Revealing Our Many Selves in the Bedroom
by Richard Schwartz
Mark and Stacey, an attractive couple in their early thirties, have only been married two years and they’re already knotted in conflict. In our first session, Mark, an intense, athletically built man, gets to the point, “I hate it that we’re such a stereotype, but it’s the typical scenario of me wanting more sex than she does. We’re down to once every two weeks–if I’m lucky–and it’s driving me crazy. I have a strong sex drive, so if it were up to me, we’d do it every day, the way we used to when we were dating. Now, not only do I not get my sexual needs met, but I feel rejected because most of the time I get shot down when I initiate.”
Stacey, slim, darkhaired, sits rigidly in her chair. “I know we don’t have sex as much as Mark likes,” she says, with an edge in her voice, “but for me to want to make love, I have to feel emotionally connected to him and, to be honest, most of the time, I just don’t. He seems so obsessed about this issue. I constantly feel pressure to satisfy him. It’s like raw sex is the only thing he wants from me. It’s gotten to the point where any time he touches me I freeze up–I’m afraid to respond even affectionately because if I do, he thinks it’s an invitation to sex.”
“Yeah, in some ways that’s the hardest part of it for me,” Mark interrupts, “the way she sees me now. She looks at me like I’m one of those guys on The Sopranos. I like sex, but I’m no drooling animal. I can be romantic and I do try to help her feel close, but whatever I do does no good,” he says despondently. “No matter how sensitive I try to be, it’s like she has this view of me as a sex-crazed gorilla.”
I ask each of them to describe what typically happens when they do have sex. Stacey says, “After some time goes by when we haven’t had sex, Mark gets more and more sulky, and I begin to feel I’m like a bad, unloving wife. So I hug him or pat his shoulder or maybe just smile at him or something and, oh boy! That’s all it takes–he’s off to the races. I feel I can’t say no again, and so we’ll get in bed and start kissing. I try to be as warm as I can get myself to be; I don’t want to just lie there like a dead fish. And, usually, at a certain point, I can work myself up so that I’m into it, sort of. Afterwards, I feel relieved because I know he feels happier and not so angry at me and, also, he’ll back off and I won’t have to do it for a while.”
Mark seems not to have heard the many negative qualifiers in Stacey’s description of their sex life. “That’s what I don’t get,” he exclaims with exasperation. “In the middle of it, she comes alive and seems to like what I’m doing, but the next day she’s uninterested again. If you like it, why not want more? Also, I don’t enjoy the beginnings that much because I want to feel wanted by her, not like I have to kick start her engine every time. I’m not one of these guys who just wants to satisfy himself. I’m good at foreplay and I’ve learned what she likes.”
Mark and Stacey are caught in a classic struggle, and most couples therapists have responded with a now-classic technique: get him to back off by issuing a moratorium on sex and assigning exercises that allow them to show affection to each other without any sexual expectation. Trained as a problem-solving, strategic therapist, I used to give that directive to couples and often found that it had the desired effect. It probably would’ve worked with Mark and Stacey, too. As he contained himself so she felt less under seige and more cared for, eventually they could’ve found a frequency that felt okay to each, checked off this particular glitch on their list of relationship issues, and left therapy reasonably satisfied.
I once felt an outcome like that meant I’d done my job. Not anymore. Through the years, I’ve come to see that this kind of technical fix, however immediately useful, is unequal to the inner complexity of people and their potential to know each other intimately.
Know Your Selves
No other area of a couple’s life holds as much promise for achieving intimacy as sex. Indeed, the promise of intimacy may be as important as lust for drawing human beings toward sex in the first place. My goal now is to help partners reach the kind of soul-deep connectedness in their sexual encounters that can transform their lives and their relationship with each other.
The Latin adjective intimus means “inmost, deepest.” So real intimacy means, first of all, that both partners listen deep inside–i.e., get to know their inner worlds of emotion, desire, and vulnerability–and then reveal what they’ve learned to each other in an atmosphere of loving acceptance. The couples I’ve helped reach that level of resonance report tremendous rewards for themselves and their relationships. However, as rewarding as that state is, it’s also quite rare–both because of the risks involved in being that vulnerable and because knowing yourself isn’t a simple task.
When people listen deeply inside, they encounter a host of feelings, fantasies, thoughts, impulses, and sensations that comprise that background noise of our everyday experience of being in the world. When they remain focused on and ask questions of one of those inner experiences, they find that it’s more than merely a transient thought or emotion. Within each of us is a complex family of subpersonalities, which is why we can have so many contradictory and confusing needs simultaneously, especially around sex. American poet Walt Whitman got it right in “Song of Myself”: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” So do we all contain multitudes.
Thus, the Oracle of Delphi’s admonition to “know thyself” should really have been to “know your selves.” I call these subpersonalities “parts” because, when I first started doing this kind of work, that’s how my clients referred to them. “Part of me wants to stay married and faithful, but another part wants to be free to get laid every night of the week with a different woman,” a client might say. “I know I’m successful at my job, but there’s a part of me that says it’s only a matter of time until everybody else finds out how stupid and incompetent I really am,” another would report. While people like parts of themselves that make them feel powerful, competent, and in control, they tend to dislike and even despise what they feel are their less attractive, more troublesome, parts. In one session, Stacey said spontaneously “I hate the part of me that’s so scared to have sex with Mark.” But hating and trying to get rid of parts that we don’t like doesn’t work. We only feel more polarized inside, and the despised part gets stronger.
Getting to know ourselves in all our multiplicity isn’t an easy stroll through a familiar neighborhood. When our inner parts meet our partner’s parts, the complexity is compounded, which is why couples therapy can be so difficult. Despite the fact that, like Mark and Stacey, most partners want me to get the other to change, I try to help each listen inside to discover why they respond to their mates in such extreme, and often damaging, ways.
I’ve found that, if I establish a safe, accepting atmosphere in our sessions, clients can have inner discussions with their parts. In a trancelike state of internal focus, they can dialogue with their parts about what motivates them to react in irrational or self-defeating ways. In listening to their parts’ stories, their behaviors or beliefs become comprehensible.
As clients learn to separate from their extreme emotions and thoughts (their parts) in this way, I find that they spontaneously tap into a calm, centered state that I call their Self. When this happens in a session, it feels as if the very molecules in the atmosphere have radically shifted. My clients’ faces and voices grow softer and more tranquil; they become more open and tender, able to explore their parts without anger, defensiveness, or dislike. When accessing this state of Self, clients are tapping into something deeper than all these conflicting inner warriors, something that spiritual traditions call “soul.”
Now imagine what it can mean for a relationship when each partner connects to such a Self. If intimacy means being able to truly know and reveal all our parts to a beloved other, then the presence of Self makes doing so possible. When they make a Self-to-Self connection, people sense at a very deep level that they aren’t alone and that even their most shameful facets are loved. When, during sex, each partner can dive beneath the surface where their contending parts are creating stormy waves and into the calm depths of Self-to-Self connectedness, their bodies and souls meet and sense a oneness that’s delicious and profoundly satisfying. For me, then, intimacy has two components: the knowing and revealing of one’s secret parts and also the sense of awe and belonging that comes with Self-to-Self connectedness.
The first step toward that kind of intimacy involves helping each partner get to know the parts that are triggered by their problems. Because Mark and Stacey were polarized around their sexual relationship, I thought they’d feel safer doing this exploration in private. I suggested that I meet with each of them separately for a session or two. To help people find their parts, I usually begin by asking them what they think or feel about the problem they bring me. When I saw Stacey individually, for example, I asked her what she said to herself when Mark approached her for sex. “Oh no, here we go again!” she replied contemptuously. “I feel angry and helpless and just yuck! But then, I tell myself, ‘God, I suppose I’ve got to do it or he’ll make me pay.'”
I then asked her to focus on the disdainful voice. She said she sensed it in the back of her head. As she focused there, I suggested she ask it why it felt such revulsion for Mark and for sex? Putting her hands up as if to push the entire subject away, she said the voice was really disgusted by the whole thing–sweaty, naked bodies, ugly, hairy genitals, revolting fluids, and ridiculous animal noises. Stacey’s face was scrunched up in a look of loathing as she spoke, when suddenly she stopped cold and put her hands over her eyes.”Oh my God, it’s my mother!” she cried out. “It’s my mother’s voice in me!”
As we explored this revelation, Stacey recalled that her mother had conveyed her own deep revulsion with all things having to do with the body and sexuality. Some schools of therapy consider a voice like that a “parental introject” or a “schema” of learned cognitions (i.e., the internalized attitudes of Stacey’s mother), and would encourage Stacey to ignore or argue with it. While there’s no doubt that this part absorbed aspects of Stacey’s mother, I find that such parts intend to protect rather than torment. These aversive, controlling voices belong to a category of parts I call the Managers, which act to protect people from hurt and trauma suffered in the past–usually when they were very young and unable to defend themselves emotionally or even physically. There are all kinds of Managers. Some are inner critics who drive people to perform perfectly so they’ll never reexperience old feelings of failure and inadequacy. Other managers, like Stacey’s, are early-warning systems that operate to prevent the person from even getting near an experience that might cause harm. Sex is perhaps the area of life most prone to the meddling of overzealous managers.
Managers like Stacey’s bring new meaning to the phrase “safe sex.” They have to be in control of the action. They see spontaneous expression as dangerous. They don’t want anyone to know about, much less witness, certain parts of you. They also don’t want you to be rejected or exploited, so they keep your heart closed to others. Managers monitor the passion, affection, play, and spontaneity you express in sex. If you begin to get carried away, they might interrupt the action with distracting thoughts, suddenly erase sensation or inject pain, or make you tense and uncooperative. Managers are the ultimate control freaks.
The Return of the Exiles
If you think of Stacey’s voice as an introject or a cluster of thoughts, it makes sense to try to get her to challenge or eliminate it. If, in contrast, you view it as an inner personality, you get curious about why it’s in the role of puritanical mother. Rather than try to shut down this “manager-mother,” I wanted to know why she had this role in Stacey’s inner drama. I’ve found that when we approach our Managers with respect, instead of resentment and dislike, they often have good reasons for what they do. I asked Stacey to sit quietly, breathe evenly, and go inside. “Ask the mother part what it’s afraid will happen if it doesn’t keep you so repulsed by sex,” I said.
After a moment, Stacey had a vivid image of herself as a 6-year-old girl in the bathroom. Her father was helping her undress to take a bath, and as she watched the scene play out, she could see something wrong about it. Her father was looking at her in a funny way, once she was naked, his voice sounded different, and he trembled slightly. She sensed again the fear and confusion she’d felt then–the feeling that something bad was happening, and that it had something to do with her being naked.
The 6-year-old was one of Stacey’s Exiles. Exiles are often childlike parts of ourselves that carry the memories and sensations from times when we were hurt, terrified, abandoned, or shamed. Because we want to forget those experiences, we exile these parts, and our Managers do their best to keep them from ever being triggered. Whenever Mark became amorous, it began to scare Stacey’s little girl, so her manager-mother went into action, damping down any sexual feelings. Unfortunately, by keeping the Exile deep underground, Stacey not only missed unpleasant memories and sensations, she also missed the most sensitive, innocent, and open aspects of herself. If Exiles carry our most rending pain, they also can give us our capacity for joy, love, passion, creativity, imagination, playfulness, and sheer zest for life. If we shut away the Exiles, we also shut away much of what gives sex, and life in general, pleasure and adventure and meaning.
Mark, too, had parts that influenced the patterns between him and Stacey. When I saw him alone, I asked him to relax and focus on the feeling of frustration he felt whenever Stacey “shot him down.” He closed his eyes and said he noticed a voice saying that he needed and deserved lots of sex. I told him to ask the voice about itself. Mark smiled and said that that voice called itself “The Stud,” and it looked like a very buff, very macho, very tan version of himself. Mark said The Stud bombarded him with images of himself having sex in numerous hot and ingenious ways with his wife and other women, who panted and moaned in lusty abandon. Mark said he liked The Stud and that it had a powerful influence on him. He basically agreed with The Stud that his life should be more like those images. Many men have parts like Mark’s stud, but not many are so open about it so early in therapy.
“Ask The Stud,” I said, “what it’s afraid would happen if you don’t get to have sex all the time.” He soon became quiet. After a long silence during which his face betrayed intense emotion, Mark said he’d felt waves of shame as he watched an image of himself as a 13-year-old in the boys’ locker room. Talking in a bare whisper, he said that, at that age, he’d had small protuberances at his nipples. The other boys had ridiculed him mercilessly, calling him “Tits,” asking him when he was going to buy a bra, and telling him he was really a girl. At such a vulnerable age, this kind of abuse was deeply traumatic to a young boy’s developing sense of his own manhood. It was then that The Stud stepped into its role and the devastated 13-year-old was exiled. Never again, vowed The Stud, would he let anybody doubt Mark’s masculinity, and it pushed him to seduce as many girls as he could.
Since he’d married Stacey, The Stud constantly pressured him to have affairs, especially after Stacey started rejecting him. So far, he’d resisted–he loved Stacey and wanted their marriage to succeed–but he was afraid that, if their sex life didn’t improve, he’d succumb.
Firefighters to the Rescue
Mark’s stud is characteristic of a third category of parts that I call the firefighters.
Like the Managers, the Firefighters want to protect the Exiles, but where Managers are cautious and often very rational in their attempts to protect Exiles, Firefighters leap into action after the Exile’s feelings have been triggered. Firefighters are emergency responders who come out, hoses on full blast, when we feel so bad we have to drown the flames of emotion before they destroy us. These Firefighter parts manifest as urges to binge on food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work, or anything else that offers quick relief from pain.
Firefighter sex is one way to stave off intolerable feelings. Only while having or fantasizing about sex can people like Mark feel they have value, strength, or personal agency. Furthermore, a sexual Firefighter’s obsession with power, dominance, and high-voltage sensation, can make us oblivious to the human being we’re having sex with. Indeed, Stacey complained that she felt that Mark wasn’t really there with her during sex; he didn’t seem to care who was there, as long as a compliant body shared his bed. As is true for most Firefighter activity, the irony is that this part’s efforts to help the exiled 13-year-old didn’t work: ultimately they backfired. Stacey repeatedly rejected Mark for his sexual boorishness, only making Mark’s exiled teen more ashamed and his stud more desperate.
When we uncover the dance of parts within and between members of a couple, we see many vicious cycles. The aggressiveness of Mark’s stud triggered Stacey’s Manager, which further triggered his stud, and so on, with disastrous results for their sex life. An Indian proverb says when the water buffalo battle in the marsh, it’s the frogs who suffer. As Mark and Stacey’s protective parts became increasingly extreme, the Exiles in each of them were increasingly wounded. My experience is that until each partner can care for and heal their own Exiles, these battles will continue. So I asked Mark how he felt about his young teen, and Stacey about her 6-year-old girl. Predictably, Mark was ashamed of the boy and didn’t want to remember what he’d felt like. “That was all a long time ago,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand, “and I can’t see any point in talking about that now.” Similarly, Stacey was irrationally critical of the little girl. “She must’ve done something to make my father change like that,” she said stubbornly.
It’s very common for people to fear or dislike their Exiles initially. So I ask a client to find the rejecting or fearful voice that dislikes the Exile and politely ask it to just step back or relax for a bit. Sometimes it takes several requests for it to step back, but when it happens, the client’s feelings toward the Exiles change dramatically from disdain and anger to curiosity or compassion, from fear to a sense of peace and confidence. When I ask clients what this calm, compassionate part is, they often reply withÂ something like, “This isn’t a part like those other voices. This feels more like who I really am, like my real self.” It seems that as people separate from their parts, their Self spontaneously emerges.
Once a client shows more qualities of Self, I ask him or her to enter the scene that an Exile is stuck in. “Can you go into that locker room and be there in the way that boy needed someone to be there at the time?” I asked Mark. Even after 20 years of doing this kind of work, I’m still awed by the way people unerringly know just what to do to heal these wounded inner parts. Mark said that as he approached the 13-year-old, the boy looked up with fear and embarrassment, thinking that this strong, athletic man would also make fun of him. Instead, as Mark played the scene, he sat down on the bench a few feet from the boy. He gently told the boy that there was nothing wrong with him or his body, that the appearance of his breasts was due to hormonal changes and they’d soon look perfectly normal. Other boys were also insecure about their bodies, Mark pointed out. “And anyway, I love you,” he said to the boy. At this, the boy dropped his guard and burst into tears. Mark put his arm around the boy and took him out of the locker room, to a safe and pleasant place in the present–Mark visualized taking the boy canoeing on a nearby lake that he and Stacey often visited.
Meanwhile, Stacey went through a similar process. She helped the little girl out of the tub, carefully folded her in a fluffy, warm towel, and, embracing the girl, told her that she’d done nothing wrong. Whatever happened was her father’s problem, not hers. Stacey, too, brought the girl into a safe and comfortable setting–to the living room couch–where she folded her arms around the little girl as she read her a story, while the sun streamed through the window.
After people compassionately witness their past in this way and retrieve the Exiles that are frozen there, they feel far less vulnerable. Consequently, the parts that guarded those Exiles are freed from their protective roles. The inner, reactive voices–explosive anger, self-hatred, anxious vigilance, compulsive behavior–transform into valuable helpers. A chronically suspicious, distrustful inner voice, for example, becomes an accurate intuition, helping the person sense who’s safe to open up to, but no longer automatically closing off to everyone or keeping him in a fog of paranoia. A carping inner critic becomes a supportive voice urging the person to keep trying rather than constantly beating her down. After rescuing his 13-year-old, Mark focused back on The Stud, who was relaxed and smaller, less musclebound. Similarly, when Stacey returned to her manager-mother, the part was willing to reconsider the beliefs it had taken on from her mother, now that it didn’t need to keep the little girl safe. These are the beginning steps in the process of transforming inner parts.
The Exiles of both Stacey and Mark carried feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing, and believed that they were fundamentally flawed and unlovable. Stacey’s little girl craved the tender affection and protection that a father is supposed to provide–and, in fact, that’s what she wanted from sex with Mark. She was drawn to him in the first place because of his strength, competence, and apparent self-confidence–his take-charge personality seemed to promise perpetual safety. Stacey’s Exiles would only let her enjoy sex that was cozy, warm, adoring, and not terribly erotic; they were frightened by insensitivity, crudeness, or, often, even unashamed lust.
Mark’s Exiles, meanwhile, couldn’t at first believe that a woman as pretty and vivacious as Stacey would find him–a weak, “effeminate,” 13-year-old–attractive. Because of the Exiles’ own fears and anxieties about his manhood, he only let another person have access to him through sex–but sex was also the way he reassured himself that he was really a man. As a result, men like Mark become highly attached to and possessive of their current lover while constantly looking around for another. Since Mark and Stacey had Exiles that were extremely needy and full of impossible expectations of the other, and Managers and Firefighters that strongly provoked the other’s protectors, their sex life was doomed from the start.
After Mark and Stacey made peace with their inner exiles in private sessions and, consequently, were each less vulnerable and reactive to the other, I brought them together for a joint session. I told Mark and Stacey, “No wonder you feel so hopeless. You never had a chance for real intimacy. As you heal these parts we’ve found, you’ll finally have a chance.”
In the joint session, my role is to help them remain Self-led as they speak to each other. When I notice that either of them has been hijacked by a part, I encourage them to focus inside briefly and then come back and speak for their parts rather than from them. When a partner speaks from the Self about its parts, the other partner is less likely to be triggered and more likely to hear the message.
Mark and Stacey nervously shared with each other what they’d learned in individual sessions. It was extraordinarily touching–as it often is when embattled couples begin to thaw out–to see Stacey tell Mark with unfeigned emotion how sad she felt for that young boy who had been so cruelly humiliated. “I can understand now why you feel so driven, and why my rejection hurts you so much,” she said, looking him deeply in the eyes. Mark said he’d never known about the old incident with her father, and now it made complete sense that she’d cringe when he pursued her. He knew what it felt like to be hounded. The quality of the conversation between the two of them was soft and hesitant, but direct.
Stacey asked Mark if he was willing to be patient around sex while she continued to work with her own inner parts–several other Managers had surfaced in therapy. Mark said that he’d really try to let her be in control of that arena, which would be easier now that he knew himself and his stud better. Both sighed as they began to understand that this was only the beginning of a long process. This was different from any conversation they’d ever had. They’d felt closer and more real to each other than any other time during their marriage.
Once couples get a taste of what real Self-to-Self connection feels like, they’re eager to keep going, particularly when they see the barriers to their own freedom fall away. Over the course of a year, working with their parts, sometimes individually, more often in front of each other, Mark and Stacey reported continuing changes in their sexual and nonsexual lives together. Each was becoming a different person with the other; in fact, they were becoming a lot of different people with each other in ways that increasingly energized, touched, and delighted them both.
As the polarization between parts diminishes within a person, so it diminishes between partners. Stacey was no longer afraid of Mark’s stud. In fact, she was surprised to discover a formerly hidden “hot babe” part of herself that could sometimes meet or even exceed the energy of Mark’s stud. Mark said that whereas all his previous sexual experience had been dominated by his stud’s frenzied aggressiveness, now he’d come to also enjoy the softer, slower kind of sex that Stacey preferred. His stud was less agitated and more sensual. It no longer hijacked him and took him away into fantasy worlds, so he was more responsive to Stacey’s moods.
What most surprised this couple was discovering how moving and powerful sex was when they allowed their more vulnerable parts to be present–those parts that they’d previously barricaded behind various protectors. No longer terrified, wounded victims, the Exiles began to exhibit their capacity for openness, innocence, sensitivity, and childlike pleasure. “You know,” Mark said, “sometimes when Stacey and I are together, I feel like that embarrassed 13-year-old kid I used to be. I even let myself act as if I’m more like I’m 8 or 10, or even younger–all bouncy and eager the way I was then.” To his wonder, when he let himself feel young, vulnerable, and a little awkward, rather than cleaving to the old image of a technically perfect sexual operator–Stacey responded with loving warmth and laughter, kissing and stroking him as if he were her beloved child. While feeling highly charged sexually, he also felt, for the first time in his life, utterly cherished and nurtured.
It took longer for Stacey to let herself feel that vulnerable–her distrust was very intense. Eventually, however, she could let the little girl out in a nonsexual context during sessions, becoming playful in a funny, slightly silly, way. Later, the little girl began to spontaneously show up in their bed. As the little girl took part in sex, Stacey said she felt the same kind of total love and acceptance from Mark that he’d reported from her when his boy was present. They both found humor and playfulness moving seamlessly from their nonsexual to sexual lives and back again. They teased each other during the day, which often became a prelude to sex.
One of the enormous advantages of this kind of free-flowing give-and-take of parts between a couple is the variety and richness it brings to their lives. Stacey remarked one day toward the end of therapy that what she loved most about their new sexuality was the unpredictability of it. For the first time in her life, she was no longer trying to control every aspect of their sexual encounters and, instead, could let any part of herself spontaneously emerge in her body during their lovemaking. The appearance of a part in her often elicited a new part in Mark, so sex, which had been a predictable deployment of stereotyped parts, became an improvised and often astonishing dance in which neither one knew in advance who would show up. This meant for Stacey that she’d suddenly find herself moving in ways she’d never moved before and saying words she’d never said, and all the different parts seemed to find great joy in finally expressing themselves as openly and physically as they wanted. She constantly expected to berate herself for acting so brazenly, but the torrent of criticism from her Managers seemed to have dried up. She still occasionally felt embarrassed the morning after, but that didn’t last long, since Mark seemed so happy about it all.
Mark and Stacey were also experiencing more and more Self-to-Self intimacy, although they’d have been puzzled by what I meant, if I’d told them this. I don’t talk very much about the Self with clients; before they’ve done much work with their parts, it might sound incomprehensible to them. Afterward, they know and experience Self-to-Self connection without having to name it. Clients still in thrall to their parts, manifesting in extreme and polarized form, or couples who mostly see only angry, resentful, dependent, jealous, self-pitying parts in each other, may not know there’s anything like a Self within them. But the simple process of learning to help a part “step back” before they talk to each other allows the couple to experience a few minutes of agenda-free, open-hearted curiosity about the other. Fleeting as they are, such moments inevitably create an almost palpable sense of connection that wasn’t there before and can carry them through ensuing “parts wars.”
Enough of these moments and a couple begins to know that, whatever stormy melodrama roils the waters of their relationship, it cannot interrupt a deeper, more enduring current flowing between them. When your partners hold Self-to-Self connection, parts can come and go spontaneously within both, without eliciting the old fears, angers and misunderstandings, because each of them senses the calm, abiding presence of an essential “I” in the storm. That connection forms a loving backdrop to a couple’s sexual experience that makes it safe and wonderful for any part to come out. It’s the safety of the Self-to-Self connection that allows the delicious surrender to the sexual process.
Once a couple has tasted Self-to-Self intimacy, they know that whatever tempests they find themselves in aren’t the essential reality of their connection. No matter what the parts are saying during these inevitably rough times, the couple knows that sooner or later they’ll again speak to each other in their true voices. And when that happens, each loses a sense of lonely separateness, and, at some level, experiences a state of union and oneness. They sense that both of them are part of the deep ocean, not the isolated waves. Both are home.
Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Self Leadership (website: selfleadership.org). He is the originator of the Internal Family Systems Model and author or coauthor of five books, including Internal Family Systems Therapy . Address: 217 North Lombard Street, Oak Park, IL 60302; e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the Editor about this article may be sent to Letters@psychnetworker.org.