One of the deep pleasures of learning is developing the capacity to discern distinctions between things which may appear quite similar. Perhaps it is a kind of understanding that allows greater appreciation for the subtleties of what we experience. As we gain maturity, we can move through our lives with a deeper capacity to feel, to see, to hear, and to love. At first there is a difference between music and noise. Then there is a difference between classical and pop. Then there is a difference between Mozart and Beethoven. Then there is a difference between early Beethoven and later Beethoven. Then there is a difference between different interpretations of the same piece. Part of it is learning. Part of it is awe.
In therapy, over time, we can come to directly experience the difference in different kinds of relationships. At first it is the contrast between being invisible and being heard. Then it is the contrast between being heard and being understood. And then it is about the other person being actively motivated to understand beyond what we are saying. And then beyond what we are even conscious of ourselves.
Relating is an activity like tennis. You hit the ball. Your partner hits the ball back. You have a game. If your partner doesn’t hit the ball back, no tennis. If your partner hits the ball so hard it is impossible to return, you have no volley. If your partner is playing basketball, you are really in a quandary.
Relating requires cooperation, agreement on the rules of the activity, and motivation for engagement. Sometimes we don’t see where we are creating a problem for ourselves. Sometimes we see, but we can’t seem to stop. Sometimes we are not the one creating the problem, but we are not sure.
For all of the complexities of the game of relating, it is built into our DNA. We move toward each other, even when it is difficult, or painful, or counterproductive. We can’t help ourselves. That is the good part. Our deepest motives prevent us from an unhealthy isolation. It is our job to figure out how to play that game the best that we can.