I've been reading a lot of personals lately, talking to people, hearing from friends and there's a consistent sort of melancholy in the stories I'm hearing. That melancholy is "the gap". Whether the relationships are new or old, happy or unhappy, there's usually some sort of discrepancy between what one partner wants and what the other is willing to give. This could be related to sex, home duties, areas of conversation, joint activities, etc.,.
We've all heard the stories of the man who's not getting enough "affection" from his wife. We can't forget the stories of the wife who can't get the husband to help with household chores. And so on and so forth. A million stories of people unhappy to some degree or another.
With sex you hear about cheating, open relationships, prostitution, rape, abuse, etc.,. Some potentially horrible things done in the name of filling a gap between desire and reality. There are thousands of other gaps large and small that people are dealing with. Maybe they just go without, maybe they substitute one want for another, like trading drinking for smoking or heroin for methadone. Maybe they find compromises like open relationships or one partner giving in to a demand on occasion to keep the peace. Maybe he goes dancing with her even though he hates dancing, maybe she in turn goes to Nascar with him.
Compromise isn't bad. In the process maybe that partner learns that they actually like polka music or that there's nothing wrong with taxidermy. You never know. Compromise can become a glue that helps solidify the relationship.
The problem comes when there is not a compromise, or the compromise is just not palatable to one of the other parties. What then? What do you do when your dream is to sail the seas and your partner is afraid of open water. Or your partner just doesn't have will or the wont to bridge that gap, what then? For some things it's easy, you find another partner for that activity.
If your current partner doesn't like baseball you find a friend who does. If your current partner doesn't like sailing you find a friend who does. Easy. But it's only easy for a select number of activities and physical and emotional outlets. If your outlet is sex, you're screwed (no pun intended.) If you like to take long walks on the beach holding hands and your partner hates sand and doesn't like sweaty palms, well FUCK!
An easy choice presents itself - go without. It's easy to make that choice but much, much harder to actual to hold true to that choice. It's like stretching lent over a lifetime, suddenly not only can't you have a nice stake for a time, you can't have steak for ALL TIME! The act of depriving oneself causes that gap to seem like a chasm. Not only that it fosters anger toward the partner for not filling in that gap. The anger and resentment build over time until one feels justified in going to extremes to fill in the gaps in needs.
That's when things like cheating happens. It's not necessarily about the sexual gap. Many times it's the emotional. It's how that person on the other end of the cheating fulfills a desire for connection, spontaneity, control, passion or any number of other gaps. In many cases sexual contact doesn't even have to occur for the partner to be considered "cheating". It's merely taking a covert action to fill in that gap in a relationship by connecting with someone else. It's "emotional cheating."
It goes to a concept of intent that I've heard in religious sermons before "if you think it, it's as bad as doing it." So thinking about sex is as bad as having it, but never as good as having it. If that's the case, why not just do it? Well, because that's not the real answer. What the sermon is touching on is the concept of right mind equaling right action. So thought becomes intent and intent becomes action.
In many cases thoughts become centered around a "Plan B", redirecting attention from the current partner to a new partner who fulfills some or many of the gaps. The actions then follow suit. The person withdraws from partner A, refocuses their time and effort on partner B, causing more problems with partner A, until everything unravels.
Sadly over time the person may find that while partner B fulfilled needs that partner A didn't/couldn't the reverse is also true. Now suddenly they have new gaps to fill. Thus the process starts all over again.
Breaking the cycle can be difficult because while a person is in it they've chosen a path they're sure will work. When it doesn't work they're sure it's an external issue. It's the wrong partner, it's the wrong timing, it's the wrong something, anything but the wrong them, anything but the wrong action and the wrong mind.
So rewind back to the original thought where the person made a choice to replace their partner with a "better" partner. The intent isn't to improve the current relationship or honor that partnership, it's to supplant it. One solution could be to change the thought to a more narrow focus. This would to be target a gap and find a way to fulfill that specific need. For instance if partner A didn't like sports but partner B did. Partner A remains the primary partner and partner B fills in for the sports "fix". Friends fulfill these types of relationship gaps well and do so very often.
There are gaps with which it becomes much more difficult to fill due to societal norms around certain activities. An example might be "Todd never holds my hand in public. I love holding hands. My friend Jim will hold my hand any time I want." In US culture holding hands is a sign of an exclusive relationship and it may cause Todd distress to find out that his partner is holding hands with someone else.
The first choice before taking the path of filling the gap externally should be communicating the need to the partner. However, at this point we're assuming that the need has been communicated and the partner was unwilling or unable to comply with the need. This leaves the other partner with only two options 1) avoid the activity 2) lie. Both are horrible choices. People are notoriously bad at abstaining from their vices and especially bad at abstaining from activities that are part and parcel to the human condition. Take for instance the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church and the increasing evidence that priests are largely not holding to their vows of abstinence. Or consider the ~40% infidelity rate among couples in the US. Or the fact that 74% of men polled and 68% of women said that they would have an affair if they couldn't get caught.
It is not within our nature to abstain. It is within our nature to seek out equilibrium or fairness in our lives. When we see others happy, and those other people have needs similar to our own that ARE being met, we become jealous and covetous. We see that those needs can be met by someone and therefore we feel some entitlement to have those needs met. This is especially true of basic human desires like sex and security. If a partner isn't providing these core needs the other partner will first try to abstain and then in all likelihood attempt to seek out someone to fulfill those needs.
What needs to take place is a growth in understanding. We need to understand how to embrace who we are and what rules our urges. Instead of simply walling off the desire, we embrace that we have the desire, introspect to determine if the desire is healthy, and then take action to either eliminate unhealthy desires and behaviors or take action to fulfill healthy desires.
Our goal should be to include our partners in that fulfillment. Either by having them as active participants or by reaching a mutual agreement on boundaries. If a mutual agreement can't be reached then the relationship must be assessed for long term viability. The harsh reality is that if mutual consensus is impossible then the relationship is doomed to fail at some point in the future or at least minimally become unbearable for the partners involved. Staying together in a miserable partnership for 40 years should not be considered a success. In fact it's probably less of a success than a partnership that lasts only a year, because while the longevity was there each partner failed to reach their full potential.
At the end of the day THAT is what partnership is all about, helping our partners reach their full potential. In order to do that we must first understand our own limitations. We must understand how we block, purposefully or not, our partner from reaching a higher potential. Is it because we're hung up on social constructs, or comparing them to a past relationship, confusing the situation based on other life experiences with parents, or for fear of losing what in reality we do not rightfully own. Whatever the case may be we have to learn to put those issues aside and look first to how we help our partner succeed.
By helping our partner's reach their potential we are creating a better life for ourselves. This happens as the person improves and responds to the gift in turn by giving. This egalitarianism is the natural human social contract. However it can happen that one partner never gives back into the relationship or gives at a much lower rate. It's important not to reward this behavior and identify whether it can be corrected or whether it's time to end the relationship.
TO BE CONTINUED!