- Book: Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
- Book: I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships
- Article: Healthy Relationships Need Space (Original Article)
Forgive typos and odd grammatical mistakes—this was transcribed using the magic of AI, and while it’s insanely awesome, it’s not perfect.
[00:00:00] Welcome back to the I Hear You podcast, I’m your host, Michael Sorensen. And in today’s episode, we’ll be exploring an interesting paradox in the world of relationships. The fact that strong, healthy relationships need space. We’re going to talk about how getting too enmeshed with people, especially a romantic partner, can actually weaken the connection. Satisfaction and desire we feel in that relationship. We’ll be pulling insights from one of my favorite authors on the topic of desire, Esther Perel, and discuss ways to reclaim your individuality if you feel you’ve lost it. It’s another powerful episode. I’m excited to get to it.
[00:00:58] I remember years ago, again, still in the dating scene, before I’d met my wife, I was dating a woman who was awesome, in so many ways; we love spending time together. She just happened to start dating me at a time when I was on fire with a new morning routine that I had put together. I’m a big proponent of having a nice, strong morning routine where you wake up at the same time. Every day you exercise, you do some studying of a good book, you meditate, you work on projects, whatever it is that you need. I’m a big proponent of starting your day off. Right. And at this at this moment, I had just learned the power of that and I was loving it. Life was amazing. I was so productive. I was getting so much done. It was seriously such a a game changer for me. And part of that was a commitment that I made to myself that I would go to bed every night. No later than 10:30, at least on the weekdays. And this wasn’t a problem for me. I had structured my life around it, but I found out pretty quickly it was a problem for my girlfriend. I still vividly remember. I was at my apartment, actually, and she messaged me and she said, Haid, you know, do you wanna get together? I think she had gotten back late from class or something. And it was about 10:15, 10:20 or so. And I thought about it for a second. I thought, well, I do I do want to spend time with her. And yet I know that I need to keep my commitment.
[00:02:23] I know how much this helps me. So I said, well, I’d love to. Yet I had this commitment where I go to bed at 10:30 every night just so I can get everything done that I need to. And she responded back and she was like, who goes to bed at 10:30? She was so weirded out by it. But the problem was, is that I also recognize that she took it personally. She was feeling like I didn’t want to spend time with her. And this was just an excuse. And it was difficult for me because in that moment, you know, she was like, okay, fine, whatever, you know, if she kind of played it off. But that theme continued through our relationship, where anytime that I wanted to take some time for me that I knew I had to spend some time working on other projects, she would feel like I didn’t love her. She would feel like I didn’t care about her because I was taking time for myself. And that was actually pretty hard.
[00:03:16] It quickly put a strain on our relationship because I’m a very driven, motivated person. And while I absolutely loved spending time with her, I didn’t like feeling like I had to spend every waking moment with her. And despite my best efforts to communicate this, to show her that just because I loved and cared about myself didn’t mean I couldn’t love and care about her. I don’t think she quite got it.
[00:03:40] And ultimately for this and a few other reasons, we decided to end the relationship. However, future relationships, at least some of my relationships since then had a similar feeling, a similar vibe where it was great. Early on, we all wanted to spend every waking minute together, but then pretty quickly it crossed the line. It started to become too much. And again, I felt like I was losing my individuality. I felt like I was not able to still focus on things that mattered to me as well.
[00:04:11] And I remember thinking to myself, Iis this such a—Is this such a bad thing? Am I being unreasonable in my request here to still have some me time, to still take time to work on things that are important to me?”.
[00:04:24] Well, fast forward a number of years to the day, not the day, but to the time that I met the woman I would ultimately marry. Our relationship followed the similar trajectory where it was amazing. You’re great. We’re spending all this time together. But then eventually I started feeling again like, gee, I probably need to take some time for me, still; I need to make sure I’m moving these other things forward that are important to me as well. And I thought, oh, brace for impact here. I don’t know how this is going to play out, but probably like the other relationships have.
[00:04:54] And my wife, she wasn’t my wife at the time, but she surprised me when I talked to her about it, she said, “Oh, OK, sure. I think that’s great.”
[00:05:00] And I remember talking to her about this and I was grateful because I self you know, I really appreciate that. That means a lot to make. That means a lot to me, because here’s how things have played out in past relationships. And she shared with me an experience that she had with her mom. I think it was her mom. Maybe it was her step mom earlier on when she was when she was younger, where she said, “Melissa. One thing you need to understand is that. There will always be another woman in your husband’s life.” Now, this is gonna sound weird, but bear with me. “Not an actual other woman, but at least one other thing in his life that means a great deal to him. It might be sports, it might be work. It might be time out with the guys. But every man has at least one other thing that he turns to to find fulfillment, excitement and satisfaction.”.
[00:05:47] And so she was saying, “you want a man who will always put you first, but you shouldn’t expect him to get rid of the other woman. You shouldn’t expect him to just completely throw out this other side of him, nor would you want him to. You just need to be aware of her, quote unquote, her know what she is and make sure you’re OK with him giving some of his attention to her as well.”.
[00:06:09] Now, again, when I first heard that, I felt pretty uncomfortable because I’m like the other woman, like, heck no, I don’t like that analogy, and yet it actually made a lot of sense to me because while the example might be less than beautiful way to put it, it does make the point very well. And that’s this:.
[00:06:27] In any relationship with two whole complete capable people, they’re going to have interests outside of each other. The add richness and excitement to life. And it’s not reasonable or healthy, I might add, for either partner to expect the other one to give 100 percent of their time, focus, attention, energy.
[00:06:50] And so in this particular moment, I recognize that my quote unquote, other woman was my projects. It was things like like my book that I was writing at the time. It’s things like this podcast, even though I hadn’t been created. You know, I’m very driven. I love working on things. And frankly, I feel very compelled to share this. I feel like a lot of the stuff that I like to work on is part of my life’s mission, if you will. And so, of course, I don’t want to just throw that out the window. But again, it’s not mutually exclusive. Those two things my wife and or these projects are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they both fueled each other. The two together, you know, it’s amazing how much better I’ve gotten at life just since getting married, just since meeting my wife. And really since dating and meeting a lot of these other people and all these other relationships in my life and my job.
[00:07:38] All these things come together to make me better, to make life better. And so there’s moderation in all things. You want to have a balance. Too much of anything is not healthy. And that goes with relationships or that that applies just as well to our relationships. And so I mentioned in this instance, for me, the other woman, quote unquote, was my projects. Well, for my wife, it was animals. It is animals. She absolutely adores our dog. She loves horses. You know, if there’s any kind of a living, breathing creature that’s not a human, she’s there. She is. She’s so passionate about it. And she really enjoys and she gets great rejuvenation from spending time with animals and loving them and nurturing them. And so I, too, have had to learn that there are certain times when the dog seems to take precedence over me. I say that in jest. I mean, of course, thankfully, my wife does. I do come first. But there are definitely times when I’ve looked at the dog and I thought you’re you’re getting more attention than I am right now. And I have to remind myself that, again, these things, that dog, that animal that adds a lot of joy to my wife’s life as well. And so there’s value in having there be a little bit of give and take a little bit of Evenflo so that we both continue to stay energized and full in life.
[00:08:53] Now, I think another good way to look at this is the age old analogy of fire and the fact that fire needs oxygen to thrive. You know, if for some reason you’re not familiar with the science of that, you take any any raging fire or even just a simple flame and you deprived of oxygen. You put it in a box where no air can get in. Or are you? Some find some way to deprived of oxygen. And it will extinguish. It goes out no matter how much would you have. No matter how much fuel you have, if you do private of that space, deprived of that oxygen, the flame dies out.
[00:09:29] I read a book a few months back by a woman named Esther Perel. She’s a world renowned marriage therapist, just a fantastic woman, at least in terms of of the insights and the wisdom that she has. This book is titled Mating in Captivity. And it really dives into, at least in part, this topic of today of relationships needing space. The core premise of this book is that in today’s world and especially in the American culture, I thought that was interesting. She points out several times how this is a little more unique to the American culture. She talks about how there’s so much focus in marriage on just becoming one and so intimate and so connected, so intertwined. And it’s often sung as a virtue that that’s what we want. That’s what love wants is to become so connected to the other person that you’re just the same person.
[00:10:20] And she says that while that has certain virtues and there are certain benefits to that, it just drains the marriage of desire and of passion. So from the book, I want to pull to two quick paragraphs from the book here. She says, quote, It is too easily assumed that problems with sex are the result of lack of closeness. However, she she talks about here that really what it has to do is with our understanding and definition of closeness, because she says when intimacy collapses into fusion, meaning again, we become so enmeshed with each other that there’s no distance, there’s no interest. It’s not a lack of closeness, but too much closeness that impedes desire.
[00:11:01] She says that love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. And she talks about how our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness. What you can see the paradox there, right? We want to be together with some we want to be intimately connected with someone. Yet we also want to be individuals. We want to have a certain degree of separateness. And so she says too much of that merging, too much intimacy there can eradicate that separateness. She says, if we’re totally connected, now there’s nothing more to transcend. There’s no bridge to walk on. No one to visit on the other side. No other internal world to enter would become fuzed connection can no longer happen because there’s no one to connect with.
[00:11:45] Thus, separateness is a precondition for connection. This, she says, is the essential paradox of intimacy.
[00:11:54] So if that’s perhaps a bit too cerebral, a bit too conceptual. Think of it like this. I think magnets are frankly a great example. If you imagine two strong magnets and you can have them about two feet apart from each other. There is no connection. Zero connection. Right. You can move them around. You can put moving back and forth. Nothing’s pulling them together. But if you slowly bring them closer to each other. You hit a point where suddenly their magnetic fields engage and they start pulling toward each other with intense energy and then you have to fight to keep them apart.
[00:12:26] Now, if you let go of them, then they snap together. And for all intents and purposes, they become one magnet. They operate exactly the same way. They’re just one unit and they’re hard to pull apart. You could argue that the strength in that desire in that poll is now gone because now they’re together.
[00:12:43] But if you separate them just a tad. That that pull, that energy is right back there and it is strong and you can put things between it still interests, hobbies, time away, but that doesn’t get rid of the passion and the energy. In fact, it keeps it strong.
[00:13:01] So I want to return for a moment to my personal experience with my wife after we had this conversation about recognizing the need that we both had for our separate interests as well.
[00:13:12] We decided to do something that we call the work nights where we set aside two nights a week because we both work full time jobs, but two nights a week that we can work on our own things, that we can watch our own Netflix shows that we can kind of do whatever it is that we want to recharge and to refuel.
[00:13:30] For us, that’s Monday nights and Wednesday nights. And the expectation there is that the really there are no expectations that we still try to eat dinner together and we still do things together where it makes sense. But I have the freedom to work on my own projects. I have the freedom to push things forward that interests me without feeling guilty, like I should be spending time with my wife and of course, the same thing on her side. She can do whatever it is that she wants. And I’m not going to say, wait a minute, I really want to spend time with you tonight, because I know that I’ll be able to do that the next night or on the weekend or what have you.
[00:14:00] So this type of deciding what space looks like for you, deciding what your interests are and what works for you is an it is a very personal thing. I’m not making. I’m not saying you need to have work nights. I’m not saying you need to take specific days or time off, especially because I’m sure there are some of you listening right now saying, well, that’s great, Michael.
[00:14:17] But I have four kids and we’ve got soccer games and baseball games and homework and all kinds of other things. There’s no way I can take two nights a week off for myself. Just not going to happen at. And I agree that’s not going to happen. And I’m not suggesting that you that you try that.
[00:14:33] All I’m suggesting is figure out what it is that you need, that your soul needs to feel like an individual, to feel like you are progressing, to feel like you are focusing on things that matter to you. So you can continue to have that passion and that energy and that desire in your relationships.
[00:14:52] So if that’s not to work nights a week, perhaps you take one night a week or one hour per week or one hour per month, maybe instead of working on side hustles, you get a massage. Maybe you just want to watch Monday Night Football without feeling like your spouse is resenting you for it. Now, again, I’m not suggesting that you just get to say this is what I want and now I’m going to do it. If you have four kids, you have things going on. You’re going to have to get creative because you are partners in the relationship. But you can figure something out. I guarantee you, if you’re both willing to work on it, you can figure something out.
[00:15:27] Is any of this resonating with you?
[00:15:30] Is there something in the back of your mind as you’ve been listening that saying, gee, I really wish I could do this or I miss being able to take time for that? If so, and even if not, I want to wrap up with another invitation. And that’s this.
[00:15:48] Write down one thing you can do for yourself this week or this month. Think of something that would refuel you, will refuel you, that would energize you, that would help you regain something unique about yourself individually. And then talk to your partner. Talk to your spouse, talk to whomever about carving out some time again, you might have to get creative here because you guys are partners and you have to figure out something that works for both of you, but then encourage your partner to do the same. Because all too often we get so busy, so crazy, you add kids to the equation, you add jobs, multiple jobs to the equation. Well, whatever it is, it’s very easy to just run out of time in life.
[00:16:31] But if you take time apart, if you take time for yourself, I promise you from personal experience, it can improve your relationship. Again, think of the magnets. Think of the fire. Think of Esther Perel’s principle of this paradox of needing individuality and togetherness. Try to find a way to work with that paradox, try to find a way to balance it. Don’t let yourself get too out of whack one way or another.
[00:17:00] And if/when you do find yourself tipping a little too far on one scale or the other. Take action. Figure out what you can do to change it. Because again, you have the power to change. You have the power to improve your relationships. And it all starts with feeling confident and connected to yourself.
[00:17:20] That’s a wrap for today’s episode.
[00:17:22] As always, you can find links and more details in the show notes at michaelssorensen.com/podcast. And if you’re finding value in the show, please consider leaving a review as doing so will help others find the show and benefit from the topics.
[00:17:37] Until next time.