Whenever February appears, my thoughts turn to love.
(To be fair they often turn to love, regardless of the month, BUT HEY.)
I’ve recently picked up again my copy of psychologist George Pransky’s The Relationship Handbook: A Simple Guide to Satisfying Relationships.
As I dip into it I’m once again challenged and soothed by the ideas it shares, which include that our struggles come from our insecure thinking rather than what’s happening in our lives, that our moods are simply a reflection of the quality of that thinking, and to not take low moods – ours, and those of other people – too seriously (or to take action during them).
His assessment that most relationship therapy is “low mood therapy” (which focuses on problems and inadvertently concretises them in an effort to resolve them), and his alternative “high mood therapy” (reconnecting to what you love about someone, and recognising when you’re reacting to your own insecure thinking instead of blaming and judging) comes as a bracing riposte to anyone like me who’s currently hooked on the TV documentary series Couples Therapy.
He finds the grains of truth in a wide range of relationship issues, from change and conflict, to dissatisfaction and stale relationships. But the chapter I keep finding myself drawn to is where he explores intimacy:
“Couples say they want to be close, and they’re relieved to learn that being intimate is not a matter of time or “deep” discussions. People have trouble appreciating the simplicity of intimacy. They expect it to be far more difficult, more involved. The harder they search for intimacy, the farther off it seems.
The Intimacy Myth: Doesn’t intimacy require a large investment of time, talk, and energy?
The Grain of Truth: When couples don’t know where intimacy comes from, they have to exert lots of energy to get a little intimacy.”George Pransky, The Relationship Handbook: A Simple Guide to Satisfying Relationships
If it doesn’t come from talking, or spending lots of time together, where does a feeling of intimacy come from?
Pransky suggests that it’s our natural state; it arises effortlessly when two people are together without a lot on their minds.
However, most people’s form of intimacy is being “distracted together”; physically close but mentally absent through having a lot on their minds. He captures it in the kind of brief formula that’s almost forehead-slappingly obvious:
(SPAN OF ATTENTION) – (AMOUNT OF DISTRACTION) = CAPACITY FOR INTIMACY
Think about it. I’m sure you’ve either witnessed or been on either side of the complaint that “We never spend time together!” (even if you and the other person spend arguably a great deal of time together).
I know that I’ve spent “quality time” with someone and felt unsettlingly warmed then lonely as our connection dropped in and out, like an FM station on a car radio as you drive in and out of range.
As we humans have evolved an unconscious sense which scans for signals of either warning or welcome, having a feeling in our gut that someone is ‘here but not really here’ may be picked up as a signal of warning – and our own defences and insecure thinking may inevitably rise up in response.
So this month (or perhaps Valentine’s Day in particular), just notice how you are around others; are you
- Oblivious (absorbed in your own thoughts, neglecting the other person)
- Distracted (it takes real effort to be present, and not really listening)
- Present (it’s easy to talk, and you feel warmed by the contact)
- Impacted (the experience is rich, you feel chemistry and lose track of time)
- Of one mind (despite little conversation, a feeling of closeness that feels as if you’ve known each other far longer than you have)
And, more than that: which would you prefer to be on the receiving end of?
I know where on the scale I’d choose…