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Relationship Failure: A Successful Resistance to Differences




Excerpted from
The New Intimacy: Discovering the Magic at the Heart of Your Differences
By Judith Sherven, Ph.D., James Sniechowski, Ph. D.

Many people struggle with resistance to love. Regardless of what they say, they keep making the same choices, keep repeating the same mistakes that keep them stuck. They generally end up explaining their "bad luck" by enlisting fate, "I just haven't met the right one." Or they blame the other gender, "There just aren't any good men left." Or they replay the same complaint, "All the women I meet are only interested in my money." Frustrated, bewildered and thwarted, they feel locked up and impotent, swearing they are being victimized by forces they don't understand and can't get beyond. No matter how they grieve, no matter how they rage, no matter how they work to be different, they have an unconscious commitment to remaining unchanged and it is far more important than the love and intimacy they claim to want.

There's no doubt you have sometimes resisted love because it was "too much"-too intimate, too intense, at odds with what you expected or were used to. We all have. Why and how it was too much is what this chapter is about.

During an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, actress Kate Nelligan talked about men and relationships.

I tended to alternate between very good men and complete schmucks. I'd use the good men to recuperate, then get bored and go back to the schmucks. You always think you'll reenact the drama of making somebody love you who's incapable of loving you. You're going to force him to love you by being generous and good. You're going to make the sun come up and save his life. That's what was so compelling about those terrible relationships.

One after another after another. All failures. But oh so beguiling.

Relationship failure is most often the result of loyalty to unconscious beliefs about the way things should be. Because you are unaware of these beliefs, you are locked into an image of what a relationship must look like. Then, when something different disrupts that picture, even if that something is clearly pleasurable, hopeful or even uplifting, resistance automatically rises to keep change at bay.

Couples are no more protected against resistances than are single people. One of the most painful complaints we hear when we work with couples is the feeling of having been cut off by a partner who withdraws from passion, even affection. Yet, in moments when they feel the presence of love and intimacy, they're stunned to recognize how they themselves balk and resist. They retreat into what they know, what they're comfortable with, and don't even know why.


Resistance is a strategy that blocks change. Resistance generally arises when we are confronted with differences and feel endangered. It's instinctual to resist danger. But, when it comes to love, it's more complicated than that.

Kate Nelligan had a preference for men who were not available. She inevitably rejected the good men and went back to "the complete schmucks." Her attraction to men who were "incapable of loving" kept her on familiar ground, kept her unwittingly loyal to an unconscious belief that she valued more than the successful relationship she claimed to want. She was more intent on making an unavailable man come to his senses by sacrificing herself to the project of saving him, than she was in making a relationship with an available man who wanted one. Had she accepted love from one of the good men, she would have had to change. She would have had to abandon her need to save the schmucks, and she was unwilling to do that. Instead, she lapsed into boredom and fell back into her habitual drama.

Understood more deeply, resistance is actually an unconscious commitment to something we must be faithful to. Rather than allow anything new to influence how we feel and think, rather than allow anything different to change us, we are compelled to repeat patterns we learned much earlier in our lives. And, because this is mostly an unconscious process, we fail to take responsibility for our choices and we end up feeling helpless.

Nelligan tells herself, "It just seemed to end up that way," as though her relationship failures were just happening to her. That's no doubt how she felt. But, in truth, her failures didn't "just happen." She was involved, though unconsciously, and she is responsible for her choices, even though she was unaware of her self-sabotaging pattern.

Resistances can take many forms:

Refusal: When you are totally unwilling to take any ownership of the problems in your relationship or marriage, while blaming them entirely on your partner.

Entitlement: When you assume that your partner should automatically know what you need without being told.

Confusion: When you are unable to rule out the other potential candidates and settle on one person as a life partner.

Repeated poor choices: When you repeatedly select inappropriate partners and blame the bad results on fate or the other gender.

You may be in resistance if you are constantly overtaken by sleepiness or, as was the case with Kate Nelligan, you are chronically bored. Making self-deprecating jokes or becoming easily irritated with your partner can also be signs of resistance. Any excuse to flee from moving to a deeper level of intimacy that could require you to change is likely a symptom of resistance.

It's critical to understand that resistances are not experienced as resistances. They are so ingrained they just seem like normal, appropriate responses to the situation. When Kate Nelligan was with one of the good men she never thought to herself, "Well, this is getting to be too much. It's now time for me to get bored." She no doubt just felt a sense of boredom arise, and went looking for a man who would not be boring. Until she became aware of her own pattern, the "nonboring" men were those she had to save, and that kind of relationship is certainly filled with intensity and drama.

When you allow love into your heart, you will be changed. When you express love from your heart you will be changed. That's the power and beauty of love. But if you don't have internal permission to change, if change is forbidden, any indication of love you express or especially, receive, must be resisted. In that sense, love can be threatening.



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