If I were to describe a more extreme relationship with these characteristics of abuse and/or neglect, most of us would recognize that this is very problematic. And indeed, the overt effects of the latter are often more apparent in children as they grow into adults and engage in their own relationships. However, the lack of multidimensional engagement, care, and love that are core are not modelled.
What I’m calling to your attention in this Field Note, however, is the importance of understanding what is not seen, not present, or missing in your relationship model, which, as I indicated earlier, starts with your parents (or, if you wish to push further, we can include grandparents). Perhaps the best way for me to convey this is to share some of my own experience. This will also be reflected in various relationships you will have surely witnessed.
I will preface what I’m going to tell you with acknowledgement that my perspective on my parental influence on me, the influence of their relationship, and my view of their intentions has changed markedly over the years. In my younger years, I experienced frequent vacillations between anger and despondency in relation to my parents whom I felt really had no understanding of me. And of course, in retrospect I was right. However, given that I was living a very different life at a different time of growing up than they had, it makes great sense that they wouldn’t understand me. Needless to say, my ability to be sympathetic to where they were coming from was extremely limited. Certainly, as a teenager and into my adult years I did not understand why they couldn’t understand me, and from my perspective, there apparent lack of interest in doing so. I recall that, one the day, I was particularly distraught, and I was more or less screaming at my mother: “Nobody understands me!” Her emotional and as I recall, tearful response was, “What do you want?”
At that time, though, I simply did not have the ability to understand that she really wanted to know, and further, to understand that it would be very difficult for me to communicate what I wanted from her. And I certainly did not have understanding, including compassion for what I now see as our problem, and not just her shortcoming. All I saw back, then, is just her deficiency. As the years have gone by, I have come increasingly to appreciate how hard they worked to provide me with the opportunities that have taken me to where I am now in life. Please be sure that this last sentence in no way intends to suggest to anybody that they ought to already have this kind or level of understanding. Really, how could they have had such understanding given their backgrounds? For me it was an extremely extensive long-term process of inner work to get to that place. I am also not attempting here to blame or exonerate; rather my intention is to say how it actually was.
I will just add a little bit about my experience with my father. Any time he would come home he would ask in a voice that I could hear no matter where I was in the house, “where’s Allan?” Hearing this I would almost immediately feel infuriated. My fury arose out of the feeling that he really did not have any idea who I was or what I was experiencing in my life. Combining that with his propensity to talk a lot, I generally felt unhappy and angry in his presence.
You can probably now get the idea that the lack of connection I felt with them was strong and formative.
I will now give you a brief description of my mom and dad’s relationship as I saw it. My memory is of my mother very often feeling frustrated with my father for his lack of help around the house as she saw it, and in retrospect, I would say her perception of his inability to understand her. I think it’s fair to say she was quick to criticize and seeing something good in another person and articulating this was not necessarily a strength, at least not if you were a family member. The exception to this was my younger brother who seemed to be able to do nothing wrong. My jealousy of him was strong. I found the whole situation very unfair and I often pointed out this unfairness to no apparent avail. My father for his part tended to see things in a more positive light and I would say was somewhat dismayed by my mother’s frequent and persistent criticisms. He felt that he worked very hard, and in retrospect I would agree, to keep us sheltered and fed. He would often say that given that he worked so hard he needed to rest in order to provide. Clearly there was no meeting of the minds between them over this. The only place where I saw a meeting of the minds for them was when they played bridge. Even so, all was not well.
My father was a very committed and apparently skilled bridge player and he loved to talk about this. My mother was fairly good at it herself and I remember many dinnertime conversations between the two of them about bridge hands and how they could be played. My anger about these conversations was my feeling that no one was interested in me or what I had to say, and was well fuelled by these conversations. My overall impression of their relationship was arguing and bickering as a primary mode of engagement with each other.
I will focus now on what I feel was most germane to my development and understanding of relationships, did not see between them, and which was a most germane and invisible modelling about relationship for me. I did not see warmth between them, affection, acknowledgement, or what I would now refer to as meaningful connection. This essentially meant that I grew up with no idea about how to connect with another human being and in an engaged way that was multidimensional including thoughts, emotions, body sensation, and life force energy. Nonetheless, I grew up determined that I would have a different life than they did. In retrospect I can see that I was against what they had but not at all clear about what I was after or for.
My last point before closing this Field Note is this: the lack of meaningful engagement in connection creates a deficit within the child in such a world of relationship, and that this child may grow up to be an adult, who will unwittingly or unconsciously find a way to create either what they saw or the opposite. One way is not better than the other. The underlying difficulty is still the inability to really create and live meaningful multidimensional connection. Most certainly you will unconsciously, find someone with whom you can re-create the relationship complete with its deficits that was modelled for you. How could it be otherwise? Our daily life is about enacting, unconsciously, what was modelled for us. The perfect storm results from a strong enough attraction that draws you towards the person who will eventually help you manifest what you grew up with, and of course in combination with what he or she grew up with, and however hard it may be to see how that is the case, and perhaps particularly your part in this.
To return to the theme of this note, time and distance, as it turns out you have now been handed the opportunity to work on staying with and studying the time and distance that now exists in your relationship and to help yourself, your partner in this experience, and your relationship to encourage the emergence of the true nature of each of you and of your relationship field.
As always, my great appreciation for Heesoon for trimming this Note down to size and preserving the parts that will serve for further Notes about multidimensional and connected relationship.
And watch for forthcoming information soon about our upcoming workshop,
Working on Yourself Alone, or with the Help of a Friend