The Dance of Love

Love is exciting! … LOVE is SO hard.

“Only once in your life will you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. …” (Bob Marley)

Ahh!!! … Yes! …  Love! …

I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but the love described above is, well – early love. As the months and years march on for a couple, the relationship is also described with other colorful expressions, like:

I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a Luna scope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!” (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

Ahh…. Yes… Love…

Love is also baffling, tormenting, exasperating. Can you have one, and avoid the other? No… not really.

Perhaps it will help if you understand the normal aspects of relationship development. We all have needs for connection, but we also have needs for separateness – or our own identity. So much of making a relationship work becomes a balancing act of supporting closeness while also allowing for separateness.

When the needs of one partner conflict with the needs of the other, things can get ugly. Couples that want to thrive can learn to support themselves and the partner in their ever-cycling needs for connection and separateness. But it’s not easy. It helps if you are aware of your own motivations lurking under the battlefield of issues. The more you understand these normal needs, the better equipped you will be to communicate clearly with your partner.

According to developmental psychology, there are three main styles of promoting connection: nurturing, merging, and idealizing. These are the qualities demonstrated in the first quote above. As the couple develops, these qualities are still necessary to sustain intimacy and passionate love, but they may have a less fevered style in there expression. When you are struggling for connection and feel your partner is not receptive, it may show up as pouting, jealousy, demanding, accusing, substance abuse or overeating, for example.

The main arenas that foster separateness are devaluing, controlling, and competing. The second quote above represents the desire for separation-individualization, and it’s not as horrific as it sounds! Think of the classic toddler who is infamous for saying “NO!” or competing with dad for mom’s attention. It’s normal to want to assert separateness. I get a warm nostalgic feeling when I remember my son Robby defiantly tossing his food on the floor, or carrying his potty trainer into my room when he was mad at me!

If only I could feel such warmth towards my husband when he insists on buying another motorcycle! Oh… wait… I DO!

But I first had to realize that his need for speed isn’t in direct conflict with my need to feel safe in our relationship.

If you are stuck in a negative-reaction-cycle to in your relationship and can’t remove yourselves to see more clearly, you may need help from a third party. Don’t hesitate to get into therapy with a qualified counselor (see Choosing a Therapist).

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