TAKING THE HELM Taking responsibility for success in our relationships BY: Troy Murphy |March 2015
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The elderly couple holding hands, young lovers oblivious to the world, a spouse sitting in the hospital supporting her critically ill husband—glimpses of love that softens our hearts. We see the kindness and caring, passionately hoping to experience the same. Many couples succeed, connecting with intimacy, establishing life friendships, and enjoying the fairytale ending. But we also know marriages, commitments and friendship fail. We are social creatures. Science theorizes that the complexity of human interaction (reading of emotions, cooperation, etc.…) drove the rapid development of the human brain. Relationships require complex processing of dynamic and quick flowing information, too much awkwardness and we are shunned, too much confidence and we are excluded.
Although human needs have changed—survival no longer depends on group inclusion—navigating society complexities still requires knowledge, emotions and wisdom. A loving partner eases the challenges of this magnificent journey, two combine valuable resources. Working together, we achieve more security—financial, emotionally, and physically; but the commitment also adds to complexity. A partner is not an object—a puppet moving to our commands; but a living dynamic being. Partners have individual desires, dreams and motivations which they must honor. A partner’s strengths and weaknesses add to a couple’s fullness, adding new dynamics to experience.
A close relationship may rescue us from painful trajectories. Their influence may intervene and correct painful cycles—but not always. We must also make the change, modifying expectations, exploring emotions and working through faulty motivations.
Menacingly mixed in with the joys, we find disappointments, discouragements and suffering. A loving partner works with us—supporting, encouraging and holding, as we navigate through the difficulties. Even a perfect partner can’t save us from these discomforts. Love in all its power cannot create a pain free paradise. Yet many fantasize of a perfect existence. Perhaps lack of emotional attunement in childhood created a hole that relationships never completely fill. But we know something is missing. Extreme sensitivity to emotions suggests that something is wrong. Like the newborn, through caregiver attunement, learns to soothe emotional disruptions, we seek comfort from the emotional explosions of life. Hoping to escape from the cruelty of over-sensitivity, we fantasize that lover will save us; when they don’t we either attempt to transform the monster we married or run away with the perceived prince (princess) we barely know.
Unrealistically expectations cloud the goodness in the present. Fantasy dulls reality. Partners fail to compete when they rival against the bright glitter of fantasy. The reality of connection loses sparkle next to the colorful rainbows of dreams. The impassable gulf between reality and fantasy invites discouragement, disappointment, anger, and sadness. Real life must be contended with, not dreamed away. Real answers to real problems, seeing the immediate steps to take today, not some saving grace that will swoop down and save us from the realities.
"Love in all its power cannot create a pain free paradise."
Our connections depend on real solutions. In our weaknesses, we still must contend with over-sensitivity to emotions.
A new partner won’t cure the sensitivities; we must combat the inner-demons. The problems disrupting peace before princess charming arrived usually return once the princess loses her crown. Our insecurities return; our ache for fulfillment remains unresolved. The ecstasy of new romance may momentarily mask the discomforts. The early delights appear to solve the past. New relationships entertain the fantasy of paradise. We foolishly believe, lost in love, that we discovered a short-cut to healing.
The glorious feelings of romance—love—are powerful. Embrace the moment. Enjoy the passing distraction of romance. But true love offers more than a passing distraction; love carefully nurtured strengthens into intimacy and aids with healing. If grasped too tightly, demanding too much, the joys quickly fade inviting anger and disgust.
Loving partnerships increase resources to grapple with irritators from the past; the persistent emotions keep disrupting connections. When the emotions are strong, we will need outside assistance to guide us through the bonding process. Once the initial giddiness fades and residue from the past creeps out from shadows the challenges will arise. But sadly, we dampen new partner’s desires to help by blaming them when the bothersome past returns. We must be realistic with our healing. We won’t experience continued paradise. We must face the work required to enjoy intimacy. Without patience we will continually abandon good people for another injection of new love. No partner is good enough to constantly nourish the broken soul in need of healing. The emotional black hole sucks everything into the void and still remains empty. Eventually the past resurfaces. We can either find another distraction (love object) or lovingly accept reality and face the process of healing, appreciating our imperfect partner, leaning on professionals to assist in organizing the new experiences, and patiently enjoying our relationship within our limitations.
We soothe the pain just enough that we can adapt more mature responses to life, ditching juvenile defenses for constructive adaptations.
The path of love between the beginnings of attraction and the security of intimacy may be foreign, unfamiliar to our experience. We can’t travel a strange road with confidence—it’s impossible. We experienced too many painful endings. We must move forward anyways, timidity placing a single foot forward. With awkward progression, unclear which direction to take, we seek help; but with heightened awareness, we begin to examine the hurts. Mindful breathing assists in these first explorations into our souls. By taking the helm, we direct action, and healing begins. Habitually blaming partner after partner for failures, denying personal responsibility, we continue destructive behaviors—weakening connections, living a life of loneliness.
By blaming a partner, we demand them to make us happy, passing responsibility for our happiness. We momentarily relieve the anxiety of not knowing how to connect, skirting responsibility and focusing on outside triggers. We all are guilty, engaging in faulty responsibility assessments. We point the finger because blaming feels better than the guilt of responsibility. Honest personal inventories can reveal troves of riches; undiscovered they rot. We must be honest; if the only fault discovered is we love too much, we must dig a little deeper. Personal examinations that fail to uncover personal fault scream self-deception, and faulty ego protections. Blindness to personal fault is the first obstruction to address. In these cases, the pervasive defense mechanisms must be dismantled through gentle coaching of a close friend or a skilled professional.
Until we take responsibility, we won’t recognize the changes necessary for intimacy. Close relationships will remain beyond our grasp. Many fearfully dodge responsibility with defensive rhetoric, "But then my partner will do whatever they want!" Allowing individual freedom to partners terrifies when those before abused the freedom. Partner freedom is essential to intimacy, creating vulnerability; the only path to trust and healing. If a partner’s pasts drag on their souls, also tormenting their serenity and interfering with their openness to trust, our manipulations will not cure these ills. The controlling tools of guilt, name calling, or hurt never forces healthy change—manipulation doesn’t make an unhealthy relationship healthy. Manipulation deepens the divide.
With insecurity, unhealthy behavior invades all interactions, creating an impenetrable wall—fear, anger, disappointment, self-righteousness, discouragement, and depression; a wall that stands between us and the healing power of intimacy.
We need more personal responsibility; not control. By taking responsibility, we direct growth to the frailties on our own hearts, increasing understanding and empathy towards ourselves and towards our partner. By allowing partners to be free agents, free of the nasty manipulations and hidden barbs of guilt, we allow the relationship to strengthen, forging trust through the overgrown jungles of insecurity that continuously strangles our hopes for connection.