Virginia Satir, a world famous family therapist says that only 4% of intimate relationships are nourishing. My personal and professional experience draws me to the same conclusion.
Why is this so?
Just to start with, I think there are 3 main reasons.
Human beings are pretty crazy and very complex and we just can’t stop wanting and relationships are essentially a war of wants!
It’s really important that you know that I am smiling as I write this. If we can be amused by our insanity, rather than judging it, we have a much better chance of transforming it.
What got me thinking about this…again?
Well I’ve wrestled and pondered this issue for decades both because I was so bad at doing intimacy and because I wanted to get better and I also wanted to understand and help my clients who struggled as much as I did.
An Unhappy Client
A client of mine brings this problem to me.
She’s a 45 year old woman, on the verge of divorce.
Her husband didn’t want to meet with me, so she came alone. She talked about all of their difficulties. She said:
“His way is the only way.
Every fight is the last fight.
I feel constantly criticised – called selfish.
I need to accept myself more.
I need to learn to love myself more.
I need to be more empathetic, caring and tolerant.”
Essentially she is saying that he is difficult and she is difficult and they want too much from each other and neither of them can deliver and they fight endlessly about this.
Heard this before?
So we sit down for our first session, just her and myself and I say to her, “I’m going to suggest some things that you need to do when you see him this evening, to see if you can start to make things different between the two of you.
Because you are the only one here, you can only work with yourself. If we only talk about what’s wrong with him it’ll just make you feel better for five minutes but we will be blaming him as though his problems are the only ones in the story.
She agrees with me.
We then start to talk about what she can do differently in the relationship and how she can start with apologizing to him for all of the ways in which she has hurt him.
She talks about various things.
That he does things for her and she doesn’t show gratitude towards him, that when he says that she’s sexy, she thinks she’s fat and so shuts down and doesn’t acknowledge his appreciation.
That she looks at what he doesn’t do in the relationship and criticises him for that and can’t respond empathically to the pain behind his criticism and so on.
So that evening she makes her apology and texts me the next day to tell me how it went.
She says, “It was very difficult and I feel a lot of guilt and I couldn’t really look him in the eye.”
She said that he seemed disappointed at what she had to say and that he wanted to know how she was going to change and that he didn’t take responsibility for his part in the problems.
I want to now unpack what makes this interaction so reflective of the issues that I mentioned at the start of this blog: our craziness, our complexity and the wanting problem.
The first thing is that it’s very difficult for this woman to take responsibility for her issues without feeling guilty. Responsibility is simply a fact that she is responsible for doing certain things that push him away. To feel guilty in addition to this is to add self-judgement to the mix that is already problematic.
What’s also really problematic is that because she is so guilty she can’t look him in the eye which means that her apology comes from a closed heart.
If you apologise from a closed heart it’s not going to be well received so we can predict that the husband wasn’t going to respond well to this apology because it wasn’t completely open and genuine, it was contaminated by the guilt.
So instead of responding well to this ‘gift’ of apology he simply demands that she fix the issues and responds from his closed heart.
In addition he probably has the difficulty that most people have that they want to rush to solutions and fix things before the connection and the closeness is restored.
I see this problem in business and I see it in intimate relationships. We try to fix things to find solutions, before the relationship has been fixed, before the closeness and the love and the trust has been reignited.
So if we just take the issue in the relationship where he thinks that she is sexy and she thinks she’s fat. Eventually he’s likely to stop expressing his desire for her physically because he gets rebuffed.
Why does she feel this way about her body?
Because of the conditioning of our culture which makes women feel fat and ugly because they’ve got 2 kg of extra fat around their thighs, that they think shouldn’t be there. As though sexuality has really got anything to do with two or three or even five or 6 kg of fat.
It’s not easy for women to dump this conditioning around sexiness but nevertheless it’s a barrier to allowing the love in from their partner.
We did some amazing work around this issue by the way. Most women desperately need this work!
The wanting problem is really the killer. You have a fight with your partner. They give you what you want and then you simply look for the next thing that you want from them.
It’s an endless litany of dissatisfaction.
What Is To Be Done?
So what is to be done about our craziness and the complexity of all the psychological issues that are involved in these kind of difficulties?
Well, the best thing you can do is just start working on your own issues, work on your own stuff.
Instead of focusing on what your partner needs to do differently can you work on what you need to let go of?
A client of mine sent me the most beautiful video by Sadguru this morning.
You will really laugh at yourself!
He says, “Someone comes to me, they say Sadguru, My job is too much tension, I cannot bear it. I bless them, I say, may you be fired. (he laughs) What’s the problem, if you have your job you are suffering it, if you lose your job you are suffering it…it’s not about the job…it is your inability to manage your own mind, your body, your chemistry.”
So I say to my clients, “Can you work on the ways in which you reject him and don’t listen to him and don’t love him? If you’ve done all of this and you still don’t want to stick around, then leave!
You really have to be close to being a Saint if your partner is very difficult and doesn’t want to work on their stuff in order to make it work. There are some teachers who say that it only takes one to make a relationship, which means that if you do all of the work you can be with anyone. I disagree. If you are Spiritually Awakened, perhaps you can do it but otherwise, for the rest of us it’s too big an ask.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, intimate relationships are really, really, really, difficult. The more we want to get what we want from them, the less they are likely to work.
You might want to consider the possibility that the purpose of this life is to discover that ‘it is not about you!‘
If you would like to meet face to face or via Skype to deal with any of the issues in this blog, please drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes! I am sure that they can be difficult. What ever happened to kiss and make up. Fighting is never nice but just think of what could come next!! You are right Mark if we can sort out all our own issues. Then we may just stand a chance. Do Byron Katie s turnaround!!
Mark Kahn says
And here’s the problem, we don’t really want to do the turnaround, properly. We want to project and blame because it’s so much easier!
Savina Redpath says
Is that not being a defeatest, does that mean we give up on every battle?? Just a thought. We humans are so complex!!