When Intimate Relationships Don't Work...

Toronto Companion | 24 Feb 2021 - 08:11
When Intimate Relationships Don't Work...

Valentine’s Day was established by papal decree in 496AD as a day to celebrate our intimate relationships with those we love most deeply. At that time it wasn’t connected with romantic love. In the high Middle Ages during the time of development of courtly love as a tradition Geoffrey Chaucer changed that. Since that time we see Valentine’s Day as a shorthand for what an intimate relationship or marriage should look like. Starry-eyed, blissful, sweet, easy, sexual, and everloving might describe our expectations of intimate relationships. But like most things in life, when we truly take a look, we see much more complexity…

This article will give you the opportunity

to examine and learn to improve the critical moods that make or break your intimate relationships. And you will be able to apply the learning to your relationships with lovers, companions, courtesans, etc. In every marriage and intimate relationship there are moods that serve building the relationship and those that have a deleterious effect. Moods are not inherently good or bad, but they either serve or restrict us in a particular situation. Here are some that we can distinguish more clearly in intimate relationships:

Compassion vs. pity

Compassion means being with another person in their pain. To pity is to see another person as needing us to pull them up to our level of understanding. In compassion we place ourselves on the same human level as our partner, while in pity we tend to look down on them and their plight. How many times have you opted for pity rather than compassion in your relationships? How often have you been tempted to believe that it was your job to fix your partner or their situation rather than simply stand with them and trust them to navigate life for themselves?

Service vs. sacrifice

Many of us grow up with the admonishment to help others. Some of us learn that the right way to be a partner is to take care of the other’s every wish and need. What we aren’t often taught is to pay attention to the point where those activities shift from service to sacrifice. In service we attend to others’ needs, but also to our own. In sacrifice we drain ourselves, sometimes to the point of illness. Sacrifice isn’t bad. Many heroic acts require sacrifice of all that we have, even life. Continual sacrifice in intimate relationships is not sustainable.

Acceptance vs. tolerance

An interesting thing happens in many intimate relationships. We fall in love with exactly who the other person is. And over time we discover that there are aspects of them we would like to change. That moment defines the shift from acceptance to tolerance. Acceptance is seeing and understanding another person as they are. It does not mean that we like or agree with all we see, but we do not try to change them. Tolerance is that we will put up with the way they are until we see the light. Seeing the light usually means seeing the world the way we see it. Tolerance may be a more helpful mood than intolerance, but it won’t be helpful if we interchange or confuse it with acceptance.

Courage vs. denial

Courage is required to act when we’re afraid. When we realize that we need to make a request or have a conversation that may produce temporary upset in the relationship, we’ll either pluck up the courage for the conversation or deny that it is necessary. Maybe it will go away. Most of us intuitively realize that the conversation won’t go away, but our naïve hope may move us in that direction.

Tenderness vs. meanness

I don’t know anyone who would describe themselves as mean. Yet the capacity lives in us all. When we are frustrated, tired, hungry, angry, we can bring it out. What makes tenderness so valuable in intimate relationships is that it brings safety. Safety allows conversations which would otherwise be impossible. Safety allows intimacy. Will you choose tenderness or meanness in a moment of strain?

Curiosity vs. righteousness

Curiosity = I acknowledge that there may be something of value for me in this area. In conversation with your partner you may believe that you understand their motivations and choices. But are you willing to get curious to check and deepen your understanding? Do you assume that you know and stay attached to what you think you know? Or do you become flexible to listen and inquire?

Joy vs. excitement

Our contemporary view of intimate relationships has a strong basis in excitement. Excitement comes from Latin meaning “to set in motion outside of ourselves”. Excitement pulls us to ever-increasing high points. Our nervous systems crave going just a little higher. By contrast, joy is a steady sense of wellbeing that is satisfying in itself. Excitement in a relationship is elemental, but a relationship based on excitement will not sustain itself.

Commitment vs. expectation

Commitments are promises that we make explicitly. And we demonstrate commitment through action. Expectation comes from Latin meaning “await or hope”. Many of us live with the illusion that if our partner has made some commitments to us, then whatever we expect will come to pass. An interesting exercise is to ask yourself what specifically you and your partner have promised in the relationship. Everything beyond that is your expectation, your story of what your partner will do or what will happen in your relationship. This exercise will make you realize the degree to which you live in expectation. And often the degree to which you want to hold your partner accountable for your expectations rather than for the promises that you made.

Work and play

The question of these moods is one of balance. Work is activity with attachment to an outcome. Play is activity without the attachment. Play doesn’t intend to produce anything except fun. An excess or deficit of either in your relationship can create either gravity and profound seriousness or triviality. Consider the balance.

If all these moods show up in our intimate relationships,

it is obvious that the models we’ve had in contemporary music, greeting cards, and movies don’t begin to address the depth of the emotional field. There is no wonder that we meet, date, engage, marry, and then are disappointed that the moods of the relationship aren’t eternally sunny and light. That has been set up as an expectation, but it was never a promise. The word relationship comes from a root meaning to bring back, to reconnect, to retell. In this light revisiting the moods of your intimate relationships provides fertile ground for much higher satisfaction in a key area of your life.

Not all people can do it alone. Many people, especially men, need a helping hand. Do you? Let’s start a conversation.

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