Human beings have two strong needs that are essentially contradictory: The need to belong, to feel a part of something, the need for security, and a sense of routine that has a feeling of familiarity – and the need for innovation, excitement, searching for the unknown, breaking known boundaries and attraction to the what’s new.
Nowadays, our world is turning into a place where most of the safest frameworks, including belonging to a family or a close group are disappearing. On one hand the world is more global, and at the same time becomes more alienating. Yet the independence – the freedom – to build whom you want to be is far greater.
Human association and the groups that it creates have become larger, more diffuse, more anonymous and less physically close. The “Virtual” is supplanting the physical, and with it the need for security is increasing, as the drive for thrills becomes more intense. Everything appears to be possible, yet our basic psychological needs haven’t changed.
The framework which bears the brunt of most of these conflicting ideals is the relationship.
The expectation from the spouse (whether male or female – the gender differences are becoming more and more blurred) has developed into a catch-all: demanding emotional and physical safety, closeness, the warmth and sense of family. Yet, at the same time, the relationship is expected to be the source of novelty, thrill, even the fulfillment of fantasy.
But paradoxically, passion thrives in an environment of mystery, adventure, and some degree of distance. That’s why the initial “infatuation period” is when passion is at its most powerful. The excitement, the novelty, not knowing the extent of the other’s commitment – and fantasy, idealization, the potential for alienation all increase desire and need for physical closeness. The sexual tension is then at its peak.
With security, familiar routine, emotional intimacy and friendship – we feel more confident, less alienated, and we develop a sense of warmth and protection. But more often than not, this closeness and confidence directly offset and reduce passion and sexual desire.
The daily routine, raising children, working, shopping – the very sense of security, belonging – all these familiar feelings aren’t the recipe for passion.
Sometimes love remains there – without the passion.
In earlier times, the “relationship” was not expected to deliver so many facets of human need, but now, the relationship must provide and contain both security and the passion, the dependable and the unknown. One person (spouse/partner) now has the task of providing these two conflicting needs, and doing so in a world that is itself becoming more alienating and, at the same time, addicted to thrills. This almost paradoxical load on the relationship, in the hectic pace of life today, is almost unbearable.
So how is it possible to bridge the gap between these two conflicting needs? How can you be both “the best friend” and “the mysterious and desirable stranger” at the same time? Is that even possible? Or are we doomed to only fulfill one of the two and give up the other, which is just as essential?
The answer is: Yes. It’s possible.
This requires a certain skill, learning, attention, awareness and preparedness – and especially – some serious flexibility. Shared growth, yet with clear boundaries.
Nurture the many shades of grey, steering clear of the inflexible, absolutes of black and white, they are deceptive: Not all which seems “committed” is “safe.” Not all the “unfamiliar” is indeed “foreign.” And with working on the relationship, of course, one should work on the connection to the self, to the individuality, define the borders, and to be as clear as possible of separation anxiety and narcissism.
Two whole people, with clear boundaries, with mature souls and shared values – and who embrace the complex ideas of “vision” and “bravery” – can integrate these conflicting needs in relationships, finding a home for both comfort and passion over the years. Once we allow our individual borders to be blurred – our own understanding of our “self” to slip away – we cannot be the same “other” that our partner had once known, and been attracted to, both physically and emotionally.
Is preserving both security and passion a challenge? Absolutely! But we all know that to acquire a particular skill (learn a language, improve physical condition, play an instrument), we need help in learning, and a teacher. But because the demands we make on our relationships have changed so much so quickly in our society, we’ve come to expect ourselves and our partner to somehow “just know” how to manage and integrate the complex balance of closeness and boundary without aid and support, and of course, without an existing model.
And this leads to so much disappointment and failure. People blame the other or themselves, marching forward in search of “couple-hood,” with no support, guidance or assistance whatsoever – and so often without even imagining that such help truly exists.
If you repeatedly come to the same place in relationships – always having to trade off passion for security, security for passion – I hope this has been given you some things to think about, some hope that things can change, and maybe a kick in the pants to do something about it.