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On Being Attracted to Someone Else, Part III

In this posting, Deborah Leeds looks at relationship from a new paradigm, based on the work of Stan Tatkin. Josh Gressel's comments will return next week.

Hello Patch readers:

A few weeks ago, I took up all the space in the posting and left Deborah no room.  This week she returns the favor! I'll be commenting on this column next week.

Josh

Dear Josh, 

In continuing our dialog about what to do and what does it mean if I am attracted to someone outside my marriage, something struck me that has a different slant. I have begun reading Wired For Love by Stan Tatkin. Although I have not gotten too far with it yet, it has me pondering this question: Why are we in relationship? Is it “about me” or is there a process to be served by being in relationship that is more important than I might know? 

Tatkin, a psychologist working with couples, has taken the current discoveries in three fields: neuroscience (which shows us the physiological basis for some of the impulses and reactions that drive our relationships), attachment theory (the biological need to attach and bond to others,) and “human arousal” (defined not as in sexual arousal, but as our “moment to moment ability to manage our energy, alertness, and readiness to engage”) and has integrated them to provide advice and suggestions to help couples grow healthy, secure, happy relationships. 

Why am I talking about this here? Because, according to Tatkin and others, these studies tell us that we are wired to be in, and benefit from, secure relationships. That absent the secure relational base of an intimate relationship we are missing that which helps us function and feel better as individuals. He says: “Who among us doesn’t want to be loved? Finally to be able to be ourselves just as we are, to feel cherished, cared for, protected - this has been the pursuit of humans since the beginning of recorded time. We are social animals. We depend on other people. We need other people.” 

This is a real change from the perspective that has been maintained in the past several decades, wherein an individual’s needs, preferences, and drives are the priority, and relationships are meant to serve the individual. This is a huge paradigm shift.  

When a woman or a man is attracted to someone outside their relationship, it could be a flash kind of interest (perhaps more true for males). But it can also be serious enough that it raises significant questions about their relationship. Someone may measure their happiness, satisfaction, and the way they experience themselves in their committed relationship against this new attraction.  It can look like: “I’ve changed, you haven’t, and I don’t think you fit me anymore.” 

Old paradigm: the “how I feel and what I need” is my guiding principle. “I don’t feel fulfilled here; I love you but the relationship isn’t giving me what I need....” In this paradigm, we assign alot of what isn’t working to our partner. We begin to withdraw, look elsewhere, grow resentful. Rather than understanding relational patterns, and the relational wounds that underly them, we leave, be it physically or emotionally. We look for our individual well-being in what is, perhaps unconsciously, a backdrop in which “I ultimately stand alone”, and must act on my own behalf. 

Emerging paradigm: In order for an individual to be happy, we need our relationships to be secure places in which both individuals can heal and thrive. We are learning that the benefits that come from having a secure, connected, caring base give us the opportunity to heal “relationship wounds” that come from childhood and interfere with our capacities for mature, healthy relationships in adulthood. This is the potential of committed relationships. Understanding this, I want to take care of my relationship, learn about it, and be an ally to be my partner, even when it is challenging. I am learning to find my best well-being, fully as my individual self, through the process of being in relationship. 

I think that we rarely consider in a conscious way  “Why am I in relationship”?Aside from who I like, what I want, and how it feels to be together, what do we believe about relationship? What is it’s purpose or potential? Think about it: we know exactly what to do to have healthy oral hygiene, but what do we understand about this most significant relationship in our lives? 

In your recent comments, you said: “I am preaching here a doctrine of truth and trust. Trust the truth of who you are. Trust that you really did choose the right person to be with and if you share yourself fully with him or her, you and your relationship will grow as a result.” 

I think that we need to know why we are in our relationships and marriages. If we believe it is to enrich our lives, but with the sense that  underneath it all “I” comes first and last, we will make decisions following that sense of self-preservation. 
If we believe, as Tatkin and others are saying, that caring for and growing our relationships is ultimately the way to care for ourselves, then our decisions will align with your perspective: that honesty and authenticity will maintain respect and vitality in our relationships, and that a healthy relationship is an essential kind of self-care. 

Who knew?

Deborah

Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog? Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at josh@joshgressel.com.

Deborah Leeds, MFT, is a couples and individual therapist with offices in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, CA. Visit her website at deborahleeds.com

Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tom October 05, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I do not judge those who are in a relationship like this. There is no way I could enter into this. I am very much a one woman sort of man and this just would not work for me. I have been married for 20 years and expect to be for at least another 20 and this to me is living well. Having one person I build a life with and share all my feelings with is amazing and never gets old. I am hers and she is mine.
Ofer Erez October 05, 2012 at 09:44 PM
It does not seem to be difficult for most people to hate more than one person at a time with equal passion. Why should we able to do that, and unable to love more than one person at a time with equal passion? And I don't mean to say we have to take action based on these emotions. I am not advocating open relationships and I am not advocating closed relationships either. It seems obvious to me that if one partner is interested in it and the other is not it will create very painful situations for all involved. I know people who can be in deep personal relationships with many other people without having to have sex with them. There is mention of holding hands in one of the other comments. What about deep meaningful conversations? are they unacceptable as well if they are with someone you are not married to? Some people I know consider emotional sharing as more important than physical sharing... And what about sharing spiritual experiences? And are we then supposed to have only one child?
Chris J Kapsalis October 05, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Maybe some who want an open relationship are affraid of commeting, or are just settling for the time being. If and when they find the person who brings up emotions like jealously, the person they want to spend more time with, will they be gone?
Chris J Kapsalis October 06, 2012 at 01:55 AM
If sex is part of an open marriage, I can just think of some very awkward and disturbing scenarios that would come up. If you are the jealous type. If both of you are not, then I guess it would be ok for them. sex is usually part of one though, or it is called a friendship. Or at the very least, much more intimate than a friendship. But could you kiss your spouse after they have been with someone else? That is just one very disturbing thing I can think of. You mentioned hate. You can hate from a distance, you have to be close to have a relationship like these more. So I can't compare those. But again, how many if they do find their soul mate, and emotions like jealousy come out , how many will change their view completely? But people should know what they are getting into in an open relationship. I think this discussion is good..
Renae Wilber October 06, 2012 at 03:32 AM
I agree with you Tom, and I find that most people that need "deep" relationships with others while they are in an intimate relationship always seem to have one foot out of the relationship. How can you have a complete profound, intimate, and meaningful relationship if you always have one foot in another relationship? I just don't think it's possible to have the depth of intimacy (and I'm not just talking sex) when you have spread your intimate self around? I don't personally think it is possible to reach that level with a multitude of partners. Cheers to a long and happy marriage Tom!

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