For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all of our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Charlie: Why is it that loving another person should be so difficult? Given the fact that the perpetuation of the human species is dependent upon providing care for one another, it seems reasonable to expect that this process should be easy. For many, relationships are anything but that. One answer to this question is that intimate relationships require two mutually exclusive ways of being in order for things to work out right for both partners: togetherness and separateness.
We all need to experience intimacy as well as independence
It's not uncommon for us to be attracted to someone who is strong on the side in which we are less developed. The trick is to see that what our partner is bringing is something that we need or desire rather than seeing their tendency as a problem to be eliminated. What we refer to as "chemistry" is no more than the right combination of togetherness and separateness.
In the early days of our marriage, it was very difficult for me to see Linda's desire for more closeness as something other than neediness, which made me feel resentful. I was resistant to her efforts to get us to spend what I considered to be an excessive amount of time together. At times I would even refer to her as a bottomless pit because it seemed to me that no matter how much time we spent together it was never enough. Actually, it wasn't, but not because Linda's need was insatiable, but because of the quality of attention that I was giving her was low. She often felt my choice to spend time with her was motivated by a sense of obligation and that I wasn't particularly enjoying our time together but just participating in it to fulfill my "duty," She was absolutely right. That is precisely what my motivation was. But Linda didn't just want to be with me, she wanted me to want to be with her.
The stronger her longing was for us to be together, the more resistant to being with her I became. We were in a that isn't easily broken as long as our focus is on the other person and what it is that we want from them. This perspective demonizes the other person. As trained psychotherapists, we both had psychiatric labels that we could project onto each other. Such pathologizing doesn't make you more attractive to your partner.
Keeping our attention on ourselves
When we redirect the focus of your attention to ourselves instead of focusing on what is wrong with them, we see what needs we are trying to meet. Then we can identify the unspoken fears that are causing us to judge, coerce, and manipulate your partner. The next step is to get honest and vulnerable to communicate those needs to our partner without holding them responsible for meeting them.
There is a saying that you can never get enough of what you really don't want. None of us really want someone to give to us because we've manipulated them into doing it. The attention that is given in response to coercion is unsatisfying. And yet even the most independent of us needs genuine emotional connection. When these needs go unmet, we experience "dis-ease." We may become irritable, impatient, depressed, agitated, physically ill, or anxious.
We all have needs to be separate at times. Solitude allows us to experience self-reflection. Linda grew to appreciate solitude more fully after I stopped making her wrong for her needs. And I became more appreciative of our togetherness when she respected my needs for separateness. If our partner is stronger in one area than we are, we can more fully experience the less developed side to create a balanced life. It does require some discomfort until we begin to see what our partner is giving us as gifts rather than problems, but that is temporary and a small price to pay for a great benefit!