Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Full Partners

What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified desire.
What is it women in men do require?
The lineaments of Gratified desire.

William Blake

Psychotherapy is, famously, not about giving advice. So it's interesting to browse the blog posts at Psychology Today which are, of course, stuffed with advice, much of it pretty good. What else are they supposed to do? One can manage only so many posts on empathic listening. Maybe opining spontaneously and at length into the Internet vacuum makes it easier to stay mum and receptive in session.

For obvious reasons, though, particularly as none of their therapist bloggers is anonymous, the approach is fairly general even when not theory-driven. So I was curious to find two well-written posts that offer diametrically opposed marital advice.

Michael J. Formica advocates authenticity in relationships by cautioning against general enabling. Usually I think of an enabler as someone who looks the other way or otherwise tacitly approves of a partner's substance abuse, but he uses it for anyone who, to the detriment of his or her own vital interests, enables a partner's own personal script, whatever it may be. Of course, we immediately recognize this as the submissive, self-abnegating type who, Formica warns, risks giving him/herself away in a relationship.

As if in rebuttal, John R. Buri marvels at how many people, having married "for love," at some point stop being even minimally engaging, civil, and affectionate toward a partner. In his view "authenticity" is taken by many as license to be callous and indifferent in a relationship if that seems to "come naturally." His recommendation is to let go of the self, at least enough to express a certain level of affection even if it doesn't feel "natural."

Of course, these two needn't be seen as disagreeing at all; indeed, we can envision them working with the two partners in the same dominant-submissive relationship. The joke goes that dermatology therapeutics consists of: drying it out if it's moist and moistening it if it's dry. I suppose the corresponding couples counseling approach is: if it's rigid and unyielding, soften it up, and if it's passive and squishy, firm it up.

But there are all kinds of judgment calls here. How do we decide which "interests" are vital enough to qualify for "authenticity?" That is, what do we merely want from a relationship as opposed to truly need? And selfless affection for the partner sounds wonderful--until it crosses into inauthenticity. No answers here--I guess that's why therapy pays the bills and blogging doesn't.

The glorious early stages in a relationship are like being in a fine sailboat with the wind at your backs; everything trends in one direction. Over time, the wind shifts to the side and then eventually to the front. Unable to sail directly into the wind, you tack between self/authenticity on the right and other/affection on the left. Nobody manages it well enough to actually reach a destination--the goal is merely to stay afloat, even if going in wide circles.

And then there are the beachcombers...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your authentic sense of self is inevitably modulated by being in a relationship. That's not to say it becomes inauthenticated by somehow being diluted by your partner's influence; it just shifts its centre of gravity so that it may still exist with some degree of stability within its new context. This means some quirks need to be re-timed/re-cast rather than be completely trashed; other edges/angles will eventually devolve to a state of imperception. And that's partly why couples start to look and behave alike with time, along with necessarily living/experiencing synchronously.

I think the more you know someone, the more explicitly critical/discourteous/bluntly truthful you tend to become. You're not just superifcially polite for the sake of harmony as in fleeting/trivial social instances with people less known or influential. I'm not saying you should be freakin' rude, abusive, abrasive or downright snarky, in every possible interaction with your partner! No, just more relaxed given the depth and complexity of understanding that should exist in a healthy relationship.

Some people enjoy being parasitised by a relationship. Can you fault them for having a lack of substantial sense of self to begin with and finding definition in attachment?