Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Thought of the day: the constant push-pull tension of relationships. I should be able to dig this up, but one of the theories I studied last spring in a communications class was the push-pull phenomenon of relationships: in a relationship with another person, we are in constant tension between the need to get closer and the need to pull away. The two are always butting heads, and which one emerges, and when, explains most interpersonal conflict and most solutions to it. This is usually said of romance, but I think it holds for friendships. We are constantly calculating, or just constantly in emotional flux, weighing or feeling our need to get closer to someone else, to open ourselves up more to them and invest more in them, versus our need to pull back, maintain our space, stay in our safety zone.

It's not just psychobabble; it's simple math. It's science. It's abstract art.

For me the question is poignant when it comes to my new marriage. Now is the time to mark my territory, right? To be heard, to announce where I stand, for now we are establishing lifelong patterns of communication and problem-solving. But at the same time I need to get closer to my wife, to pour myself out for her, to take risks by being more vulnerable to her. So which do I do--stand my ground or be vulnerable? When do I do which? This is why relationships are so complicated in a broken world--we all are struggling with this tension, this fluctuation, and we all resolve it in different ways at different times. Pull back, and we can harm ourselves by thinking ourselves righteous and ignoring (or solely shouldering) our own brokenness. Get closer, and another person can hurt you, since they are broken, too. It is this tenuous equilbrium that defines practically all emotional human interaction.

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