This book was born in a brief, hot encounter between two people who love each other very much. A couple of years ago, after sharply contending for about fifteen minutes with a layered and tricky issue, we finally wrestled it to the ground and, tangled up in laughter and a strong kiss, said to each other: let’s write a book, mainly for couples, about living an emotionally passionate life, while avoiding emotional train wrecks.
Unfortunately, emotional train wrecks are all too common. Many of us find it very difficult to skillfully struggle together through powerful feelings, particularly when conflict is in the air, so we often don’t struggle at all. Instead, we dodge. We fudge. We pretend. Hoping to avoid a collision, we end up at opposite ends of the emotional couch wanting to reach through the space between us yet not knowing quite how. Continue reading…
In an emotionally passionate life, there’s an attitude of “radical curiosity.” This is different from an appetite for information. It’s a hunger to know and connect with another human being at a level other than the superficial. We don’t mean to imply intrusiveness; where no curiosity is invited, it would be entirely unwelcome.
But when curiosity is genuine, it’s experienced as an invitation. It feels like an opening, a willingness on the part of the listener, to form a deeper connection. Radical curiosity is an entirely other order of listening, devoid of the prurience of gossip and the casualness of chat. It’s an essential ingredient in the seedbed of qualities we need to develop if we want to stop sabotaging emotional intimacy.
Next, we each need to claim responsibility for our own behavior, for what we do with our feelings. This is a confusing and contrary idea, since in a hot moment, many of us will leap quickly into blaming others for causing our behavior, holding them responsible for our words or actions. For example:
She says, “I wouldn’t have been so nasty
to you if you hadn’t yelled at me!”
We imagine that our partner “started” the trouble between us, and we’re therefore justified in responding with matching ugliness. But justification isn’t the issue. No matter how tempting it is to think otherwise, our words and behaviors are our own, and we are responsible for them.
This is hard to swallow; it seems as though we wouldn’t have been nasty without being provoked. It doesn’t feel like a choice . . . we’re nobler than that and wouldn’t have said something rotten unless pushed into it! But the truth lies elsewhere. If we throw down a nasty comment in response to being yelled at, then the nastiness is on us, not on our partner for provoking us. We make choices about being defensive and reactive, and we don’t get to blame anyone else for those choices. Continue reading…