The flames and smoke climbed out of every window
And disappeared with everything that you held dear
But you shed not a single tear
For the things that you didn’t need
‘Cause you knew you were finally free

Death Cab for Cutie, “Your Heart Is an Empty Room”

The Right Stuff

Glen and Vicky had each searched for years before erroneously deciding they’d found the “perfect mate” in one another. But the failure of their marriage pushed them to plumb new depths of self-knowledge.

Finding the right person doesn’t necessarily mean we’re ready, willing and able to love. Firmly fixed ideas about readiness can create missed opportunities because our preconceptions make us unable to respond romantic interests who aren’t what we have in mind.

“Making sure I'm ready for love is a great way never to find it.”Daniel

What attracted you to our work and writing? Perhaps ideas or questions about your own search? Many of us have fantasies about love as an exciting adventure — fantasies that conflict with our carefully worked out ideas about being “ready” for “the right partner.”

But what if we are drawn to somebody who isn’t what we have in mind?

Making contact with ourselves and each other

Much of our previous discussion of Vicky and Glen’s irrelationship deals with the journey toward discovering “the right” mate. Highly intelligent and veterans of years of therapy, they believed themselves very much “in touch with themselves” and wanted to believe that of one another. However, as the truth unfolded, they couldn’t avoid confronting the fact that their own serious blind spots had led to their making a seriously flawed marriage.

While we don’t disagree that self-knowledge is important in the search for intimacy, some perspectives on the quest for self-knowledge can actually sabotage the search. Here we discuss two such perspectives:

  1. To know others you must know yourself.

This perspective suggests an inner journey to confront and if possible, expel one’s demons, or, at least, to come to terms with how they affect you, is vital in the search for love. Having “completed” this process, the individual is “ready” to be intimate with another person. The downside to this perspective is that the process of self-knowledge is never completed, so the individual investing in it risks postponing intimacy indefinitely.

“Irrelationship keeps turning our cherished and firmly held beliefs about love and loving inside-out and on their heads.”Mark

An alternative perspective to that is:

  1. Self-knowledge is necessarily a life-long, elusive journey.

The unending search for self-knowledge can lead one to cave to its elusiveness, providing an “excuse” for never finding the right person. The deception inherent in this, however, is that getting to know oneself isn’t all that complicated and can’t be expected to lead to a miraculous change in how one relates to the world.

Irrelationship is able to make use of both of these perspectives to circumvent intimacy while dressing itself up in trendy psychobabble about “taking care of yourself first.”

Another problem with these perspectives is that they neglect the most vital of all tools for self-knowledge: connection with others. Trusting relationships provide information offered by people who care about us. Open hearted sharing results in increasing delight and satisfaction with one’s own life. The rewards are even greater when romantic partners learn healthy ways to share information and feelings about subjects that provoke anxiety.

Self-Knowledge In Relationship — A Process of Becoming

Vicky and Glen’s relationship “progressed,” taking them away from each other: they became unable to converse meaningfully, or even to make eye contact. Both knew something was deathly wrong, but neither had the nerve to bring up the subject with the other. This left both of them feeling strangely isolated, despite their continuing to live together. But they stuck to it, clinging to the “safety” of irrelationship rather than risking openness to learning about each other.

“With love, the whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts.”Grant

The change came when Glen became nearly overwhelmed by a crisis in his professional life that dramatically exposed the absence of mutual support in their marriage. Without ever discussing it, they rapidly internalized that their relationship was at a dead end and that neither was interested in turning it around—at least, not with each other. Instead, they parted with little pain and virtually no ambivalence or acrimony.

Glen and Vicky had been using each other to lie to themselves. Being with Glen allowed Vicky to ignore uncomfortable personal traits she didn’t want to confront in herself. At the same time, she provided Glen with an audience for his compulsive need to perform by letting him feel that he was fixing her, simultaneously ignoring his own feelings of emptiness. When the definitive crisis came, the uselessness of this construct — actually the basis of their marriage — was exposed.

What had all of this to do with self-knowledge? Glen and Vicky’s experience illustrates the price we pay for irrelationship — the unwillingness or inability to tolerate listening to how others experience me us — especially those we think we’re closest to. Staying committed to irrelationship short-circuits development of the personal wholeness necessary for the growth of intimacy.

the take-home message

Returning to the issue of the place of self-knowledge in relationship, Glen and Vicky’s experience tells us:

If I’m unwilling or unable to tolerate listening with openness to how others experience me, especially those I think I’m closest to, I have little chance of growing into the wholeness of personhood necessary for a genuinely shared — and sharing — intimate relationship.

…so many possibilities.

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