Being Alive 1995 Mar 5: 6
You're in love. Or you want to be. Or you were, but somehow
you two act more like strangers these days. What starts out
so grand and transforming too often sinks to a disappointing
or ugly level. What happens? Perhaps our greatest challenge,
our hardest task in life is to be a good partner to another
person. It's easy at first, of course. We can't imagine how
anything could change our feelings. This time is different:
This time it will work. We can hardly touch the ground; we
can hardly not touch each other. Our lovely, romantic glasses
are rosecolored to the max. We feel healed and whole.
What Nature uses to bring us together is a wonderful
undiscerning blindness with a passion that rocks the world.
Blemishes in ourselves or in our Beloved are invisible or
irresistible. As are thorny issues such as difficult
families, money problems, health issues. friends in need, job
pressures. In love, we feel powerful enough to handle
anything! If you're able to let yourself go in this way, be
proud you can give your heart so fully. Some can't. Some are
so heart-battered that they don't dare taken another chance;
some so world-weary that they scoff at the excesses and
wonderments of Romantic Love. They don't give themselves - or
that cutie over there - a chance. Sadly, others are alone
when they'd rather share their pillow and tomorrow night's
leftovers with another soul. But for this month's column,
let's assume that you can love - or that you did and now it's
not working very well. What are the potholes and roadblocks
to keeping a sizzle in your eye and words of love on your hot
lips? Or how do you get back to such enjoyments?
The Absolutely Necessary Seven
We'll start with the Absolutely Necessary Seven: Respect,
Compassion, Acceptance, Patience, Passion, Devotion. Plus
Communication. If you think of your very best friend or
people you've been really close to in your sweet life, I
think you'll agree you had these things going for you. Here's
the picture: You respect one another's opinions, differences,
and right to live your own lives as best you see fit. You
feel for each other when one of you hurts, is treated
unfairly, or slides down into the dumps. You truly accept
each other. (What a miracle of grace!) Not that you always
understand or agree - that's different. We often don't, in
our heart of hearts, even when we adore the person. But you
each accept the other, weaknesses as well as strengths,
failures alongside the fantastic. You are patient, not
critical and demanding. Passion is a driver - you love being
together, sharing ideas and experiences, going places, or
just hanging. You look forward to spending time in each
other's company. It's a Big Deal; you come away feeling
filled up and happy. While the idea of devotion might seem
old-fashioned, it's also an important component. You two
devote time and energy to each other; you're in the same
corner. In other words, you can count on each other.
The Problem with Communication
Now, doesn't this sound grand? Add physical passion and it's
the cat's meow, the real deal, the quintessential. All you
need to keep it going is the hardest thing in the world:
Why is that so difficult? What's so threatening about telling
someone how you really feel? Who you really are? It's
difficult because we all have our fears and our insecurities.
All of us. Remember the adage "Don't judge someone else's
insides by their outsides"? Well, don't! No matter how
polished or cool or together someone appears, remember that
he/she has an emotional Achilles heel. Even when they deny
it, and even when they think they don't.
When we fall in love, we don't want our Main Squeeze to go
away. We're super-hyper-sensitive to rejection. The other
person counts, sometimes more than anyone else, and more than
we want them to. We are vulnerable. This takes us back to our
very young years when we depended upon great big Mommy and
Daddy to love little us. To protect and provide for our
enormous, constant, and important needs.
If you were very, very lucky, you got most of your needs met
most of the time. (Nobody gets everything all the time -
something to remember in our adult lives.) If you were harmed
as a child, your needs may be quite powerful and scary to
admit. Perhaps you're looking for someone to make up for what
Whatever our personal histories, each of us comes to romantic
love with our own strengths, hopes, and insecurities. We are,
once again, vulnerable. When living with HIV/AIDS, these
vulnerabilities are magnified enormously. Emotions, fears,
and needs can become huge and feel very overwhelming! So how
do you make things work? How do you, as a couple, keep it all
going? The major key is communication: how you talk and act
with each other; what your words and your body language say.
Let's look first at the How Not To list because so many of us
do these very naughty things.
How Not to Communicate
If you would like to fail at communication - and not get what
you want - try any and all of the following:
* Raising your voice
* Not listening
* One Up-ing
* Interrupting or talking over
* One-line zingers
* Watching TV while talking
* The Cold Shoulder
* Betraying confidences
* Trying to change the other person
* Drumming your fingers while the other person talks
* Ridicule or insults
* Saying "You're just like your Father" or "You act exactly
like your Mother!"
* Planning what to say as soon as the other
person shuts up
* The Silent Treatment
* Threats (physical or emotional)
* Withholding affection and/or sex
As you've already guessed, opposite tactics will help create
the context in which you and your lovely can productively and
effectively sort things out. Your best shot at solutions will
be a result of practicing the Absolutely Necessary Seven
components we discussed: Respect, Compassion, Acceptance,
Patience, Passion, Devotion, and Communication.
Clearing the Air
What does this actually look like? For starters, stuff gets
dealt with on a regular basis. Instead of hoarding your hurt
feelings or lugging around a sack of resentments, you take a
deep breath and try to clear the air when the issue first
comes up. Or you practice damage control by sitting down each
week to clear the air of any misunderstandings. You'll have
to experiment together to figure out what suits the two of
Work with your personality style. If you have hot buttons
that send you to the ceiling, you might need time to cool
down before you bring up the subject. If you toss and twist
and turn until everything's right between you and yours, you
might prefer speaking up sooner. If your grab-bag of hurts is
overflowing, maybe you can work together a little at a time.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and you can't dismantle a long
history of resentments in one sitting.
Without a parameter, people hurl their histories at each
other like there's no tomorrow. To prevent this, some couples
set a time limit for each discussion, then make an
"appointment" for the next sorting out. This can work quite
well: both partners know ahead of time that they don't have
to do this little number way into the wee hours when they'd
rather be in a much different position.
When communicating, it's useful to think in terms of partner
dancing. If you aggress (lurch forward), your partners will
either aggress back at you (come at you) or defend (step
back). I'd call this a War Dance. If you speak in a calm,
respectful way, your partner can stay in place, with a more
accepting attitude. Then you have the best chance of really
hearing and understanding each other.
Certain ways of phrasing can work magic. Below are some goals
with two ways to express them. Notice the difference in your
gut as you say them to yourself.
* Goal: to resolve a sticky issue
- When would you be willing to talk about this?
- I know you never want to talk to me about anything, but
you have no choice this time.
* Goal: to convey a need to feel understood
- I think I understand your position. And I'd like you to
- You never get it, do you?
* Goal: to get your partner's attention
- Honey, I'm not feeling listened to.
- You never pay any attention to me.
* Goal: to stop your partner from interrupting
- I haven't finished my sentence yet. (Or, I want to
finish what I have to say.)
- You're just like your father - always interrupting!
* Goal: to stop one-up behaviors
- I don't like being treated as a child. (Or, I'd like to
feel respected in this.)
- Yeah, Know-It-All, you always think you're right.
* Goal: to get back on track, the subject at hand
- That is another issue. I'm willing to talk about that
after we complete this.
- You can't ever keep anything straight, can you? We
weren't even talking about that.
* Goal: to get the problem neutralized rather than being one
- How can we both resolve this?
- Well, you brought it up, so you take care of it.
* Goal: to acknowledge a stalemate
- Maybe we'll have to agree to disagree.
- I can't even imagine that you can't handle this.
* Goal: to underscore the right to state one's position
- I don't want to offend you, but I also want to express
- I don't give a rat's ass about your feelings!
You get the idea. It's that Absolutely Necessary Seven in the
flesh. This whole Communication thing incorporates them.
(Sharon Milan is a licensed psychotherapist with offices in
La Canada 818.790.3450 and Ventura 805.985.9454. Sliding
scale for HIV/AIDS.)