Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"It's not you, it's me"

A woman wrote in to an advice columnist recently, complaining that her husband had pulled back from the relationhip. The columnist replied that that was perfectly possible, and that the husband might be depressed. She should discuss that with his GP. BUT, the columnist noted that it was also possible that it was the woman who had changed, not her husband. If so, she needed to find other outlets for her energy (a hobby, new friends), rather than turn to her husband to make her life be more fulfilled.

This column spoke to me, because I've been feeling like Susan has been particularly absent from our relationship recently. But I've also thought... no, maybe it's me. Maybe I've become clingy and needy. How unsexy is that?!? I've realised I was unhappy with the way things were, and that she was unwilling or unable to meet my needs. So I've been reaching out to new friends, and finding excitement in new activities. I got my cello out for the first time in years, and had an excellent match of tennis with a friend.

It's felt great! So refreshing! So fulfilling! Somehow I was waiting for Sue to meet my needs, but by going out there and looking after myself, not only were my needs met, but, even better, I felt empowered in the process! I once again felt like the captain of my fate, master of my destiny... well, a little bit, anyway! (Being in a family is surely nothing if not a tradeoff between companionship and independence.)

But then I began to wonder about the endgame. Of course, I can go my own way and feel independent, happy and fulfilled. (And a bit lonely -- but that's another story.) But just as it's possible for a couple to be too clingy and codependent, so also can couples grow apart and learn to not love each other, not need each other, not want each other.

Sue and I went through just such a stage once upon a time.

So... right. Far enough apart that we meet our own needs, but close enough together that we don't lose touch.

This life business sure is a tricky one! Why is it that they teach Calculus and French in high schools, but not how to have a successful marriage? I know which is more important to me; which I want more for my children; and which will ultimately make me a more productive, happier, and more well adjusted member of society.

Yes, I can conjugate verbs with the best of them; decline nouns in my sleep; take the second derivative of binomial equations without batting an eyelash. But finding just the right balance between independence and intimacy in my marriage? Now that takes some serious effort!


  1. I think it's wonderful that you're playing your cello. Whatever you do *for you* can only be good. And some of the authors on marriage that I've found most helpful (Esther Perel, David Schnarch) insist that developing some independence and healthy distance can actually increase real intimacy (and heat up sexual passion). Even if Sue doesn't respond, though, you'll likely feel stronger and happier. I hope so, anyway!

  2. I definitely agree that I wish I would have learned a little more as a youngster about healthy relationships -- as opposed to reading fairy tales and storybook endings that never happen in real life. I might have some kind of answer for you about the line between healthy independence and intimacy.
    I guess we just have to work to find that level of comfort within our own relationships and then we'll know. I doubt it's the same for any two relationships -- that line between independence and intimacy. What greater study hall than a relationship of your own, right?

  3. Sungold: thanks for that! I would be interested in having a look at some of these books by Perel and Schnarch. Can you recommend a title or two for me? I very much agree with an image from "Getting the Love you want" by Harville Hendrix (highly recommended). He suggested that we should seek not to be a vessel that is filled by our partner, but rather, that we should be an overflowing vessel that has something to offer to our partner. Or, in more common parlance: don't be needy; be happy in yourself -- it's far sexier! :)

    Rae: I agree, our relationships are the best study hall for these issues. Perhaps we don't get taught about it in school because we need to learn by doing -- by being in that relationship, and feeling how it feels, and making our own decisions as we go. I mean, everyone over the age of 12 or 14 must know the importance of "be yourself". But do they know what that is, or how to do it? I suspect not many people under 30 or 40 know that -- and perhaps not many over, either! So maybe we don't get taught because it's inherently unteachable stuff. But... I still think there's SOME good stuff we could be learning about relationships and personal growth while in school. I hope one day they start teaching it.

    To both of you: thanks so much for your thoughts and positive energy. I very much appreciate your feedback and warmth! 8^)