Romantic relationships reproduce the tensions of infancy and childhood. When a patient of mine fights with her husband and he storms out of the bedroom to sleep on the couch, she becomes terrified and pursues him on hands and knees. He gets angrier and angrier and she gets more and more compliant. Unlike my friend who took care of herself in Paris after her husband had his tantrum, this patient abandons all self-respect in a futile attempt to preserve her rapport with her husband. Another patient weathers his wife's anxious and angry tirades but never quite forgives her. He is waiting for her to change, to take responsibility for the pain she is causing him, to grow. He punitively withholds kindness during the times they are not fighting, avoiding her when they could be getting along. In these marriages, nobody is surviving destruction. Rupture is never being repaired. Failures multiply and partners drift apart.

Attunement is not the problem, nor is it a myth. It is an incredible thing, as invaluable between parents and children as it is in adult intimate relationships. But an overreliance on attunement leads to disappointment and depression and division. Attunement should not have to be constant. Disruption, failure, and disagreement are healthy and normal. Learning to transition between connection and separateness without losing faith is a great challenge. In meditation, which has been essential in helping me be more accepting of the entire range of my emotional responses, I have learned to keep bringing the mind back to the central object—the breath, a prayer or a visualization—when I get distracted. But it is considered a sign of maturity in meditation when the distractions are no longer viewed as problems but can instead become objects of meditative interest in themselves. In a similar way, in intimate relationships, it is easy to view rupture as a problem to be eliminated, to see attunement as the only thing that matters: the central object, as it were. To shift one's perspective so that failures become part of the process, so that survival of destruction becomes something to celebrate, is as incredible, in its own way, as attunement. Marriage, like child rearing, is a tricky thing. You can be sailing along, satisfied that all is well, only to trip and fall when washing lettuce for the salad. Attunement is capricious; the insistence on 100 percent understanding leads only to resentment of one's partner. Marriages, like mothers, can be "good enough" while still being miracles worthy of celebration.


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