The ONE BIG SECRET in an INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP
“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” – Oscar Wilde
In my therapy practice, I would say, regarding the highest pain factor was a tie between addiction and an intimate relationship.
Addicts come in many forms. They are all painful. Most think I am talking about alcohol and other drugs, but also there are many other forms of addiction just as painful, such as food, work, sex, gambling, smoking, and a massively misunderstood and underestimated addiction: Codependence. [We will get to codependence, oh yes, in later articles.]
But today let’s stick with intimate relationships. As a therapist I also was a learner. I was not afraid to tell my clients, “I don’t know. But let me find out.” And I would do my research to share with the client the next time to see if we could get closer to a solution for the problem eating them up.
I would say 60% of my [full] caseload was about intimate relationship issues. I learned a lot from my clients, and always hoped they learned something from me. We were in it together is the way I shaped our perception of that very close relationship between counselor and client.
On the first visit I would make it clear that this might get scary, that “You might feel like we are standing on the edge of a cliff in the dark, fearful of a gust of wind from behind.” I would also say, “But I am there with you, feeling the same way. Just know that together we ARE going to solve this thing – whatever it is.”
[NOTE: I will discuss couple’s problem-solving in a later article, and it IS extremely crucial to read that, because there are two distinctive and hidden reasons we keep having the same problem over and over and over again.]
Confession: In my research on intimacy, always upgrading and trying to improve a seminar I conducted over the years, “Love, Sex, and Communication” I had discovered an idea that I grabbed, held onto, and passed on to my clients over and over again. The idea was this:
“The bigger part of romance is surprise.”
It is true, if you had a “Surprise thermometer” for every relationship, you would see that the fewer surprises there were, the more stale or stagnant the relationship was becoming. In the beginning: Flowers, cards for no reason, unexpected endearments whispered in the ear. Later on: An unannounced date, a surprise trip, gifts “out of nowhere,” and grabbing your partner in the living room and dancing to a tv theme song. As the years go by, there are fewer and fewer of all these things. And people often begin to look around…then they wind up in my office – usually too late. Often, I felt like a divorce counselor more than a marriage counselor.
They had waited so long that I fully expected to see, figuratively speaking, a trail of body parts outside my office from their car to my couch. they were in such bad shape. We ate a school of red herrings because often one partner had found someone else and had not the courage to tell the other one. Usually, that person was the first to stop coming.
Our purpose then changed. It was no longer about the couple, it was about the remaining partner and taking inventory of where things went wrong. My purpose? The relationship was going to end. The remaining person would soon start to look for someone else. My goal was them to learn from this wrecked relationship so that history was not repeated in the next one.
Sure enough, as we looked back we saw that imaginary Surprise Thermometer wane over time. In every relationship it was true. It happened so often that I began to believe we had discovered the GCGR – the Golden Chalice of Great Relationships – keep surprising one another (nicely) and all would be well.
I was wrong!
Yes, surprise is important, but that is not the basic reason. Surprises are only an outgrowth of the ONE BIG SECRET in AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP. Surprising the other partner happens automatically when you deeply care for someone. You love to see their sudden shift in appearance – the facial reaction, the widened eyes, the big smile, the sudden intake of air, the utter and fascinating delight, that was created by the surprising event.
But there is something deeper than that. I feel a bit ashamed, frankly. I am looking back and hoping I did not mislead people in my certainty.
Because it is not surprise.
It IS thoughtfulness.
“If there were one word that could act as a standard of conduct for one’s entire life, perhaps it would be ‘thoughtfulness’.” -Confucius
Thoughtfulness is a glue that holds a couple together. It shows they are on your mind, that you are looking for creative ways to show how important they are to you.
“People wait for the big moment, the great event, and forget that happiness comes from building steadily on the small daily things of life. People wait for that special moment to express love and forget that love springs from thoughtfulness practiced EVERY DAY. People wait but waiting is future and NOW is always the time.” -Meher Baba
Here is a suggestion. That is, if you are interested in making sure your thoughtfulness is apparent to your loved one: Take the time to make a list of all the things you could do to pleasantly surprise your partner.
The list is the surprises. Taking the time and spending the energy to bring them about – THAT is thoughtfulness.
After you make your list, put it in your wallet or purse and read it now and then. Add to it when you think of something. Just having thoughtfulness to do this will create what happens next automatically. Remember the one big secret in an intimate relationship? Thoughtfulness!