relationship tango

The Relationship Tango

The rela­tion­ship tan­go — the pur­pose of a rela­tion­ship is the per­son­al growth of both of the peo­ple in the rela­tion­ship. This flies in the face of the roman­tic notion that rela­tion­ships are there to get my needs met. Often, peo­ple think that what they see in movies or on the soaps is “real.”

Let’s take a look at how our relationships are indicators of our personal development. 

You’ll know that Dar­bel­la and I think that relat­ing is not about rela­tion­ships. (There is no such thing as ‘a cou­ple.’ There’s just two indi­vid­u­als who choose how they are going to relate.)

The purpose of a relationship: the best place to encourage personal growth for both of the people in the relationship.

This flies in the face of the roman­tic notion that rela­tion­ships are there to get my needs met. 

Often, peo­ple think that what they see in movies or on the soaps is “real.”

That you find your ‘one true love’ through kismet or kar­ma, that you fall deeply and roman­ti­cal­ly in love, and ride off into the sun­set on the gon­do­la of bliss.

Real­i­ty is often much harsh­er, as is evinced by this “much men­tioned but slight­ly inac­cu­rate sta­tis­tic: there’s a 50% divorce rate – and that’s just for first mar­riages. Sec­ond mar­riages actu­al­ly fare much worse – near­ing 75% failure. 


Because peo­ple who get divorced the first time do not learn the les­son – do not under­stand the pur­pose of a rela­tion­ship. They think they picked the wrong part­ner, and that this time they’ll pick bet­ter.

So, typ­i­cal­ly, they mar­ry the oppo­site of the first schmo (Yid­dish – schmuck) and think, “Great! Right part­ner this time! Now I can real­ly get what I want!”

All they do is end up miserable faster. 

They already know a divorce lawyer, so the 2nd one typ­i­cal­ly ends quick­er. Unless they are stubborn.

All relationships start with romance… the hormone driven start of a pairing.

In my book, This End­less Moment, I wrote that hor­mones are there to get us to breed, and noth­ing more. The endor­phin rush I feel at the first blush of love is noth­ing more than a drugged state designed to get me to ignore the oth­er person’s true nature long enough to procreate.

This is the real­i­ty of all of our rela­tion­ships, assum­ing that we start­ed them only on the basis of “love, lust, and hormones.” 

Oh sure, we’ll deny that this is what we are doing, but how else to account for the star­tling real­iza­tion, some months in, that my part­ner is not who I thought she or he was?

All of a sudden, I’m noticing flaws. Flaws!!!

We then enter the Con­flict stage, and that one we all know. It’s when we try to change our part­ner, first through wheedling (‘If you loved me, you’d change”) then bar­ter­ing (‘I’ll do this for you when you do that for me’) then black­mail, threats, fights, separations.

All of this is a result of feeling gypped – I didn’t get what I thought I was getting.

I saw a quote that I wish I’d writ­ten down. It was some­thing to the effect that:

My part­ner is who (s)he is in his or her total­i­ty – every­thing from start to fin­ish.
My part­ner is not just the last thing he or she did.

Now, this is an inter­est­ing thought – and like most things, is para­dox­i­cal in nature. 

  • First, fights start because of what is hap­pen­ing right now.
  • On the sec­ond hand, it is unusu­al, when we fight, not to drag in the kitchen sink – all of the oth­er sup­posed sins of the past.
  • And… on the third hand, my part­ner may be exhibit­ing new behav­iour. This does not negate the past behav­iours. It is added to the past behav­iours, cre­at­ing a rich­er picture.

Without belabouring the obvious, the fighting stage is a crucial one. 

Some peo­ple fight for­ev­er. I remem­ber coun­selling one 60-year-old who had been mar­ried 40 years. In Octo­ber, she stat­ed: “My Christ­mas will be ruined again this year. He won’t hang the lights right.”

I found out:

a) he’d nev­er hung them right
b) she always took that as a sign he didn’t love her
c) she’d berate him and he’d stop talk­ing
d) this had been going on for 40 years AND
e) she’d nev­er once told him how she want­ed the lights hung, because “He knows, and hangs them wrong to spite me!”

They’ll go to the grave fighting.

Oth­ers, like many of our par­ents, (before divorce became social­ly accept­able,) do not fight. They sim­ply live sep­a­rate lives, shar­ing the house and the kids, and act­ing like room­mates with priv­i­leges. This is the stage of apathy.

Or, you get a divorce, learn noth­ing, and do it all over again.

The way out, which we’ll look at in detail next week, is drop­ping the need to be right, let­ting go of the fight­ing, and sim­ply get­ting curious.

So, back to the thread of this article.

The pur­pose of rela­tion­ships is to deep­en your self-under­stand­ing. That’s it. All the rest, includ­ing hav­ing kids, is sec­ondary. (I’m not den­i­grat­ing par­ent­ing – it’s a bio­log­i­cal neces­si­ty for the con­tin­u­a­tion of our species. We could do it with­out get­ting mar­ried – all that is required is sperm and egg.)

All the ‘sta­bil­i­ty of the nuclear fam­i­ly’ is so much pro­pa­gan­da – remem­ber the 50% divorce rate? And most of the remain­ing cou­ples, per­haps 45% are stay­ing out of guilt, fear of fail­ure, or just plain fear. The kids sur­vive anyway.

The pur­pose of life is not sim­ply to breed and to die. If there is a pur­pose, it is to deep­en our know­ing. Rela­tion­ship is a per­fect place (ther­a­pist David Schnarch, author of The Pas­sion­ate Mar­riage, calls this a cru­cible) to learn to see myself.


Back before I retired, my clients told me that I was the only per­son who tru­ly saw and accept­ed them. 

This is both true, and sad. 

I see peo­ple as they are because I have no wish for them to be oth­er than they are. 

And, I encour­age every­one to be all that they are – to drag out the scary, juicy, stuck, char­gy, dark, horny, hap­py, depressed parts, and to try them on for size. 

I con­tin­ue to do this with­out judge­ment, because I am curi­ous and inter­est­ed in the total­i­ty of their being – not just the polit­i­cal­ly accept­able parts.

My dance with Dar­bel­la is the same. I can­not ever remem­ber wish­ing to change her, nor have I ever judged her. We have fought a few times in our 38 years togeth­er, when both of us got stu­pid at the same time, but we turned each fight into an explo­ration, not a battle. 

In a sense, we chose to leave conflict behind for co-creativity.

You need to look at your prin­ci­pal rela­tion­ship, or look at how you are keep­ing your­self out of one if you don’t have one. 

Note: If you are not in a rela­tion­ship, and want to do a much bet­ter job find­ing a part­ner that suits you, have a look at my book, Find Your Per­fect Part­ner. You’ll find the tools you need to engage your brain!

I’m not advo­cat­ing mar­riage. Many of my friends have prin­ci­pal rela­tion­ships at a dis­tance, or with friends. The point is, each per­son need to be in con­stant con­tact with at least one per­son – a dance and dia­log where I get called when I get off track.

In my view, it is not sen­si­ble to be in a rela­tion­ship that I am not at least neu­tral about. If I am angry and judge­men­tal most of the time, why am I there? I need to move on.

If I am at neu­tral, and my part­ner and I have (mutu­al­ly) made a pact of self-explo­ration (usu­al­ly with the help of a ther­a­pist) I must let go of con­flict and choose curios­i­ty. More on this next time.

The rea­son for drop­ping con­flict and choos­ing curios­i­ty is sim­ple – con­flict steals my ener­gy. I end up rail­ing against my part­ner, blam­ing him or her for every­thing lame and weak, and stu­pid in my life.

This is alto­geth­er too convenient.

Mon­i­tor your­self and your gut sense of your prin­ci­pal rela­tion­ship. You do not have for­ev­er, and apa­thy and lame accep­tance is sim­ply that – lame.

Note: And if your present rela­tion­ship needs work, well… check out The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever. It’s my rela­tion­ships book… you’ll find all the help you need!

Scroll to Top