Dating apps all have one thing in common: they’re about
meeting a special someone. They don’t really help you have a healthy relationship once that fetching acquaintance becomes a romantic partner.
Which is why the new book “The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships” by journalist Neil Strauss is such a gift. By following Strauss on his journey through sex addiction therapy, orgies, and polyamory in search of the perfect relationship, the reader learns about what makes relationships work (or not).
You might know Strauss already. He authored “The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists,” which is a huge deal among young men who want to know how to charm women.
After reading the book and speaking with Strauss, three big attributes stood out to me as especially important in sustaining healthy, stable relationships — individuation, intimacy, and interdependence. They’re not exactly easy, but they’re valuable.
Individuation is knowing who you are and what you want.
An idea from the influential psychologist Carl Jung, individuation all about having a healthy sense of self outside of the relationship or your partner.
James Hollis, a contemporary analyst, probably gave one of the best descriptions of individuation in his book “The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife.” He wrote that “the paradox of individuation is that we best serve intimate relationship by becoming sufficiently developed in ourselves that we do not need to feed off others.”
Without it, things blow up.
Let’s say you walk into a room and your partner is upset. Without individuation, says Strauss, you’ll start to get sad or upset too, or automatically feel guilty or responsible for their emotions, even if it’s not your place.
“You know who has low individuation?” Strauss says. “A child. Without individuation, you’re a child in the relationship and not an adult.”
And if you’re not acting like an adult, then you won’t be able to take care of your own needs, which will put all sorts of strain on the relationship.
The point is to become an individual: someone who is separate from, rather than fused with, the important people in your life.
Individuation, then, is the oh-so-subtle process of being able to identify what your needs are and act upon them. It’s about knowing who you are and what you want.
Intimacy is being able to be seen by the other person and seeing them, too.
Early on in “The Truth,” legendary music producer Rick Rubin, who acts as a sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi figure to Strauss, tells him that if he had true intimacy with his girlfriend, he wouldn’t feel compelled to cheat on her all the time.
“Rick kept telling me, you’re running around chasing sex and having all these casual relationships with people who you might not even hang out with if you weren’t having sex with them, like there might be a happier better place in your life with a real, stronger connection,” Strauss says.
Paraphrasing relationship psychologist Pia Mellody, Strauss told us that intimacy is showing your reality to your partner, and them being able to share their reality with you.
It’s not always pleasurable.
“If you’re going to live in intimacy or in truth, it is uncomfortable, but if you push past that discomfort, there’s a real relationship and a deeper connection waiting for you,” Strauss said in an interview with Slate. “Really being candid and transparent and honest with your partner is terrifying to most people, especially me. Or it was for me.”
Interdependence is when two people elect to be with one another, rather than trying to get all their needs met through the other person.
In a pivotal moment in “The Truth,” one of Strauss’s counselors in sex addiction rehab tells him the model for a highly functioning relationship — interdependence.
“A healthy relationship is when two individuated adults decide to have a relationship and that becomes a third entity,” explains Lorraine, a therapist who becomes one of Strauss’s most trusted counsels in “The Truth.”
“They nurture the relationship and the relationship nurtures them,” she explains. “But they’re not overly dependent or independent: They are interdependent, which means that they take care of the majority of their needs and wants on their own, but when they can’t, they’re not afraid to ask their partner for help.”
In other words, you’re actually take care of yourself, rather than leaning on the other person all the time.
Lorraine puts it succinctly:
“Only when our love for someone exceeds our need for them do we have a shot at a genuine relationship together,” she says.
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