Written by Lifestyle Contributor, Darcy Thiel, MA, LMHC, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY State.
A friend of mine has been in marriage counseling for a while and I have been impressed and intrigued by some of the interventions her therapist has used. Being a couple’s counselor myself, I am always looking, reading, searching for anything helpful so I asked my friend to ask her therapist who he studies. That was how I discovered Dr. Stan Tatkin. I’ve been listening to lectures on the Internet and recently bought one of his books.
I guess when I think about it, some of his ideas are similar to concepts that have been around for decades but just with different lingo tied to them. But many of his thoughts are completely refreshing to me. I resonate strongly with them, but recognize they fly in the face of some of the concepts that we have come to accept as Truth.
In our individualistic society, we have been taught over and over to take care of ourselves. We must be happy with ourselves before we can be happy with another. Similarly, we must love ourselves before we can love another. One of my least favorite sayings is, “Stop looking for love. That’s when it comes to you, when you aren’t looking for it.”
I don’t want to misquote Dr. Tatkin because I am only at the beginning of understanding his theories. There are a few things that have struck me though as I’ve sat and listened to his lectures. He makes no apologies about believing in relationships where two people are immersed in each other’s lives. In fact, he says we only learn to love by being loved by another. It is virtually impossible to love yourself first.
Years ago, there were these experiments with newborns where they were deprived of human touch and only fed and changed with as little nurturing as possible. I’ve heard different outcomes. One was that severe developmental delays occurred, and the other is that the infants died altogether. Either way, it is pretty darn compelling evidence that it is part of our genetic makeup to be connected to each other as humans.
Life can be tough. Sometimes extremely so. Those relationships that are durable (meaning they actually last!) are those where two people have each other’s backs. One of Tatkin’s tantalizing thoughts is that relationships are really not about love, as much as they are about safety.
I’ve used the analogy of tennis. You can play single’s tennis. You hit the ball and hope the opponent can’t hit it back. That is when you score. From my observation, this is the mindset that most couples are in, even if they don’t realize it. When you are always taking care of yourself and worrying about your own happiness, scoring is necessary. You have to win! I suggest that people start to see themselves as playing doubles instead. You have a partner. YOUR PARTNER IS ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE FENCE AS YOU. Together, you try and beat the opponent. (The opponent is whatever challenges you face in life.) You would look utterly foolish if you tried to outdo your own partner.
Tatkin isn’t afraid to say it and I’m not either. The best relationships that stand the test of time are those where both people put the relationship before themselves. The relationship is the priority, higher than any one person’s individual needs. What’s good for one is good for all and vice versa. Sounds simple, but it’s a concept few of us live by.
I wonder what the world would look like if more of us lived by this. What if we expanded it and tried to do what was good for our families? Our communities? Our world?
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