The Solution is a Paradox

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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You know what?  I think this section of the book is awesome.  Ok, I think most sections are amazing.  But I really like this one because David Richo talks about relationship as a vehicle for growth.  Relationships point us to areas where we are experiencing fear or pain that need our love and attention.  He says that our fear can be identified in what we are seeking through our relationships.  He says “what I compulsively seek and cannot hold signals what I need to grieve” (p. 35).  So, let’s say you didn’t get enough affection or I love yous in your early life, so you (without knowing) look for someone who can meet that need now.  Well, no one is perfect.  Since it has been painful in the past that the need for closeness and affection wasn’t met, you will be especially aware of times where that need isn’t met.  Here’s the strange part:  it will actually be hard to appreciate and take in the experience of affection needs being met when your partner does do that.  What?!  Yes.  What you really, really want might be right in front of you and you might even be pushing it away. 

Here’s the paradox:  the solution is that what you didn’t get early on in life needs to be grieved.  “Only that which can be grieved and let go of can be fulfilled in adult life” (p. 35) is what David Richo says.  Think about this.  If you can get present to the pain of what you didn’t get, accept it and then grieve it, that pain doesn’t have to shape your relationship.  Refer to my post on the Human Program for Handling Loss to find out more about how you do the work of grieving.  In my estimation, this is not to say that there isn’t room for the importance of getting now what you didn’t have before (i.e. a corrective experience such as someone really being there in your adult life when you have experienced abandonment in your early life).  It just means that doing the work of grieving what you didn’t have will actually open you to the possibility of receiving and integrating that corrective experience. 

This is one of the reasons I love working with couples:  being in relationship brings up parts of ourselves that we might not otherwise get to access with such clarity.  The trick of it is that it feels like the issue coming up is about something that our partner is doing.  They are simply touching on something that already exists within us.  You want to know a secret?  You picked them because they were going to activate parts of you that need healing.  As human beings,  we have a natural tendency toward wholeness and health.  So, we are always setting up opportunities for that to happen (mostly without our awareness!).  David Richo says:  “Can this be the ultimate and most terrifying and most liberating synchronicity of all:  everything happening to me is aimed at exposing and healing my core fears?” (p. 35).  I get SO excited when I see a clearing for this realization to occur in my practice.  I can barely contain myself.

If we just focus on our partner and insist that they change, then the real issue doesn’t get addressed.  Doesn’t that seem so two dimensional after reading what this could really be about?!  Plus, we are then trying to control them (never works) and making them smaller and less self expressed.  Do we want that?  For the person we love?  I don’t think so. 

So, can we look at our relationships as a way to see where we need to work instead of getting really focused on our partners as flawed humans that need to change?  People spend weeks/months in therapy trying to prove these two things to each other and their therapist, so let me help you out with a little short cut: you’re right, they are flawed...because they are human!  And, do they need to make changes?  Maybe.   But, more importantly, can we have the humility and courage to look inside ourselves and take care of our own pain for our own well-being, but also for the success of our relationships?  Can we make a commitment to learn and grow instead of insisting they do that?    

Finally, I really take comfort in the last part of this section.  David Richo talks about the fact that we can work on our fear (and pain) consciously, do what is in our power and capacity now to breathe through and integrate our fears.  At the same time, there are forces at work out there (whatever you believe in…some kind of organizing force or higher power) that helps us to carry the load when it is too much.  Our ego cannot do it all.  This other force is one that “has the power to bring things back to life when everything feels done for” (p. 38).  We have all experienced this: a saving grace.  So, if you agree to work on yourself, your partner does some work and then the assisting forces do their work…that is a lot of support that can come out of your commitment to use your relationship as a space to grow and become more whole as a human being.

I love what Ally Hamilton says in her blog,, about this exact topic:  “If you want to love, you’re going to have to be a bada$$”.  Check out her post:  Love Doesn’t Hurt You

*To learn more about this blog and the author, please visit the About section of this website.

 *This post based on the section "What is Neurotic Fear" (pp. 34-38).