Real Relating  —  Discover Yourself

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Real Relat­ing

On Real Relat­ing  —  Dis­cov­er Your­self  —  relat­ing is a forum where we get to exper­i­ment with what we are learn­ing about ourselves

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Today is our last look at David Schnar­ch’s amaz­ing book, Pas­sion­ate Mar­riage.

To recap, his states that our job, when relat­ing, is:

  • to stand on our own two feet,
  • to work on those aspects of our self that are get­ting in our way, and
  • to self-soothe in the face of opposition.

So, my only job is figuring me out, resolving my issues and standing forth in my ways of living and being.

Because of this, I want to be with a part­ner who is doing exact­ly the same thing. This means that I will not be in rela­tion­ship with any­one who wants me to put his or her needs or wants or desires ahead of my own. Period.

A quote, for this week, from Schnarch:

“Basi­cal­ly, con­struct­ing your cru­cible involves extract­ing your unre­solved per­son­al issues embed­ded in your grid­locked sit­u­a­tion and con­fronting them as an act of integri­ty. You do this uni­lat­er­al­ly, with­out count­ing on your part­ner to do like­wise, and with­out get­ting lost in what he is or isn’t doing… You focus on your­self instead of “work­ing on your rela­tion­ship” or try­ing to change your part­ner. You stop try­ing to make your part­ner lis­ten, val­i­date or accept you; you lis­ten to your­self.” Pg. 234

Back when I was in Sem­i­nary, one of my friends was a “seek­er of the per­fect partner.” 

When we first met, she had just divorced her first hus­band. He was a psy­chi­a­trist, and her descrip­tion of the process they engaged in was, 

I mar­ried him because he stood up to me, did­n’t just cave in. We argued all the time, try­ing to get the advan­tage. I final­ly left him when I real­ized that we were nev­er going to be able to resolve anything.”

The marriage had lasted less than 6 months.

I asked her what it was about her that want­ed to be at war with her part­ner. She said that she thought that con­flict and argu­ing were signs of real life  —  of pas­sion. The ver­bal push­ing and shov­ing match­es showed the depth of her rela­tion­ship. She was “engaged.”

The prob­lem with this was that was all there was  —  the fight­ing, the blam­ing, and the exhaus­tion. I sug­gest­ed she get some ther­a­py, so she could get over her­self and so she could explore her des­per­ate need to win.

She just laughed and went on a man hunt.

That sum­mer, she went off to be the sum­mer direc­tor of a church camp. That put her in con­tact with a series of men. She wrote to me week­ly, describ­ing in glow­ing terms the “male of the week.”

By this I mean that she “dated” and bonked a different man each week, and each “relationship audition” lasted a week.

The first week, she also wrote that she­had fig­ured things out  —  all by her­self!!  —  no ther­a­py necessary. 

And what she fig­ured she want­ed was a man:

  • who was sweet and kind and
  • who would lis­ten to her and respect her and
  • who would let her be in charge.

Her need to be in charge of some­one else stemmed from a deep resis­tance to tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for her life; she want­ed oth­ers to change so she could be happy. 

With the psy­chi­a­trist ex-hus­band, that meant win­ning fights. Her lat­est goal was a man who would do what­ev­er she said.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, none of the men she seri­al­ly dat­ed seemed to be “into” such obe­di­ent behav­iour. Male after male passed through; none of them had the right stuff. I know because she kept send­ing me letters.

The summer passed. By late August, she’d “auditioned” the entire Board of Directors; 10 of them!

Final­ly, with one week remain­ing, all that was left was the camp jan­i­tor… or so she told me in her final letter.

I went to Michi­gan to pick her up and haul her back to Toron­to. Imag­ine my amuse­ment, when I arrived. I found a note on her door say­ing she was with “Biff” or what­ev­er his name was. 

She said I’d find her in his van.

And damned if there was­n’t a bumper stick­er on the van, read­ing, “If this van’s rockin’ don’t come knockin.” And it was. Rocking.

She emerged flushed and grin­ning. Biff, she told me, had turned out to be just per­fect.

Over din­ner I learned his favourite expres­sion was, “Yes, dear, what­ev­er you say, dear.” He clucked and cooed and even cut her meat for her. She was in charge, and she was rev­el­ling in it.

So, she married him.

Three years lat­er, she showed up, unan­nounced, on my doorstep. She was leav­ing him, she said, amidst tears. Why? “He nev­er has an opin­ion. He leaves every­thing to me. The sex is bor­ing. He won’t stand up to me.” 

When I point­ed out that these were the very things she had told me, 3 years ear­li­er, were his strengths, she said that I had mis-heard her.

The next guy she dat­ed was a shell-shocked war vet­er­an who could­n’t feel, and she was deter­mined to teach him. After 6 months, she left him because he refused to change.

The last guy I heard about was 30 years old­er than her and had just had a triple bypass fol­low­ing a heart attack. I joked that she was with him because she’d real­ized that, so far, all she’d missed out on was being a widow.

She did get ther­a­py, from a guy she called “Don­ny.” (Shades of Annie Hall.) He told her she was fine  —  it was the men.

I haven’t heard from her since ’87. She hat­ed that I con­tin­ued to sug­gest that she get her own stuff togeth­er, and fig­ure out why she had such con­trol issues. She thought she had noth­ing to learn.


Yes, we all mar­ry “for bet­ter and for worse,” but the assump­tion is that spous­es will do every­thing pos­si­ble to over­come their lim­i­ta­tions  —  not sim­ply demand their part­ner put up with them!“
pg. 302

So, assum­ing you have a part­ner and you’re stuck, and you’re will­ing to look at your­self and your stuff, what will be required?

Well, first of all, you need to get off your part­ner’s case, take a step back, and spend a while doing self-explo­ration. This involves admit­ting that the cause of your dis­tress is you, not your part­ner.

Now, your part­ner is like­ly not going to make this process easy. Unless they have, by some mir­a­cle, agreed to do their work pre­cise­ly when you decid­ed to do yours, their goal will be to get you hooked back into their mess­es  —  by doing the old stuff, cajol­ing, blam­ing, pick­ing fights. They do this because, as you change the rules through self-explo­ration, they feel threat­ened, as the focus goes off them and the rela­tion­ship to you.

Do it anyway.

One last Schnar­chi­an quote: (from a case study)

At break­fast the next morn­ing, Joan expressed her feel­ings with­out focus­ing on Bil­l’s reac­tion. “I’m no longer will­ing to accept how rarely we talk,” she said, “and I’m no longer will­ing to push you to do it. But don’t assume I’m accept­ing things the way they are because I won’t be nag­ging or crit­i­ciz­ing you any­more. For myself, I don’t want to be pathet­i­cal­ly grate­ful just because my part­ner talks to me… And for you, I don’t want you feel­ing pres­sured all the time by a screech­ing wife. I’ll inter­pret what you do from here on as indi­cat­ing your deci­sion about how you real­ly want to live. I make my deci­sion about my life accord­ing­ly.”” Pg 122

The key to amaz­ing relat­ing is chang­ing one’s self-view, and from that place, chang­ing the way we inter­act. With­out excep­tion, the life you lead, you live, is the result of your skill at self-knowing.

Buy Schnarch’s book. Find a competent therapist. Stay with it. (Or start…)This is, after all, the only life you have, and likely the only one you’ll get.

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