An Intimate Dance
American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need,” and yet this need is often a very complicated one.
Our primary relationships often serve as a stage where we act out our most important human interactions. In a complicated and artful dance we oscillate between disclosing our most intimate secrets–exposing and participating in our most sordid and banal fantasies–and making sometime extraordinary efforts to ensure that information about ourselves remains unknown.
It is to our primary partner that we usually we go to find physical and emotional fulfillment, but here we may also find extreme pain and dissatisfaction. It is no wonder then with so much of ourselves invested in another person that we find ourselves at an impasse having unintentionally recreated and reenacted old and tired dramas. We become frustrated with our partner and, quite often, we are frustrated with ourselves. Some of us become mired in a pattern of harsh criticism and banal defensiveness. Unwilling or unable to extricate ourselves from the unfortunate situation–we dig in deeper and deeper until we are full and truly stuck. This is the time to ask for help.
Relationships can be daunting. At times they can be palaces of freedom and creativity at others they can be prisons of despair and longing. Between any two people, communication can break down. But with a bit of work, finding your way through these rough spots can lead to an even stronger relationship. An experienced relationship counselor is trained to help you discover the best path toward that goal, either as an individual or together as a couple.
Sometimes this work can be daunting especially when two people feel like they are stuck and neither seems willing or able to make room for compromise. Quite often trouble in relationships is caused by our competing fears of isolation (of being alone) and of closeness (of being overwhelmed). Most people have these seemingly conflicting fears simultaneously. Navigating these fears can lead to a significant amount of chaos in ourselves and in our relationships. A good relationship counselor will avoid “taking sides” with one or the other partner in the relationship and will instead work with both individuals on the complex, and sometimes paradoxical, ways they can have their needs met as individuals and as a couple.
While it may not seem like an obvious topic for therapy, problems with dating often result in depression and anxiety — sometimes to a debilitating extent. Ironically, it is often the individuals that we think of as the smartest and most successful that have the greatest difficulty in this arena. Successful romantic and familial relationships almost always require a very different skill set from the one that leads to academic and occupational success. It can be quite disconcerting and frustrating for an individual who excels in these pursuits but remains thwarted and often confused by failed attempts at relationships.
During the mid- and late-1980s, the concept of low self-esteem was so widely overused by the therapeutic communities that the concept became a cliche that was satirized by now Senator Al Franken playing the character of Stuart Smalley on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Stuart Smalley perpetually failed attempts at self-confidence were comic genius. The sketch was perhaps even more hilarious because this character utilized actual therapeutic tools that many viewers who had visited therapists had been given as a somewhat misguided attempt to alleviate their anxiety.
In reality the feelings that accompany what we casually label “low self-esteem” are anything but funny. Low self-esteem can affect our work performance, our ability to function within our families, and our ability to seek out better situations for ourselves.