The Dance of Connection

Rescuing women and men from the quicksand of difficult relationships.

Curing "Intimacy Problems": Step One

Every couple secretly hopes I'll fix their partner.

 

When couples enter therapy for "intimacy problems" they are invariable other-focused. That is, they see the other persons as the problem and they believe the solution is for that person to change.

What happens if a couple remains other-focused over time? She continues to insist that the only way the relationship will improve is for him to become more responsible. He insists that instead she must become less critical and more sensitive to his needs.

What happens is that no change will occur. I've yet to see a relationship improve unless at least one individual can give up his or her negative or worried focus on the other and put that same energy back into his or her own life.

Every courageous act of change that I've described in The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Intimacy requires a move toward greater self-focus.

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Whether that other person is our spouse, lover, child, sibling, parent, friend, or boss, self-focus requires us to give up our non-productive efforts to change the other party (which is not possible) and to put as much energy into working on the self. Only then can we move out of stuck patterns and create a new dance.

We need to understand, however, that self-focus does not mean self-blame. It doesn't mean that we view ourselves as the "cause" of the problems. It certainly doesn't mean that we remain silent in the face of unfairness or injustice, or when something isn't right.

It simply means that we need to understand how relationships patterns operate, and how we can change our own part in the patterns that bring us pain.

You may be tired of doing all the emotional work in your relationship, but if you want a better relationship, you are the only person you can change. And if you want a recipe for divorce, just wait for the other person to change first.

The good news is that if you change your own steps, the old dance can't continue in the same way.

 

Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is best known for her work on marriage and family relationships and the psychology of women. Her book The Dance of Anger has recently been reissued.

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