My Mother, My Father, My Money

Money and its loaded issues.

Miss Him Yet?

It was better with my first husband

Stanley Fish in this week's NY Times says "I told you so." A little more than a year ago, he warned readers that despite ultra-high levels of negativity toward then-president Bush, within one year of his departure, people will start to miss him.

Sure enough, there are signs that his prediction has born out. He quotes a number of unscientific studies on the internet that assert that more miss him than don't. In fact, in one area of the country -- Minnesota, a billboard recently appeared on the interstate with a big picture of former President Bush smiling congenially "Miss me yet?"

Whether or not Fish is right, it gives one pause. Why do we miss the people we once claimed to hate -- after they leave, and why do we grow to hate the one that stays? For example, a close relative of mine tells me regularly that he hates his late father-in-law even now that he is gone more than 10 years, but then he quickly adds in a conspiratorial tone, "I miss him too."

No sooner do some people marry or engage with one person do they then dream about replacing them with another. Some people actually take the cruel or courageous step (depending on your point of view) of tossing one for the other.

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Not too long after they do that they end up missing the first spouse. Much of life is a replacement game - in our minds at least. Will it be better with someone else? This is an old and well-known experience of the human condition. In fact, the Hebrew prophet Hosea over 2000 years ago said, "Then she shall say, 'I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now. Hosea 2:7

Will one spouse be better than the other? Will one school be better than another, one therapist better than another? One for another, One for another, this is the mantra of many.

No sooner do we have a young, dashing handsome president, our president, do we deal with the inevitable disappointments of our knight in shining armor. The chinks start to appear and not only do we want to throw him over,  we end up pining for his once-loathed predecessor. What is it with us?

The psychoanalyst Carl Jung talked about the force of opposites. Where there is great love, beware -- the hostility is there, lurking just beneath the surface. Where there is a feeling of great hate, an opposite feeling must exist and be directed somewhere. This can never be proven, but it does have the ring of truth.

Perhaps it is not that one situation is intrinsically better than the other. Not all the time, anyway. And to be sure, some situations really are bad. There are relationships that are rotten and we run away from them and towards life itself.  But before we run or dump as the case may be, we might do well to ask if it is our energy direction that might be adjusted. Can we direct our rage elsewhere or at least divide it equitably?

It has been said that one of the demarcations between the ill and the healthy is that the psychologically ill are fixated: it is person "x" or group "x" that is the source of all our troubles (Think Timothy McVeigh or other political extremists) The healthy person will constantly shift his love and his rage. The psychologically healthy are not fixated.

I read once that the famously irascible Hemingway was not happy unless he was burning through a close relationship once every 3 or 4 years.  We all know people like that. They are compelled to destroy like some kind of circadian rhythm - every few years they arise to expel and purge like some kind of Stalinist political impulse.

What can be done to check this impulse to expel?

Psychoanalysis can help people acknowledge, manage, understand and tolerate their extreme levels of love and hate. Many will not be able to resist the call to expel, but psychoanalysis can help them have the experience and have it be their experience.

Apropos, the Talmud famously says, "Better one lash from within your own heart, than a hundred experienced from the outside." (Berakoth 7a) In other words, self-correction, learning from your own experience is the best teacher.

In this way, the ultimate hope for man is that he get in rhythm with himself.




Simon Feuerman is a psychotherapist and is Director for the New Center for Advanced Psychotherapy Studies at Kean University in New Jersey.


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