Saturday, February 21, 2009

Still in the Wading Pool?

Russ Hardesty, PhD

The summer of

A hallmark event of my life occurred in the summer 1953 on a Kiamichi Mountain stream in southeast Oklahoma. Along with seven older boys and two WWII Army vets I lived among the ticks, mosquitoes and muggy heat for two weeks. The men taught us how to survive without modern conveniences – we ate dried or salted meats, dug holes in the gravel bed for drinking water, learned about latrines and I learned to swim! Earlier in my life the sink or swim approach had instilled in me a fear of water deeper than my waist. With the gentle encouragement and support of the vets, I learned to swim without fear. Before long I was jumping from a high bluff into water several times over my head. I felt the rush of achievement and gained confidence with my peers that I had long desired. I had learned to trust myself in water, and depth was no longer a barrier but an invitation. One of the great lessons the vets taught me was not to swim alone. I was to always have a buddy – one that can swim!

The Wading Pool

A fear of water can be related to the fear of commitment in relationships. Two people can spend their lives together and never leave the wading pool. They enjoy the water, but never experience trusting themselves to get into the deep. If one partner ventures into deeper water, the other may begin to move toward solid footing, projecting their fear of being in over their head. For some couples, commitment means not leaving each other, and is triggered when one of the partners launches into unfamiliar territory. This is commitment to sameness and familiarity rather than a commitment to a growing relationship and can actually be a prelude to disintegration of the relationship.

Living in “Fantasy Land

If you only go into the wading pool, you eventually pretend you are swimming. You can put on the water wings, swim goggles, and flippers and pretend to engage sea monsters, sharks and all other sort of dangers. Those fearing commitment are fantasy-dependent. The partner fearful of commitment may engage their active imagination to avoid the reality of their own emotional insecurity. But they will discover that their fantasies cannot fill the void they are experiencing. This void cannot be filled by their partner, by possessions or activities. As a result of ‘unfilled expectations’, erratic behaviors and self-discounting occur. The active form of fear of commitment, according to writers Carter and Sokol, may be expressed by avoiding closeness. The passive form of this fear manifests itself as ‘longsuffering devotion’ accompanied by fantasy reconciliation with their partner.

Deep Water

Learning to swim opens a world of possibilities – opportunities to explore, play water sports (water polo), know the thrill of diving from the high board, and even gaining the skill to save someone from drowning. This latter skill made all the difference for two teenagers caught in the current of the Columbia River in 1967. That is when the lessons I had learned 14 years earlier were employed. I was reminded that day that trusting self is critical when swimming in the deep end.

Building Commitment in the relationship

The couple seeking to strengthen commitment can do so by focusing on the aspects of a maturing commitment - solidarity, flexibility, and mutuality.

Solidarity – Both partners agree that the preservation of the relationship is top priority – they establish a preservation agreement. Each learns to swim alone so that they can have energy and skill to contribute in building the relationship.

Flexibility – Swim with a buddy! Be prepared to take action! Change is inevitable in every area of life. Accepting and managing these changes strengthens the preservation agreement. Old ideas and assumptions may be exchanged for new and often contradictory ideas. This is the opportunity for a couple to experience co-creativity and the resulting connection.

Mutuality – Never swim away from your buddy. Always check to see if they need something. Honoring each other’s needs is essential to growing commitment. Each exchange, giving and receiving, is as if it were the last and only opportunity to meet that need or want. If your buddy gets in trouble, you have one opportunity to help out! Maturing relationship happens with equal partners.

Committed partners trust themselves to go into the deep end of relationship. And they trust that their partner has the strength to go through the ‘deep waters’ that life presents. At times, when one is tired or weakened they trust their partner to be available with their strength, skills and desire. Commitment doesn’t need to be frightening if you first learn to swim alone and then with a buddy.

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Reader Comments

"...My spouse and I have been married for 32 years and I've experienced our relationship from giggly in bed, to passionate in bed, to mad in bed to "sleeping" in bed...As we grow older the intimacy definition changes for me. Intimacy also for me is just sitting quietly, or driving for miles quietly or walking just hearing our footsteps crunch the leaves, holding hands. My usual struggle in intimacy is in my head - I have to intentionally stop my daily to do list, my past and future stuff and live in the present moment..." Pam

it's ... smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion

“We have found that passion ebbs and flows but we set a goal for our relationship a number of years ago that is working for us. At least every six months we do something that will create a lifetime memory. For us, we love to travel, so it's been pretty easy to find something big to do that will create that lifetime memory, but sometimes it's the finding of smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion.” Steve Rae

What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?

“The "typical beliefs that people have when the “fire” seems to have gone out of a relationship" I believe are a) that you feel your partner should have changed or should not have changed and b) that you feel you should change or that you should not have changed.

Acceptance of yourself and your partner leads to forgiveness. What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?” Brian Massey

A word from Russ Hardesty

The realm of relationship is mysterious; filled with magic, surprise, excitement, passion, intimacy, loss, disappointment and creativity. I am fortunate to have a life partner who is at once a mirror, teacher, lover, nurturer, student and companion. In this place of mystery, I continue to grow into a mature, loving and free man. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and comments – which is a gift to me! Thanks for joining the expedition! Russ