WHO HAS THE POWER?
Because no one had set expectations, no one had articulated boundaries, no one had practiced making direct requests for closeness and intimacy or for separateness and space THAT MIGHT CHANGE OVER TIME, the new couple’s life would be dictated by social convention and whoever had the power. This was usually economic power although power might be held by the person who wanted sex the least or by the person who could produce the most anger or disapproval or by the one who could be silent the longest or by the one who could become ill or who had the most powerful or economically well-off parents or …
The key is that the individuals themselves had not set the rules through a process that was created by both people using clear language to make direct offers and requests. In other words, by setting boundaries.
Without boundaries both men and women will have difficulty maintaining their empathic natures. A common result of this is one person might become walled off and the other person becomes boundaryless. They may even arrive at the relationship that way, having been schooled in childhood and early adulthood. Perhaps one person, the empath, is in charge of asking, “What’s wrong?” and the other person, the one who has learned to become walled off, is in charge of saying, “Nothing.”
This state of boundarylessness or being walled off can become established across the board or the couple can have different roles in different situations. One person can be boundaryless at home and walled off out in the world—or vice versa. Or one person can become boundaryless under the influence of alcohol and walled off the rest of the time. Or one person is boundaryless with their mother or father but walled off with their spouse. Or any number of variations.
The conditioning I received and see the most is that women are encouraged to be boundaryless and men are encouraged to be walled off. Women who dare to set boundaries can be called demanding, difficult, particular, hard to get along with. They can even be called bitches or ball busters or even worse. Men who retain or retrieve their empathic nature are called sissies, wussies (I actually don’t know how to spell that), whipped and worse. Women who become walled off can be called cold. Men who become walled off can be called, um, men.
PROCESS, PROCESS, PROCESS
The point is that there is no shared process. There is no way, usually, to update what we want or need in most traditional relationships. How many of us simply choose not to bring something up? How many of us know what we can negotiate and what we cannot? How many of us resort to bullying or being bullied because, again, we have no basis for a shared process?
What if I ask my partner not to wear a particular scent? How many cycles am I going to go through as I think about how I ask this because I don’t want to hurt his feelings? Maybe I said I liked it—ten years ago. Is there a process for revisiting this?
I see many people who do not have a process in their first marriage (or long-term relationship) who have such a process in their second marriage (or long-term relationship). Is it a sign of the times? Did we have no such process in the 50s, 60s, 70s and on but, now, maybe, we have such a process?
What about you? Do you have a process with your partner? Friends? Colleagues? Family members?