This is part three of a series on women in relationships. It is following the format of an e-mail exchange between Deborah Leeds and me. Today's posting is a continuation of the previous two weeks, so if you didn't read them or don't remember them, it might be helpful to review and .
What’s coming to mind as I read your response is how easy it can be to get stuck in one of the two poles. I know that when I get into my independent position, I become more and more convinced I am a separate entity, and more and more resistant to being called to engage with another in a relational way. Is the obverse true? That is, is it easy for one in feeling deeply connected to resist the call to separate? Based on your comments so far and my own experience, I would have to imagine the answer is “yes.” I know when I am feeling the bliss of connection I don’t want to let go of it.
At this point I’m starting to think of this as less and less about biological males and females, though overall we probably do tend to gravitate toward our gender’s primary impulse of separation and connection, respectively. I’m thinking about it more along the lines of two connected yet separate poles of life, a pulse, a breathing in and out, the systole and diastole of being alive.
I can’t help but go to a spiritual place with this, because I think this discussion reflects what it means to be human at the deepest level. We are simultaneously, I believe, connected to everything and everyone by some invisible fabric of existence at the soul level. And we are also separate, independent entities, with a unique contribution to make to the cosmos which will not be made if we are only submerged in the collective. So we need both: awareness of and participation in our interconnectedness with each other and awareness of and expression of the unique beings we are.
Isn’t this cool where relationship can go when different beings engage with each other without defense?
Yes, our capacity to relate in this open way, even about our differences as men and women, is very cool; something builds on itself effortlessly, and energetically, expanding and allowing us to expand. (I wonder what THAT is!) And I think your last statement is really important: “....where relationship can go when different beings engage with each other without defense.” It is that "without defense" piece that is the clincher.
What does it take to stay open, to not go into defense mode, when there are differences? There was a spiritual teacher who used the phrase, "drop your head", as in drop the thinking that seems so concrete and absolute, let go of your assumptions about what any of it means. Finding one's way to being open with others is, I think, noteworthy work. Because it means becoming familiar with being very present- to ourselves first, and then to our partners - and meeting each other from that place. We cultivate the willingness to drop the content of a conflict just long enough to recognize the connection that exists between us, to be respectful of that connection and to each other, and to then listen and respond to each other. I think that it is that level of connection that is the cure for all of it: the need to feel understood, the importance of apologies without strings. It is a marvel to me that, once again, I have to say, that it is in connection that we are healed and whole. I think that it is for that level of connection, of seeing and being seen, that we hunger.
And, in terms of relationship needs, perhaps we have to "become the change you want to see" in order to have it in our relationships. The conflict and hurt of who-did-what and "what it means to me" is legitimate and has a powerful place in our psyches, not to be dismissed or frowned upon. It is a real question: Who do you want to be in your relationship? And, the sooner one or both of us comes to that wider field, the sooner we connect more deeply with ourselves and each other.
Next week: Josh and Deborah begin a new topic on women's anger in relationship.
Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog? Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at email@example.com.
Deborah Leeds, MFT, is a couples and individual therapist with offices in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, CA. Visit her website at deborahleeds.com
Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com.