Human beings require some form of intimate relationship to nurture their continued growth and psychosocial development. In fact, our relationships are way ahead of how we define ourselves in terms of life success, love and social impact.
Intimate relationships begin to form in the moments that your first conscious thought floated across your mind, if not before. As a little tiny baby, you longed to hear the heartbeat of your Mom, to feel skin on your skin, to be warm and fed. The comfort of love in a newborn is associated with their ability to thrive as well. the axis of early childhood relationships goes kind of like this:
- Children who are affirmed and loved by parents that provide ample physical and emotional care are more likely to become well adjusted, balanced adults.
- Children who are smothered and/or “caretakers” for parents in crisis may have a counter reaction of being unable to function outside of their attachment role, and will continue to bring the parental attachment into their grownup relationships (often including the actual parent.)
- Children who are raised in an atmosphere of chaos or lack of love are more apt to become anxious, maladaptive adults who cling to relationships that fuel their self esteem.
- Children who experience dysfunction in early life, such as isolation, lack of physical touch, or lack of affirmation often carry this cognitive model of love forward into adult life by becoming highly reserved or unable to connect with a spouse or child on a deeper level.
- Children who are born into situations of domestic abuse are more likely to begin to feel the affects of this abuse as early as midterm pregnancy. Low birth weight, high risk pregnancy and other conditions are greatly exacerbated by the stress felt in the mothers life. Young children who experience domestic violence also experience higher degrees of mental complications, inability to connect and form lasting relationships, and are a higher risks of suicidal thoughts/actions, risk taking, drug/gang involvement, etc.
You’ll notice that there is the qualifier “often” or “are more apt” in each of these examples. Not every situation results in a predictable outcome. It is viable (not probable) that wonderful loving parents may have a child with a biological, psychological bent towards becoming a serial killer. Horrific parents give birth to and raise some really extraordinary human beings, in spite of themselves. There is no perfect formula for knowing that your family life has a 100% predictable outcome; that being said, the chances of a man beating his wife are astronomically higher when he’s grown up watching his father beat his mother, even when he swears that this will never happen to him. While conditioning through socialization as a child is a primary motivator for why you act like you do, there are two other influences (biological and philosophical) that also impact you. Your genetics have impact on your person-hood, just as your personal choices do.
Life Lesson #1: Our cognitive ability to become the person that we want to be is totally within the control of a statistically “normal” human being.
Note that I didn’t say “easily.” Each one of us chose to be in the life that we’re living, given that you’re not in a suppressed area of the world where you have no rights, are being trafficked, or are in some way held hostage by circumstances not of your own making. I say that to give we freedom loving people a reality check: somewhere not to far from you there very well may be a person that is being held hostage in his/her life and who has no freedom to chose without a real threat to their very life. Is that you? Again, each one of us chose to be in the life that we’re living. We have opportunity and ability to change our financial status, our living standards, etc.
I am thinking of a cousin that has three small children (now 8,6,4) and a deadbeat ex that has no ability or interest in supporting his children. On the food chain of life, he’s chosen the part of the ladder labeled “I’m to selfish to care about anything other than having my own good time.” That is his choice – our moral obligation in life isn’t to condemn the guy, but to honor the work of the one that chooses to do the right thing.
The family helped her out as she pursued an education that she’s now applying. Before she thought she could, the nest that she was relying on ran dry – and she was faced with being a single parent in a strange new city, unable to afford child care that would enable her to work and put food on the table. Here is where the “entitlements” of the US come in to proper view. As she’s working her way up in the world, she’s receiving help from the state with the day care needs of her children. The father is facing court for lack of support. Did she just gratuitously have babies with some waste of a man? No, she married him with the faith that she was entering into an intimate relationship for life. Her self actualization (understanding what she really felt as an individual, recognizing the patterns in her behavior that are linked with her family of origin, etc.) allowed her to verbalize her inner needs, desires and attributes. The man that she had married she once felt desperate without; now, she recognized the signs of codependency, his chosen character and made her healthiest choice to separate for the right reasons.
So why do we as human sometimes chose the worst person to have an intimate relationship with? Look more closely.
Life Lesson #2: We bring a lot of the past into our present without realizing it.
Think of your internal life like an iceberg, said Freud. The part that you hear yourself thinking is just the tip above the water, but the real action is in your subconscious, in the way that you perceive and react. You can change that only when you identify it, acknowledge it and chose to master it. So much of what we feel helpless to control is actually something that can be successfully managed internally and with family support if you chose to – but it’s not easy.
In the submerged part of her unconscious life, my cousin found herself running the familiar routines of her growing up years. Her self esteem directed her to a man that was less than optimal but “ordinary” in her assessment. She comes from an intact “broken” home, one where her mother was abused by her father both emotionally and physically. Much to the horror of the family, her Mom had stayed quiet for years until all the kids were grown and gone. Ergo, the time came that my cousin both succumbed to a life of emotional violence. It was coming to this realization in talking with a counselor that she realized that she wasn’t going to live this way forever. Given and failing multiple chances, with the likelihood of change ranking in the “insignificant” level for her husband, she placed herself on the track of improving her own mental health, her life state, and the environment in which her children would grow. She learned that it is better to be from a broken home than in one.
Our intimate relationships frame what is that we think and feel about ourselves. When our moral and internal values and emotional needs stand in conflict with our intimate relationships, resistance occurs. A few markers of resistance in yourself are:
- Withholding thoughts and feelings that you could express to improve understanding;
- Feeling mistrust or lack of empathy for a partner or your self;
- Daydreaming of a “perfect” or more desirable mate, lover, situation that doesn’t include your significant other;
- Desire for physical intimacy with another person (doubly so if they have a real name and a pulse.)
- Denying your own feelings and desires to the detriment of the relationship.
- Lying. While humans tend to lie everyday about small things like the dress that you wear or your behavior at an event, lying about your emotions, state of sanity and the rocks in your resentment basket is a sure sign of resistance.
- Hiding in the way that you “always do it.” Humans grow and evolve, ergo, relationships grow and evolve. resistance grows when you have unmet expectations about your self, your partner, your life.
Resistance in Intimate Relationships
What is resistance? Coined a “lack of communication,” feelings of mistrust and betrayal, lack of empathy, lack of physical or emotional interest, resistance is the phase of intimacy where one or both parties become withdrawn emotionally from one another. Think of resistance as basket in which you are unconsciously placing small stones as life progresses. To illustrate this example of a couple who doesn’t realize that life is filled with resistance and stagnation, let’s create a fictitious couple of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Mr. Smith was one of those super eager, have to have it his way men. Early in his life, he decided to marry Mrs. Smith. She was a college student, just beginning to explore life…engaged at 19. She loved him. In the tender years of the twenties, they walked the isle of marriage and committed to life together. Somewhere on that isle, they both received a “life together” basket. It was wrapped in idea paper – the thought that this was the person who would “make them happy.” The stakes of the relationship based on the promises of the day changed. For him, it was becoming the man that his father never was. College, respect, a family worth admiring. For Mrs. Smith, she conceived of a life where she was able to both have a career and a family, to be engaged with her husband who was admittedly way more vocal than she but all the same fascinating on some levels. She wanted to be a whole and happy woman, unlike her mother who struggled with emotions and an absent father. This would work, right? She noticed a rock along the way of their relationship, but chose not to put it in that basket she held.
Fast forward a few years. A new child has come into the Smith household, one that they both anticipated and were happy about. Their baskets were littered with a collection of small stones. She picked one up when he criticized her inability to keep a perfect house and work full time. He picked one up when she blamed him for barely passing her finals the last year of school, after he’d quit college to marry her. Separation from the falling-in-love feeling made her less interested in his sexual advances (stone) and he was bored with her need for foreplay and lack of adventure (stone.) Still, life was somewhat balanced, the bills were paid and they’d just made life. Deciding it was time had been a compromise for her (stone). He was “ready to have kids” because “it was the perfect way to deepen their failing commitment to their relationship,” he thought (stone). He didn’t understand why she was reluctant, so he pushed and prodded. (stone, stone) He was ready. She, not so much. (stone) After a tough pregnancy (stone) she had a tiny little human to love like nothing she’d ever known.
All was almost well. She resented the days that she dropped her newborn daughter off with the daycare center (stone, stone), resented knowing that they couldn’t make it without her health insurance (stone), her salary(stone). Still, she loved her husband, and offered her total support. He changed from day to day, and emotional roller coaster at times, one with a haunting secret – a growing addiction to pornography (big damn rock). She hated it, and wondered to herself if when he was with her, he was thinking of those other women. (stone) Another rock, bigger this time lodged between them for him – she wasn’t what he perceived he needed (big stone). She didn’t have the same interests that he did, didn’t fulfill his total expectation of being a wife, his wife in specific. Four years and three children later she was exhausted, still working full time and quieter than ever. He’d changed a lot, grown as a person and even began to look different. There was no real connection for two people who “worked” on their marriage so often.
Twenty gave way to thirty, chain food restaurants across big wide tables for date nights that consisted of talking about the kids and stopping at the grocery store after a nondescript meal and a movie that was pseudo interesting. One day, she realized that time was flying by and resented the time that she didn’t spend learning about her own life before diving into the marriage pool. Several times, he realized that without the kids, he wouldn’t still be there. Sporadically, each would try to be that person that they’d promised; each had deeply seated beliefs that divorce was wrong. After all, it destroyed their families. Still, the feeling was there.
Resistance had come into the picture, full force….one tiny stone at a time.
In a cyclic fashion, you developed your moral and ethical values for life based on what you saw as a child. While the account is mostly fictitious, I’ve woven circumstances from my own life into Mr. and Mrs. Smith, thinking back to the times of my own life as a married twenty-something, knowing that I was harboring resistance that was poisoning my intimate relationships. Resistance comes most often in the form of feeling almost nothing in the marriage relationship outside of a degree of high familiarity and fear of change. The fear of change fuels the resentment and underlays the resistance. Some things to change resistance?
- Establish communication. Brian and I have an opening line that goes kind of like this. “I need to talk to you, and I want you to know that this is really about me. I am working though feeling ________. (Last week, that word was vulnerable.) Can you listen and walk with me in this? I know that when Brian says something like that he needs me to be an open, safe space to share. If he’s not safe given that I’m emotional, I will tell him so. If he’s not up to it, he’ll tell me so. We respect those times because we nearly did fall apart … from resistance and lack of communication. People who live together successfully know about active forgiveness.
- Recognize the feelings, thoughts and fears that you bring to your relationship with a qualified counselor. That doesn’t always read “pastor, friend, etc.” I am talking about someone with clinical training in your area of need. Many friends and pastors have literally no training in walking a person through their own thought process without projecting their own thoughts and feelings into the situation. You must decide for yourself and own the ideas that change and hopefully improve your life.
- Take time that requires real conversation. A date night that includes several hundred other people in the same room as well as a noise level that requires the word “huh” a lot isn’t quality time. Drinking yourself silly isn’t communicating. Although I am the feisty passionate one in our life, I have to say that porn isn’t communicating. Lovemaking in itself starts with a deeply felt bond between to giving persons. Establishing a real beach head in the life of intimate relationships requires a deep and intrinsic trust. Start by choosing to develop that trust and give it rime to grow in the natural.
- Make no relationship decisions while you’re upset. You’ve put time and energy into your relationships. Take the rocks out of both baskets one at a time and get your relationship into the best shape it can be. If you still feel the same disconnect, you know that you’ve done all that you can. If there is abuse present, you will have to make a healthy decision to protect your own life and that of your offspring (if applicable.)
- You cannot rely on another person to make you happy. You chose your feelings, and manifest them based on your values and your internal life expectations. No one makes us mad, sad, glad or bad. We chose that all on our own in response to what we perceive. What are your expectations for your spouse and have you really talked about it? Although I was the serious career woman with the big job, I realize now that deeply resented raising my children on my own (it felt like) being both the majority breadwinner, the responsible one and the full time mom. I resented strangers caring for my newborn daughter.
- Accept and acknowledge changing needs and lives. When this discussion came to the forefront of our relationship, it was Brian that asked me to follow that impulse to be a writer, to finish my counseling degree, to stay home with our daughter and make our life into that thing we both wanted. I respected his willingness to shoulder the financial burden of our life until I could recommit to contributing in my “new” form. I affirm that in him all the time, and listen to his concerns and fears about being the sole breadwinner in our family. It’s not that he’s not great at it – he more than provides. It’s his idea that I deserve so much because he loves me so…and I respect that he wants to provide the best life. How is the financial state of your intimate relationship? Where do the resistance issues lie? Do you have an internal conflict?
- In the absence of abuse, hurt feelings can not only heal, but strengthen a relationship. It’s a double edged sword, hurt feelings. If you internalize them, bury them alive, they will never die. The best way to end persecution is to simply admit the problem and drag it kicking and screaming into the light. Brian and I talk out the hard stuff. I don’t want things back “the way they used to be.” I am not okay with “okay.” We’re worth so much more than that. We took a hiatus from the support systems of church and friends to listen to what each other thought, and there, found a common bond of hope. We wanted to love one another forever. It was good to have a place to start from again, one that was a solid foundation of adult choice.
Part 6: Ending Relationships