Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Love, The Great Adventure

Recently, I picked up an outdated but nevertheless precious issue of Oprah magazine. After reading several articles, I couldn't suppress the urge to blog a summary of them in order to share the valuable wisdom contained in them, namely the one that begins with the following paragraph:

"The fantasy: Love's a river of bliss. The reality: Love is missteps, silences, and how-could-yous. The two of you will not always swing blissfully on the same vine. Contrary to popular opinion, this is okay... and we've got the latest research, and real-life stories, to prove it. Mark Epstein starts things off with a fight and a major realization..."

"What's wrong with being angry?"
"Here is a new model of successful marriage, one in which a reliance on a state of attunement gives way to an appreciation of a cyclic process of rupture and repair. This is a model gaining traction in the therapy world, one based on a change in how the most successful intimate human relationships are now understood. The ability to take differences in stride, to return after disruption to an appreciation of connection, to laugh together about differences, was a reflection of this shift to a more process based model of success. The difficulty in allowing anger to be a natural emotion within marriage reflected the older model that values attunement above all else.

A woman abandons all self-respect in a futile attempt to preserve her rapport with her husband. A man weathers his wife's anxious and angry tirades but never quite forgives her. He is waiting for her to change, to take responsibility for the pain she is causing him, to grow. He punitively withholds kindness during the times they are not fighting, avoiding her when they could be getting along. In these marriages, nobody is surviving destruction. Rupture is never repaired. Failures multiply and partners drift apart.

Attunement is not the problem, nor is it a myth. It is an incredible thing, as invaluable between parents and children as it is in adult intimate relationships. But an over-reliance on attunement leads to disappointment and depression and division. Attunement should not have to be constant. Disruption, failure, and disagreement are healthy and normal. Learning to transition between connection and separateness without losing faith is a great challenge.

In meditation, which has been essential in helping me be more accepting of the entire range of my emotional responses, I have learned to keep bring the mind back to the central object - the breath, a prayer or a visualization - when I get distracted. But it is considered a sign of maturity in meditation when the distractions are no longer viewed as problems but can instead become objects of meditative interest in themselves.

In similar way, in intimate relationships, it is easy to view a rupture as a problem to be eliminated, to see attunement as the only thing that matters: the central object, as it were. To shift one's perspective so that failures become part of the process, so that survival of destruction becomes something to celebrate, is as incredible, in its own way, as attunement.

Attunement is capricious; the insistence on 100% understanding leads only to resentment of one's partner. Marriages, like mothers, can be "good enough" while still being miracles worthy of celebration"

- Summarized from February 2008 issue of Oprah Magazine.

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