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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: "Cauldrons of Contradictory Longings....."

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Cauldrons of Contradictory Longings....."

"Modern relationships are cauldrons of contradictory longings: safety and excitement, grounding and transcendence, the comfort of love and the heat of passion.  We want it all, and we want it with one person."
~Esther Perel from Mating in Captivity

So I had the absolute fun and joy of hearing Esther Perel speak a few months ago.  (Yes, same conference as Mary Pipher).  And she too was full of interesting insights, ideas and some good humor as well. But the ideas Esther Perel was talking about are serious, the themes very relevant to all of us, whether we are in a serious committed relationship or looking for one.  They are themes that come up often in the course of therapy and tug at our deepest feelings, fears, longings, beliefs and desires.

Among them (and I will bring you more eventually) is this:  How much do we expect in our modern Western culture from marriage (from our partner)?  It used to be, many moons ago, and still is, in many cultures, that gender roles and jobs were more clearly defined.  Marriages were tilted in more task arranged ways.  Expectations were more concretely defined (providing food, shelter and companionship, sex and family building), and not necessarily as focused on emotional longings such as being deeply known and emotionally held by a partner.

I am not weighing in on what should be, but rather what seems to be so prevalent today in our culture and the effect it has on us and on our relationships, and that is this: we seem to expect (demand, burden?) relationships to have a broader purpose.  Many people look to their partners not just for love and sex, but for a more fantastical idea of love and sex.  For satisfaction of a deep romantic oneness, intuitive care giving, and focused, constant attention.  Some for fulfillment of deep and early emotional voids, self esteem and spirituality.  And often in ways that are lost on their partners.  When these ideals are not met well enough disappointment, frustration, feelings of rejection, self pity and loneliness follow in short order. 

I have seen these expectations lead to separation often in cases where it may not have been necessary.  First, because partners can (usually) be helped to step up and create more inside a relationship.  (Good dialogue itself can yield good results). And second, when partners as individuals are willing to take a look at their inner life and learn more about what is motivating them, what is reasonable, what their real notions are, where they come from and why, then love can deepen and grow in new ways that open up closeness instead of command it.

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