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Being Alive
Love Talk
Sharon Milan, M.F.C.C.
March 5, 1995
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: Communication.

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 you missed.

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 * Name-calling * Not listening * One Up-ing * Interrupting or talking over * One-line zingers * Watching TV while talking * The Cold Shoulder * Accusations * Sarcasm * 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 you.

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.

Say What? 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 understand mine. - 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 person's fault - 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 my opinion. - 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.)

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