Every once in a while, you hear about someone who has the perfect relationship. Her (or his) partner is not needy (read, has no needs), is perfectly attuned to her and responds to her every desire. They enjoy endless hours communing with each other and reveling in their connection. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!
I once met a Japanese man who said he was not happy with his wife. I asked him what he was unhappy about. He said, “When I come home, I want to see tea. I don’t want to say tea, I want to see tea.” He wanted his wife to understand what he wanted without his having to say what he wanted. I told him I didn’t think he wanted a wife, he wanted a mom. At the time I thought this was a little extreme, but now I see that sometimes we have a yearning to be understood and taken care of without our having to be responsible for ourselves and our own minds. It feels like a loss to act like a grown up.
Our relationships aggravate us out of our comfort zones. They are not quite right; feel unfair; or don’t “meet our needs.” The difficult thing is, we have to step back, consider the reality of ourselves and our partners, colleagues, and friends, and recognize what we are capable of and what they are capable of. We may find that a relationship really isn’t a match, isn’t possible with a particular person, or needs some built-in distance. Or we may find that we are looking for some kind of merger that allows us to let go of responsibility for ourselves, our lives, and our own sense of well-being.
David Richo has a nice book called “How To Be An Adult in Relationships,” which explains that good relationships have 5 qualities: Acceptance, appreciation, allowing, attention, and affection. We are separate people, creating our lives of vitality and well-being, and we have agreed to make a relationship together where we can engage with each other in those 5 ways. Our relationships provide us opportunities for growth, where we bump up against each other and ourselves, have conflicts and obstacles in motives and assumptions, and process those conflicts and obstacles together. As we come to know each other deeply, we have the chance to create genuine, mutual bonds with all of each other, instead of only selected parts.
Your mom takes care of you for the pleasure of it. Your therapist takes care of you for the pleasure of it. These are perfect relationships of the caregiving type when they go well. But mutual relationships are different. They are about being grown-ups and accompanying each other on whatever parts of the journey our paths join and for whatever proportion of that journey matches with the degree of closeness of the relationship. The pleasure is in the sharing and dealing with conflicts and obstacles, but it is mutual, not one way. The perfect relationship for us may not necessarily feel the way we expect it to feel.