Tools for Couples Happiness — 29 October 2003
Handling the ebb, flow in relationships

Relationships, like the ocean, are fluid and forever changing, calm or
stormy. Unfortunately, when the tide is low, some couples erroneously
despair and terminate an otherwise sound relationship.

Change is a natural phenomenon occurring in both nature and human
interactions. Though we accept the changes in nature, we find it
difficult to deal with them in relationships. Psychologically we are

drawn to the familiar- even if it is not ideal. People are attached to
their patterns of relating because they are known, predictable, and thus
less taxing. Venturing into new ways, even better ones, seems risky. So
when the emotions within the relationship change, we feel alarmed. We
fear that the “good times” are gone forever and we are heading for a
downward spiral.

Ancient man worried that once the days got shorter, they will continue
to shorten and the sun may never rise again. Today we understand the
cycles of the seasons and the beauty they each posses. Yet, we fail to
have the same appreciation for the cycles within relationships. The
philosopher Heraclitus told us that in life: “Everything flows and
nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed”.

It is emotionally and physically impossible to maintain the level of
intensity that many couples experience at the onset of their romance.
The single focus of energy toward the partner, to the exclusion of
almost everything else, is a temporary thrill that can not be sustained
for long. When the infatuation gives way to a realistic view of the
mate, disappointment and sadness may follow. For some couples that
signifies the end of their connection. ” I no longer feel about her the
same way I did when we first met” is not a statement requiring parting,
but one demanding an inquiry: ” Since that is natural, then in what new ways do you now further appreciate your partner?” It is important to view
changes as growth rather than loss.

In a relationship, intimacy is the most cherished and sought after
emotion, yet it is often avoided and feared. When we are truly intimate,
we are vulnerable and can be easily hurt. Achieving a sense of
“wholeness” through unity with another requires risking loss of
separateness. This causes us to sometime defer the pleasure of intimacy
in order to avoid a potential ensuing loss. The balance between the joy
of merging with another person and preserving autonomy _ is a delicate one. Therefore, it is no wonder that couples sometimes feel very close, at
other times quite apart, and most of the time in between those
positions. This is very normal. As the ocean waves flow toward the shore
and recede, over and over and over, so do we reach for the connection
and quickly recede to autonomy.

When couples break up due to a connection distance, they fail to
recognize that it may be a phase- not a permanent state. It may even be
a necessary “recharge break” so that they can re-connect more intensely
later. Yet, we are often too impatient with a discomfort to consider its
possible benefits, or to value it as a signal for a needed change. Our
“throw away” mentality sometimes dares to tread into sacred places such
as a loving relationship. We must not allow ourselves to be so careless
about our love, nor so quick to conclude its demise due to a temporary
discomfort.
The first task every human being undertakes from birth is learning to
attach to another being. The baby spends at least its first nine to
eighteen months trying to master this complex task. Early attachment,
skills serve us later in developing more mature forms of deep connection
in coupling. The problem is that in early attachment there is a strong
sense of dependence, which as we grow older- we reject.
So how do we find the balance between attachment and autonomy? How do I
maintain my sense of self _ yet merge with you?

The answer comes from the knowledge that one isn’t lost in connection-
only enhanced by it. When we are fully connected, loved and cherished _
we feel whole and are able to access our ability to reciprocate
unconditional love. Nothing is lost. Even though instinctively we may
fear being engulfed, we are actually embraced.

Having an historical perspective on your personal as well as
relationship cycles is very helpful. Most people are aware that some
days their sport or driving skills (or any other abilities), are less
honed than they usually are. People who exercise daily report that some
days their routine seems easy and flowing, while on other days it seems
hard and laborious. This variance also applies to our relationship
skills, feelings and energy, but may be measured not in days but in
longer spans of time.

Some ways to view your relationship:

  • Relationships have cycles. These are normal fluctuations in the
    intensity and depth of your connection to your mate.
  • Your relationship preceded and should supercede all your other “busy”
    endeavors- Treasure it!
  • If you feel unhappy with the nature of your connection to your
    partner, it is YOUR job to improve it. Do not assume it is a doomed state.
  •  If you feel lonely or neglected- most likely so does your mate. Reach
    out and re-connect.
  • If you feel “too busy” to pay attention to your partner- your
    priorities got disordered. Justifying a deteriorating loving connection
    by life’s demands- is a detrimental excuse.
  • When thinking of the state of your connection- remember the ocean.

It is through connection and intimacy that a deep sense of well being
and serenity is achieved. Treat yourself.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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