"He wants it more than I do..."
*This was originally in a schmoozeletter email*
Today I was thinking I'll share an analogy I often give couples in therapy.
Imagine that you're a runner. (For me that takes real imagination; I get winded after a couple of minutes if I even try to run; please don't judge.) Now, let's say you have a friend, whom you want to introduce to the joys of running. But s/he's not a runner and in fact has little experience with any kind of exercise. (See now that role is easier for me to "imagine.") If you go running, there are two options:
1. The faster runner can set the pace. That way s/he gets a great workout and has nice company along for the run. Or:
2. The new, slower runner can set the pace. That way s/he doesn't collapse or get hurt.
Which makes more sense?
Well, the faster runner might want to push for the faster pace, but then the new partner will either collapse, get hurt, or just really not enjoy or want to run again. They may even resent the friend for pushing this.
On the other hand, even though it compromises on the advanced workout, going slower allows both friends to enjoy the run and each other's company, safely. So even though it's a bit of a sacrifice for runner #1, if they want to run together, it makes sense to let runner #2 set the pace.
Cuz it's easier and safer for a fast runner to go slower than for a slow runner to go too fast.
And: if it goes nicely, and they decide to keep running together, eventually the new runner gains strength and stamina, and the gap may get smaller over time. (Again: I'm making an assumption here. I've not tried this myself.)
Ok, now, what does this have to do with couples?
Two things: intimacy and sexuality.
So often, the frustration and tension between couples is about discrepancies between their emotional needs and/ or sex drives. One partner wants to take the relationship deeper, spend more time together, talk about engagement and marriage, and the other isn't ready. Or: one partner has a bigger appetite for affection, touch, or sexual activity than the other. Both needs are legitimate. The need for space and time is just as real as the need for connection and closeness.
So what do we do?
We let the slower runner set the pace. Not because that's egalitarian; it's not. But because the price of rushing the slower one is more destructive to the relationship than the reverse.
We can empathize, validate, strategize, and communicate in order to care for the the faster partner; this is necessary too.
But ultimately, if the relationship is going to be healthy and sustainable, we need to make sure the dynamic is set up to first and foremost: do no harm. (This also creates the space for the lower desire partner to grow and feel their own desire building, rather than always being in a reactive position.)
*In almost all couples there is some desire difference; very few have the exact same level of need, but usually it's not a major issue, and can be navigated just like all the other differences between couples- neatness, punctuality, spending habits, parenting, etc.
However, if you find yourself stuck in a dynamic of "pursuer-distancer" in a way that creates distress for one or both of you and doesn't get resolved, building resentment or discord, a sexually informed couples therapist might be able to help.*
[Can you guess the connection to this week's Torah portion?
I can think of at least two.
One is the story of Schem raping Dina, and afterwards saying his soul craves her and he loves her- worst relationship modeling ever; extreme example of one person's "desire" asserting power to pressure marriage or sex. (In our homeschool and in the sacred not secret course, we use this Biblical example to talk about sexual assault and consent.)
The other example is explained in this blog post (hint it has to do with a gift Yaakov sends to Esav):
How Often Are You "Supposed" to be "Be Intimate"
Wishing you well-paced mutual connection in your relationships:]
If you like this, you'd probably enjoy the schmoozeletter- you can get it here: elishevaliss.com/newsletter