ERP 110: How To Manage Two Majorly Conflicting Needs In Relationship [Transcript]
ERP 110: How To Manage Two Majorly Conflicting Needs In Relationship
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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.
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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 110, How To Manage Two Majorly Conflicting Needs In Relationship. This episode is touching on some very core, deep, conflicting needs that we’re experiencing in relationship, and I’m gonna be able to talk about it in overview in this episode.
I also wanna let you know that I go into much more detail and depth and guidance in helping you practice and integrate this in my program. So if you’re interested in how to work this more, feel free to reach out to me about getting involved and enrolling in that program.
And as always, I am interested in your questions and your feedback. You can always comment on the show notes, which can be found on my website, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast and you can find whatever episodes all there on that page; the most recent ones are at the top. You can also reach me by e-mail, email@example.com. Let me know what you think.
The intention of this podcast, The Empowered Relationship podcast is to help you feel prepared, to help you feel more well equipped in developing happy, lasting love. That’s negotiating the ups as far as ecstatic intimacy and passion and excitement, as well as the lows, where we feel activated, triggered, fearful, scared, vulnerable, and how to negotiate some of that terrain… With the goal of real, lasting intimacy; not just the Band-Aid, not just the quick and easy cover-up. This is about the deeper, deeper work.
Several weeks ago I had solicited from you your deeper relationship questions and wonderings, and I appreciate all of you that have submitted your personal questions and places you get stuck, your biggest criticism in relationship, and I just wanna let you know that I’m working on several of those episodes.
I wanna let you know, just a little sneak preview – many of you talked about the issue of trust, and there’s different aspects of that, but that was definitely a theme. So those of you that are listening that can relate to the challenge of trust and you wanna chime in on this conversation, e-mail me and let me know where you get stuck and where you feel challenged around the issue of trust in relationship.
I actually have today’s episode, and I have two other episodes planned, and then I’ll be working on trust. So you have a little bit of time to reach out to me. I do have some interviews that are also gonna be in the line-up, so lots of great things coming up. I wanna just make sure you’re included in the conversation. And again, you can e-mail me – my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Today is a little meaty; I’m gonna try my best to bring this into practical examples so you can relate to it. Topic – how to manage two majorly conflicting needs in relationship. Let me just name them… There’s different language for it, but it’s a) the tendency to wanna please and prioritize our partner – give to them, consider them and please them. That’s the real goal of seeking closeness, seeking intimacy and wanting to prioritize the connection.
The second is the need for authenticity, the self, the individual needs, dreams, preferences, desires. Sometimes in relationship we will feel confronted with what feels like two options: I can please my partner, go along with what he or she wants, or I can stick and stand my ground around what is important to me. Often times we feel like we have to choose. I’m gonna talk a lot more in depth about other aspects that make this complicated. But just to kind of highlight and bring this into practical application, many people feel this filtered through many topics, whether or not it’s parenting styles, around “Should we be more strict or should we be more helpful?” There’s so many different ways to approach parenting.
There’s money, there’s sex – I’m gonna talk a little bit about just how this can show up sexually, too… And just to kind of give you a more subtle version, I think this was a couple weeks ago… I was working from home — I work locally, and I also work with a lot of my clients… I have a home office and I have another office in town. On this particular day I was in my home office, and that is nice in some respects because it affords me to do things in between. If I have a lunch break or another break, I might start a load of laundry, or I might start dinner…
This particular day we’ve had a lot going on and I wanted to help prepare dinner; we were gonna play volleyball that night, and I wanted to have dinner ready, so that when we got home it was something easy for us to eat. It was a crock pot meal of some sort. I had also gotten laundry started and had done a few loads, so what ended up happening — I think the meal that I had planned took way longer than I expected, or I can’t remember, something came up and somehow my timing was a little askew, and I had to hop on a session… I had everything pretty much — let me just describe to you…
In the kitchen I had everything in the crock pot, it was already started, but I usually clean as I’m cooking, but this particular day – which was really an anomaly – I had the cutting board and the knife and all the vegetable debris… It was basically not cleaned up, hardly. There was nothing out that was gonna go bad, but it was definitely messy. Then in the bedroom I think I had the last load… I had done towels, and the towels were dry, they just weren’t folded. So I had several sessions back-to-back, and my husband had gotten home right at the time I was finishing, and I had actually expected to beat him, so I could finish that up before he got home…
Nonetheless, he got home, and given his stress and work challenges – he has to deal with masses all day – he was visibly perturbed. I remember just thinking, “Okay…” Because he didn’t say anything, but his non-verbals were pretty communicative that he just wasn’t happy about things being so messy. I was watching him, and we were getting ready to go because again, we had a commitment for volleyball, and I was noticing myself feeling reactive. In my mind I was wanting to please him. I was making this dinner for us, that would make our lives easier, I was trying to help with laundry… The way my husband and I do domestic chores is we both just help out, we don’t have any set schedule at this current moment in time. So it was just me really wanting to please him and think about him. So seeing his reaction, I remember feeling a little put off, and feeling misunderstood. In my mind I’m like, “I moved the needle.” We were gonna have dinner ready, the laundry and the towels are clean, they just needed to be folded, so I thought that there was still an added value that I had offered.
So we talked about it when we were in the car, and luckily we have some skills and tools to reference, given the amount of time we’ve been together and the work we’ve invested in our relationship… So we were able to share and I was able to hear from him the impact of what it’s like to have things disarray, and in this current moment just distress. So I was asking him “Would you rather have not had the towels clean and dinner started and ready and everything be clean?” and he said “Yes, actually I would have preferred that.” I was like, “I had no idea… I had no idea. I thought I was adding value.” We were able to work that out and understand the preferences.
Why I’m telling you this is because it’s easy to get caught in the idea that “If my partner’s happy with me, I’m okay.” My intentions to please were good, and when I saw him kind of huffy — I mean, on a scale from one to ten, he wasn’t like a nine; it was like a two or a three, but obviously I’m watching him, and as partners you usually can read your partner rather well…
And again, there’s some assumption on my part, because I didn’t really check it out if he was annoyed or frustrated; we talked about it in the car and he in fact was, but I reacted to his reaction. I’m aiming to please, and he is not happy, and I’m taking it personally – “If my partner’s upset, I’m not okay”, or it’s some measure or evaluation on me.
As we resolved it, I can consider him and understand his perspective, and while it might not be my experience, my desire is to consider him. And I also wanna hold on to myself. My intentions were really genuinely positive, and I do in my own definition – if you’re gonna ask me my experience – I thought it was helpful. If I were in his shoes, I would have been appreciative that “Oh, dinner will be ready, the towels are clean” and these sorts of things. So I didn’t lose myself that what I did was valuable, I just can consider that that wouldn’t have been his preference.
Because again, as I mentioned, what can happen if our whole goal is to make our partner happy and please them, then we become dependent on their happiness for our well-being. It’s almost as if your partner’s happiness becomes a measure of how well you’re doing as a partner, and as you can see, that can be pretty tricky. And this becomes particularly tricky over time, because we tend to lose ourselves… Because if the priority is all about our partner and we’re thinking that’s the way to be in relationship, to prioritize our partner’s needs, to give to them, to consider them, to please them, then over time we start to lose ourselves, we lose integrity around what’s real and true for our individual preferences, dreams and needs.
I’m gonna reference a book today, it’s by David Schnarch – again, I’ll put the link on the show notes, which can be found on my website, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast and today’s episode is 110.
The book is titled Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. This came out many years ago, but I still think — he’s written several books since, but this is a classic. I’m going to read an excerpt here that I feel is really important. It’s about fusion fantasy.
“When I was a graduate student studying clinical psychology, I came across the writings of Helmuth Kaiser, a relatively unknown psychiatrist of the 1940s. He described a figure skating performance by identical twins he had seen as a young boy in pre-war Germany. What captured his attention was not the impeccably choreographed mirror skating but the mesmerized crowd’s wild enthusiasm. Precision military drill teams, synchronized swimming, and high-kicking chorus lines, he noted, had the same effect. Kaiser intuited that something about the unison involved in these performances stirred a great many people.
Eventually he recognized what it was: the fantasy of two (or more) bodies appearing to be controlled by a single mind, as if we’ve given up our separate identities and become part of a larger oneness. He called this a fusion fantasy.
Kaiser never forgot what he witnessed in that skating rink, and I never forgot Kaiser’s insights. They stirred my appreciation for how our urge to actualize the injunction “two shall become one” dictates everyday interactions.
Years later, when I eventually learned about the psychological concept of differentiation, Kaiser’s work was far from mind. But when you stumble upon a deep truth, it surfaces in many ways. As I helped couples work through their emotional impasses and sexual problems, I finally saw how fusion fantasies are the source of much, if not most marital discord. The illusion that in a good marriage partners are like tightly choreographed figure skaters is impossible to live.”
I’ll repeat that last sentence: “The illusion that in a good marriage partners are like tightly choreographed figure skaters is impossible to live.”
This excerpt encapsulates, I believe, the myth that’s often perpetuated about lasting intimacy – finding the one and then living happily ever after in this effortless synchronization… That we’re synchronized and that it has its flow and that we join and we are one.
Now, I do think there’s elements of connection and oneness that are a part of the beautiful experience of love, yet I do believe there’s other aspects that require us to negotiate, and that’s what I’m gonna be talking about today.
In reading about the fusion fantasy, it reminded me of a phenomenon called groupthink. I remember coming across this in undergrad. It’s basically when you get a group of people together and whether or not they share the same political views or whatever their interests are, they tend to start to form — it’s almost like this whole body. The group starts thinking as one. Basically, the definition is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.
When I looked this up online, I found the Wikipedia page and I thought it was interesting that Wikipedia says “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”
I know this is wordy, but I’m reading this and I’m like “We do this in relationship!” We will prioritize the oneness or the fantasy of this fusion of oneness, and sometimes minimize our own critical thinking or decision-making because we’re afraid of the conflict, and we tend to keep this very private. Our relationship dynamics we typically don’t talk about in larger settings.
In couples that have been together for long periods of time, they tend to be confronted with the result of this attempt of strategy of oneness, giving to their partner, pleasing their partner, considering their partner over and over and over again, and sacrificing themselves. If you put this on repeat over years and years, it has great costs. Someone could come into my office and feel “I’ve lost myself. I’m not in this relationship. I’ve been putting my partner as a preference and I don’t even know what I want or what I feel, or what I want and feel doesn’t feel like there’s space for it in my relationship.”
People will feel incredibly stuck and dissatisfied, or even two couples who love each other very much and they’re mutually trying to please each other but they’re simultaneously hiding; they don’t wanna rock the boat. They don’t know how to bring themselves fully to the relationship and be honest, because they’ve created a norm in their relationship that they don’t share personal differing ideas. They don’t wanna rock the boat by opposing one another or having conflicting needs or desires.
I’m gonna list just a few more things just to give you a little bit more of an idea. What I have seen in couples who are in this fusion fantasy (if you will) is they tend to protect the status quo. There’s this illusion of safety, that if we don’t share something that’s conflictual, we will protect our relationship. There’s the comfort zone of not rocking the boat, or not going there, or challenging our partner.
What that means though is that we don’t reveal. People don’t fully share, aren’t fully honest and in their integrity – and integrity sounds like a pretty bold word for me to use; I’m meaning it more around having our own back, connecting with what’s true, what’s real, and staying with that, not abandoning that, being willing to bring that forth and reaching to our partner from that place of what’s real. Integrity – doing what we feel is right.
Again, that we are sharing, revealing, and that can be incredibly vulnerable, especially when we’re afraid of what our partner’s reaction is gonna be. If we are in this fusion fantasy of feeling like we have to be completely synchronized, we might hide, suppress, ignore anything that might feel conflicting, and we tend to have this persona, if you will, that it’s almost like “Who I am in relationship is who I have to be in relationship for a marriage to work” – that’s the real conundrum… “Where do I fit in this oneness in my relationship, in my partnership, in my marriage? How do I have space for me and for the union and the connection?” Do you see the conflict, how we’re often feeling like “Where do I fit in our oneness?” and we most of the time don’t have good examples for this at all, or any roadmaps.
Some of you who have listened to my previous episodes or just are seekers of knowledge in the field of relationship, may have read books, heard of attachment theory, or know Susan Johnson, or even Stan Tatkin, who was on my show not too long ago. Many people in this training emphasize the safety of the relationship. Really prioritizing the connection, the health and the connection of the partnership, so that people can feel that emotional bond is secure; trusting and feeling on all levels that your partner has your back, cares about you, wants to help, is a safe place that you can rely on them. There is almost as if a container of safety.
I have done EFT training and I was listening very carefully of how this concept of holding on to yourself fits with the attachment theory and the prioritizing the emotional connection, the safety, the secure emotional bond, and what I came up with, and I’m gonna interview another person that’s an expert in the field… So I would love to get other voices. If you have questions or you have your own opinions about this, I would love to hear from you…
But this is where I’m landing at the moment… When I studying EFT training — that it’s not so much about getting the couple to be one, in unison and synchronized; it’s more about creating the safe space for each individual, to have a safe space to drop in to reveal more vulnerably what’s true, and to have that safe space so that the other partner can witness that, can hear that, and experience it without feeling attacked, burdened, responsible, but can really feel and see their partner’s true experience, and that most of the time the genuine response is “How can I help? I wanna help.”
“It’s not that I am responsible for this, for you, it’s more of hearing your experience. I care, you matter to me. I wanna help.”
If we feel our partner’s in pain and we understand and hear the experience of that, we wanna usually help them feel better. We don’t want them to be in pain. This feels very different than “We have to be the same. We have to move the same, we have to feel the same, believe the same, act the same.” I’m hoping you can hear the difference.
The emotional connection is really creating a safe space to reveal different experiences, but to feel the emotional sharing that allows for a connection — and I’m gonna talk a little bit more about that in a moment.
One other thing I wanna note here, for my dissertation what I found from all the couples that were in all the studies that I — I did a meta-analysis, which is a study of other studies, so a combined ten other studies… All the participants in these respective research studies emphasize the importance of having commitment, and it’s counter-intuitive for people, because many times people associate commitment with feeling shackled, or feeling trapped, or feeling tied down, or feeling somehow limited. But all of them talked about the safe foundation, that it provided them to take risks from. So rather than constraining them, they all felt the safety and the courage to take more risk, to feel vulnerable, to feel insecure, to try new things.
Again, attachment theory comes from very early development in life. Children who are of toddler age tend to do best when they have that secure foundation and then they can take risks and explore the world, but be able to come back to that safe haven, that safe space.
If we’re looking at this, in my mind I’m thinking “Okay, both are important” – to feel that care, that regard, the desire to wanna help and care for one another, and the emotional connection, understanding each other emotionally and being there for each other emotionally and showing the engagement, the care and the responsiveness… Being able to respond, being able to be engaged and to be attentive.
David Schnarch, which I’m reading his book, Passionate Marriage, emphasizes this concept of differentiation. he basically defines differentiation as the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love.
This is essentially this tricky balance of holding on to ourselves while developing relationship and intimacy with our loved one. That’s tricky, that’s definitely a huge learning curve, and it’s where David Schnarch talks about “This is where we grow up. This is where relationship grows us.”
If you’ve listened to a podcast or read an article where I talk about the development of intimacy, the power struggle – this is often what’s going on here, too. Most of us get stuck in the power struggle stage and we never develop beyond. We don’t have a map, we don’t know how, and we tend to pathologize the fact that we have any issues or conflict… “Something’s wrong with me, something’s wrong with my partner, or something’s wrong with us.”
We don’t have a sense of “This is normal, this is part of us growing, this is part of us developing”, the real huge challenge that we’re faced with of how to stay true and grow ourselves and our personal dreams and aspirations while being connected and in relationship, and growing the intimacy.
This is essentially interdependence in its truest form. Value for autonomy, which is the individual, as well as the intimacy, the closeness, the connection, and that they’re both simultaneously important… And often times we don’t know how to do that. We don’t know how to do both.
I wanna go back one moment, I wanna emphasize – at the core there’s this desire to feel validated. We wanna feel seen, we wanna feel okay, we wanna feel good in our being, and the attachment folks or the emotionally-focused therapy (EFT folks), people that emphasize the emotional security – the process is helping couples get to their truer, core, vulnerable feelings, like synthesize that, and then share with their partner, so the partner can see what’s going on… Removing blame and shame, and just self-revealing. “Here’s what’s going on for me, here’s what it makes me think about, here’s where I go, here’s what I’m feeling.”
The crux here is that with a professional who’s guiding the individual to get clear around what’s going on for them and to distill it into “I’m scared” or “It makes me feel alone and it reminds me of when I was young, and I was sitting on the curb and my dad never came”, or whatever it is… But there’s a self-responsibility of like “This has been my experience. This is what’s true for me.” With a guiding professional, it allows the individual to deepen in their experience and their vulnerability, and then to take the risk and have the courage to share with their partner.
And again, as I mentioned, when a partner can be a part of that process, this creates connection. So allowing our partner to experience or to see that – there’s some real connection in that.
Then with the differentiating people, like David Schnarch from Passionate Marriage – he emphasizes this concept of differentiation, which is essentially how to not lose yourself, how to hold on to yourself while being in an intimate relationship… The crux of that is how to validate self, how to know see your goodness, validate that your opinions, your desires, your dreams are okay, even if your partner is pushing you to change or wanting you to be different… That your feelings, that your thoughts, that your experience is real and true, and that you can hold value for that and you can validate that.
What’s happening here is it’s creating connection by the person who’s self-validating is able to express themselves more fully. “Here’s what I would love.” Or when it shows up sexually, it’s like “Here’s what I’m wanting”, rather than “What do you want me to do for you?” That’s the pleasing, like “Tell me how you want me to show up for you”, rather than “Here’s what I would love.”
When we can express really authentically, it creates connection because we’re allowing ourselves to be seen and our partner can feel us. We’re showing up, we’re reaching and extending for connection from a very true, authentic place in ourselves. I was doing these notes and it actually made me think about possibly one reason why reality TV shows can be — well, not all of them, but some of the performance ones can be incredibly emotionally engaging, whether or not it’s dance (So You Think You Can Dance) or all the music ones, like Voice or… I don’t know, I haven’t watched them all, so I can’t name them all. But these people are really taking huge risks… I cry sometimes watching these shows.
I think I’ve watched So You Think You Can Dance a couple times and The Voice a couple times, but just seeing these people express themselves so fully… As a viewer, we can be moved by that, because it is such an authentic — especially on The Voice, even when they’re training/coaching these people to continue to reveal as emotionally as possible what’s really authentic. We don’t even have to meet them ever, we can feel a sense of connection.
David Schnarch argues that this is what keeps the passion alive. We need some of that tension, we need some of that polarity to keep things new and fresh. We don’t really wanna be in relationship with ourselves, right? That would be boring.
Essentially, what we’re faced with here is the need for balancing these two seemingly conflicting needs – how to hold on to yourself and how to value intimacy and connection. If you’ve heard me talk about balance, it’s not an easy thing to achieve. We all think, “Oh, it should be easy. I’ve been doing this for a long time.” I was even listening to my husband, he was talking the other day about just the body’s goal of homeostasis, and that it’s constantly working towards feeling more balanced, but that it’s really rarely achieved.
He has a massage background and we were just talking about the impact of stress, and that we’ll feel moments of balance, but more often than not we’re in a state of seeking balance. This is nothing to be hard on yourself about or reprimand anybody or anyone… It’s more to look at what’s the goal.
If we’re in the seeking of balance, we’re on the path, and we’ll feel moments of reward, of bliss, of like “Oh, I feel truly engaged with what’s authentic and I’m feeling connection…” That’s what’ we’re really aiming for. Sometimes it will feel messy, and it feels like we’re working it and it feels hard, but then it’ll evolve. It’s cycling as we’re developing.
Dance is another really beautiful metaphor here. Two individuals who are dancing together are contributing to their shared experience. They’re moving together, they’re playing with each other, they’re flowing together, and yet they both have two bodies that they’re both responsible for. They have two hopefully full and intact feet and they’re responsible for their own balance, and they’re perhaps leaning on each other intentionally at times, and then running off a little or coming back… There’s this dance, and that’s often what intimacy feels like.
It’s not that we’re always tied at the hip, it’s this flow of feeling our unique expression and our real combined shared togetherness in intimacy.
The next two podcast episodes I’m gonna go into a little bit more depth about some other aspects of this: about validation – seeking validation versus self-validation, and then I’m gonna do a podcast about vulnerability and what makes it hard.
Today’s podcast episode “How To Manage Two Majorly Conflicting Needs In Relationship.” I’m also bringing in the fact that there’s two different school of thoughts here, from professionals in the field of couples and relationship around valuing the emotional secure bond, and then also valuing differentiation, how to hold on to yourself while being in connection and relationship with the one you love, and how they’re both important… And how we will sometimes feel confronted with our fantasy of fusion, as well as our avoidance or our fear of conflict, and just all the things that we might feel challenged by we tend to pathologize – “Something’s wrong with us. Something’s wrong with my partner. Something’s wrong with me” – when in fact it’s merely the part of growing and developing, in yourself and in intimacy.
Can you see the value of holding both of these as important in your relationship? If so, consider perhaps taking the Connected Couple program. Part of the curriculum is giving you the opportunity to practice and really learn this a little more in depth and then integrate it by practice and really getting the support to implement it, so that you are on path to balancing these two conflicting needs. If you want more information about that, you can e-mail me at Jessica@DrJessicaHiggins.com.
Very soon I’m gonna actually give you guys an opportunity to just sign up for a self-study version. In the past I’ve given people an opportunity to do it with me, so I’m guiding you. However, I know many people have reached out and want the self-study version, so I look forward to that. That will be available in the coming weeks, probably in about a month.
Like always, if you have a question or a wondering that you would like to submit for an upcoming podcast episode topic, please e-mail me. Also, if you would like to schedule to receive live laser coaching with me, you can click on Contact and find a little more information about that. Until next time, I hope you take great care!
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