Friday, October 17, 2008

My 1st Letter!

After patiently waiting for 3 weeks now I finally got a request for advice from an anonymous source. As I clicked the link to view the correspondence I was anxiously anticipating the content, The snail mail equivalent would be having trembling hands as I opened the unsealed envelope.

This inquiry is excellent because of it's focus on equity, respect and control in significant relationships, an issue so many of us can identify with:

Hi Jeff, How are you doing? I clicked on your blog page. I also bookmarked it. I need all the advice I can get in I still have an insecure feeling inside when it comes to men. Is this normal? Like one thing about Trent that irritates me is that like he said he would call me last night and he didn't. This is about the 3rd time he has done this. Should I not be so petty or realize now he is not always a man of his word? I honestly would just like to learn to be happy without a man. lol Have a good day. Anonymous

Ty for the wonderful thoughts and your letter. I guess we all wish we could be content by ourselves. But having a romantic relationship that meets our needs is an important part of anyone's life. And having someone you can rely on and is consistent is very important too. So I can see why you are disappointed in Trent's recent behavior.

As adults seeking relationships we all fight this constant battle of 2 mutually strong desires: between being alone an accountable to no one and having our romantic and companionship needs met by someone significant in our lives. Both seem like strong and persuasive needs. Unfortunately it is difficult to satisfy both: in sharing your time and space with someone else, we are forced to surrender some of the freedom and autonomy we can enjoy when we focus on our own interests and self-care.

Developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson makes reference to this quandary in his eight stages of human development:

Intimacy vs. isolation (young adult stage) refers to the 6th stage of Erik Erikson's theory of Psychosocial development where the social task of the young adult is to create strong, long-lasting bonds of friendship and love. Those that fail in this task risk remaining isolated for the rest of their lives.

He identifies this as a conflict that begins at young adulthood. I would contend that in this era of transient and more temporary romantic bonds this conflict carries on into middle adulthood, given the slowing of the aging process and our youthful and neotenous values and outlook in modern society.

I would also argue that the "risk of remaining isolated for the rest of their lives," is a gloomy exaggeration of the isolation outcome, as some people are quite content with a solitary existence.

Ok, I need to get some advice in here at some point and get away from the academic digression.

So how can we try to live our lives in a way where both needs are satisfied? What are some of the common misconceptions or cognitive errors that we bring into the relationship? Here are a few "bullets" that contend with my writer's difficulty with her boyfriend.

  • Never Again: it is unreasonable to expect the same intense feelings and bonds in a later adult relationship as you had as a young adult. Both parties are more protective of their hearts and set in their ways and you will never get that feeling of "oneness,' that you did with earlier love interests. It is a sad fact, but a realistic expectation. Even young couples that do stay together for years and beyond to a golden anniversary drift apart in terms of insatiable attachment and time spent together. But their appreciation for each other and love grows in many other ways; their shared time together, the mutual pride of raising a family. That mutual love can also be gleaned in a relationship that starts in later adulthood. It is a matter of duplicating that appreciation by finding mutual pride in shared and productive activities (including the combining of two families) and sharing time in activities that are spontaneous, fun and unique enough to be chronicled as an enduring and sustained memory.
  • Be Confrontational: If your partner does something that you believe falls short of your mutual agreement, don't just sit back and keep taking it in a patterned way. Take a stand, but frame it in a way that is constructive and encourages further growth and so he/she does not feel put on the spot. "I want to ask you about something because I really care about our mutual satisfaction in this relationship," for example. Keep your emotions in check, moderately positive and upbeat. You will in most cases get some honest dialogue and know where you stand in the relationship. Maybe you won't like the answer, but it beats the uncertainty and painful lingering effect of feeling like you are being taken advantage of and not knowing where your partner stands.
  • Keep Yourself Centered: Aware of what you have control over and do not. Remember your self-worth and that it is reasonable, desirable and you are deserving of having a healthy relationship. When you start to say you must have this relationship and you must have it right now, that's when you cross over to irrational thoughts that lead to unrealistic expectations and a deteriorating mood.
We all have to find a balance between our own personal content and the satisfaction of having someone special in our lives. Once we have found our place in that continuum and find a person that shares our dreams and values, the conflict between autonomy and belonging will be resolved.

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