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|You Say Tomato... - Tomato 5|
I used to think that once a couple had attained this intimacy, this shared reality, then—olly, olly, oxen free!—they were home, safe. Once they could understand their early experience and its impact on their current experience, once they saw how destructive these hallucinations were to a safe connection, then they could rest in the comforts of a steady, accurate appreciation of the other. Can it be I thought they'd live happily ever after?
Yet I continue to find that everything conspires to obscure the direct experience of another person, even one we cherish. Perhaps we should say, especially one we cherish. For one thing, there abides in daily life a constant stimulation, perhaps the way we get on each other's nerves, the way we hook our partner's judgment. We can be so keenly sensitive to missteps in keeping the bonds between us open and flowing that one or two little misunderstandings in certain relationships can restart a galumphing negativity. Or else, we're not stimulated enough: we coast along in parallel tracks, a dead space in between.
A mishmash of temperament styles often muddies this in-between space, making it a place of over- or underreactivity. It seems we need a constant supply of curiosity to tolerate looking and looking again at the partner we think we "get." More and more of the work I do encourages this open curiosity, slowing down one partner to "see" more clearly what's going on, not only in themselves, but in the other; guiding another partner to "get in there," that is, stop withdrawing and put some energy and presence into the space between the two.
A therapist might use the techniques of reflecting or mirroring for both the slowing down and the getting in there, because the important action is that the partners face in toward each other while noticing and regulating their own reactivity. The therapist reads and monitors the interpersonal space, noticing where the partners accept or reject the other's presence, where they feel secure in their bonds of attachment or feel insecure and lost. The back-and-forth flow of energy here is governed not only by the couple's skills and history with each other, but also by their history with other beloved figures. The interpersonal energy rises and falls with the animal spirits as well, the clashing or melding of one partner's temperament with another's. There's a limit, then, to what can improve.