How Were The Holidays? The post holiday season can be an especially challenging time for couples. Perhaps you are empty nesters and the kids went back to school. Could be your vicarious thrill in watching your young children’s Christmas joy has waned with the new year or maybe when the grandparents flew back to home base leaving you with garbage bags full of recyclable wrapping paper (if there is such a thing) and dried pine needles on the floor. Or you are the grandparents returning home with unwanted baggage awaiting you there. Possibly the eighth night of Hanukah, though glowing with candlelight, foreshadowed the winter solstice, short days and long evenings together that added a chill to the Coupledom atmosphere. Winter can be tough on couples if cozy together is not a part of the vernacular.
The Fundamentals of Loneliness For Two: You can be very lonely in your Coupledom. In fact, feeling lonely emerges as one of the more common unrecognized emotions often unveiled in my office, to the surprise of everyone. Two people living within the same walls, even under the same bed sheets, which seemingly imposes an atmosphere of intimacy and connection and yet, walls and sheets do not a closeness make. What are the fundamental requisites for a sustained and enduring sense of being part of a couple, part of a team of two, distinct individuals but emotionally not all alone? This is a question with a complicated and really open-ended answer, one each individual needs to define for themselves.
Soul Mates? To define something you often have to cull out what it is not. In the case of intimate relationships there needs to be a differentiation between “fusion,” whose price is loss of individual identity and “intimacy,” which means an ease of communication, physical and otherwise, between two separate beings. Soul mate is a term typically used to describe the feeling of being understood so well by another that after a long search, finding and marrying one’s soul mate is considered the ideal, the platinum of mating choices. This is a glorious but often transient “fusion” fabulously fueled by sexual chemistry, where two individuals identify so much with each other that it appears as if they are one. They share similar visions of the world, people, food, movies, friends, religion, politics, backgrounds, trauma history. They read each other’s thoughts; second-guess each other’s answers. They are finally known and understood, and know and understand another. The perfect loop of love. Yet when they are actually in the trenches of daily life much of that similarity seems to dissolve and folks are shocked to find out that in fact they are very different in some fundamental ways, such as how they interact with or discipline their children; their approach to money, in-laws, holidays, entertaining; their work ethic or their preferred time for sex; all now have become disappointing and insurmountable differences, personalized as rejections or callous indifference, stubbornness or power plays. Sadly over time, feeling safe, secure and trusting is replaced by feeling duped and deceived, even scared. Why this atmospheric shift, the tipping of the earth’s axis? Because love was based more on identifying with each other than actually knowing each other. That’s fusion, not intimacy, projection, not true understanding. The holiday season is notorious for underlining in bold those differences that simply smolder for the rest of the year.
The Antidote to Loneliness in The Coupledom: What really reduces loneliness inside ourselves is when we feel seen, known and understood by our partner. This is not an automatic outcome of being loved by another. This is an active and daily transaction between two people that involves knowing what’s important to each of you to share with the other, whether it be the good news, chit chat, embarrassments, dreams, wants, disappointments, anger, insult, shame and pride. And to be the recipient of the same sharing, with a loop of mature love that warms up the chilly winter nights. Being known and also loved is what folks often mean when they say “unconditional” but it isn’t unconditional. How we treat each other counts more than the words we use to describe our feelings. Both have to be in that loop and then the loneliness will subside, and when it comes up again, check to make sure you are both revealing enough of you to be seen. If you don’t and won’t, then you will feel alone.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2014