Dark Mirror of Intimacy
However, with the divine feeling, also comes a lot of fantasy, projection of hopes and dreams, and a natural tendency to be on our best behavior, as we ride the magic carpet of attraction, connection and new love.
The sense of connection and newness draws us in, so that the relationship may progress.
And how quickly or slowly a relationship progresses is very personal to the two people involved.
However, at some point, the intimacy will deepen sufficiently that the relationship will move over the threshold from the “getting to know you stage” to the next stage that comes with deeper intimacy, “the shadowlands.”
In the shadowlands, the “work” of relationship starts to arise. And this is both inner work on self, and work together with one’s partner. Sadly, our culture is not very emotionally literate, and I have seen countless “Dear Abby” kinds of columns in newspapers that reflect, “if a couple needs to go to counseling before they are married, they shouldn’t be in relationship.”
This attitude does another huge disservice to the reality of the emotional work that deepening intimacy requires. Few of us have the models of two people doing their inner work and their joint work together deeply. And in our culture of sometimes pathological self-reliance, the notion of reaching out for help, and letting ourselves be coached to reach our full potential can be judged as weakness, rather than appreciated as an act of emotional maturity.
When I was writing Healing the War Between the Genders, I interviewed an Argentinian psychiatrist who had worked with couples for more than 30 years. He had come to the conclusion that if after an initial period of time, such as 3 months, a couple wanted to try to build the container to go the distance in a long-term relationship, that early phase was the perfect time to get a “coach” on board.
His reasoning was that most couples run into difficulties with communication as intimacy deepens, and people begin to bump up against their undeveloped parts, their scars from past traumas, their fears, and all the shadow pieces that deepening intimacy surface for us to heal and work through.
Why not have someone there to help build in good communication pathways early on, and get to know the couple as individuals and together BEFORE the dark pieces surface? Then, when the shadow times hit, as they inevitably will, both the knowledge and trust are there to most effectively guide the couple through their shadow work.
His logic made a lot of sense to me, and I have actually tried to follow his coaching in my own relationships. However, finding a partner who will agree to such an undertaking has not been easy. Sadly, I have encountered too many people who ascribe to the popularized belief, “if we need to see a counselor before we get married, we shouldn’t get married.” And more sadly, when the shadow work has emerged in these relationships, my partners have cut and bailed rather than recognized the opportunity for what it was–a time to heal, learn, grow and move through longheld pain to deeper intimacy, peace and partnership.
When many people hit their pockets of deeply held pain, their often blame their partner, rather than turn more deeply inwards to work on themselves. It reminds me of Cinderella, and the ugly stepmother saying, “Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all,” and when the mirror tells the truth, the stepmother becomes angry and breaks the mirror. We do that to our loved ones far too often if we don’t realize that the finger needs to be pointed inwards, not outwards.
I have full empathy for how scary and painful it is to touch upon deep, unhealed pain. Sometimes we reach places where our self-esteem is in question, or we find places where we don’t feel good about ourselves, or we see ourselves behaving in ways that we don’t really want to accept. No one wants to see that they are hurting their loved ones. No one wants to see that they have an anger management problem. No one wants to have to writhe in pain that can be so consuming it is hard to work, sleep or eat. Yet, healing that pain DOES require feeling it fully, facing it head on, and often that takes facilitation. We CANNOT do it ALL alone.
As a lifelong lover of the Red Sox and professional sports, the model of having not only ONE coach, but a whole TEAM of coaches is worth noticing. No serious athlete gets to major league baseball on just self- reliance. Yes, an athlete who is going to shine has to have a certain degree of raw talent and a huge commitment to develop themselves. However, they work in conjunction with a series of coaches at every level of play they engage in. The Red Sox have a pitching coach, a batting coach, a first base coach, a third base coach, a team manager, and a whole support staff behind the scenes who attend to everything from medical needs to motivational needs. If a player hits a slump, is injured, or hits unexpected challenges, a full team of experts is available to help the player confront their challenges and take steps in a corrective direction.
Why is it that we can’t apply this kind of model to our own lives? If a ballplayer starts feeling pain–physical, mental or emotional, can they truly improve by pointing the finger of blame outwards to their teammates, or the opposing pitcher or the batter they just faced? They must point the finger inwards and work on themselves.
Perhaps if we had better models of coaching and support through the shadowlands for couples, we would be better able to navigate them without breaking up. If only we gave our children the message that relationships do require emotional and spiritual work, and time investment over time. And that we need to develop skills on our own, but we cannot and should not have to do it ALL alone, especially when things are scary, painful and hard.