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  • Writer's pictureAdam Jogen Salzberg

It's More Than Just You and Me- Relationship & the Polycentric Self Part 1

Like it or not, relationships take work to keep them from sliding into stagnation.

I don’t like it! Something in me would love for them to remain in a frictionless glide of simpatico on and on indefinitely. But actually that would be boring. Change is the spice that keeps life delicious and the mouth watering. Perhaps we even harbor a secret hope that our relationships will change us, even if it hurts.

This essay is a way of seeing and engaging our changing relationships that seems to me to be more true than the notion that in each relationship there are simply two personalities interacting. In this way of seeing, each person is a posse. We meet and relate with one face at a time yet everyone, in the wholeness of their manifestation is, or at least could be, two faced, three faced, likely even four or five. For example, i’ve found myself surprised when I’ve heard about someone whom I saw as, let’s say drab and basic, being really fun and expressive with other people. I’m surprised because I’ve fallen into the assumption that I’m seeing all of someone instead of remembering that who I interact with is just one facet of a being, unknowable to me in entirety.

We recognize this- that we and other people have different sides to them. But perhaps we could benefit from taking this recognition more to heart. I’m not interested in whether a way of seeing is an Ultimate Truth, I’m interested in whether a way of seeing is freeing and enlivening and whether that way of seeing is sustainable over time. From a Buddhist perspective this way of seeing is a form of co-dependent arising, that the various aspects of us come forth catalyzed by specific relations and in no way exist independent of those relations. This lends incontrovertible argument that so and so does make you angry and all fault lies in their ‘co-arising’ you. The Buddha said it, I believe it, that settles it. Yikes. Kidding. It’s not so simple.

Perhaps it goes something like this: “He was really interesting. He could talk about _____ in a way that no one else I know could. And I loved the way he could just be silly when we were out. I also found it really hot how he would plan our dates and I could just relax into his direction…” “ I was pretty much in love with her from the start. She really listened to what I had to say, seemed to be actually interested! Her warmth made me feel comfortable playing around and being a dork. She had that feminine quality of just going with the flow so I felt confident and more a man around her…”

Taking up the ‘lens of parts’ let’s look at these fictional but very possible recollections of an early point in a relationship. Let’s name the selves we see and who was interacting with who in the other person. In Him there was a part that was enthusiastic about X. Call it his X- Nerd. There was a silly part of him, his Joker. There was a part of him that could take direction and liked to plan, his Confident Self. In Her there was a part that listened well. Call it her Curious Self. From the way He felt comfortable being silly we could guess there was a part in Her that was non-judgemental- the kind of energy we feel permission to let our hair down around, maybe her Loving part. And something in her liked giving up some degree of control to Him, perhaps a part that was Soft and Open.

Now lets imagine that these interactions formed a foundational and mutually satisfying template for the relationship. But at some point other parts of each person emerged and these new emergences disturbed the familiar and comfortable templates of interaction and communication. “Lately he’s being insecure, like he needs me to reassure Him that he’s succeeding as a human being. And sometimes he gets really quiet and withdrawn, like he would rather just be single and alone…” “She’s become so matter of fact since we bought the house together, like all she has space for is talking money. She talks my ear off about gardening, too- I cant even fake being interested in how the beans are growing.”

Early in the relationship His vulnerability and insecurity may have been concealed or overshadowed by His Confident self. And the quiet, introverted part of Him may be something She didn’t see perhaps because the confident part was center stage. We could imagine an impersonal, practical part could now come forth in Her as there was more room in the relationship left by His receding confidence. Also, the part of Her with a passion for gardening emerges and we don’t hear that He has a part of him accessible at this time that can take joy and interest in Her enthusiasm.

The emergence of new parts of someone into a relationship forces a shift in the dynamics. Our idea about who the other is may be challenged, disturbed, altered or even destroyed. Definitely the patterns of relating are changed- if only that we resist engaging with something different in the other person! The emergence of a new part takes up space that a previous part used to occupy- sometimes this means the other party missing the presence of the other part that they had grown into connection with. “What happened to his fun side?” something in us wonders. Sometimes the emergence of a new part is a delight and it may be that the other was a catalyzing space for that new part to emerge. This is something we celebrate about a healthy relationship- someones love, support or appreciation for our growth and process helps us come into more of what we can be.

In this natural and necessary process of new or submerged parts of people coming forth into a relationship we can see a time where many relationships fail to evolve and dissipate, enter a conflict of energies or fall into a stalemate stasis. One can find the other is no longer who we need or want them to be and disconnect, whether literally physically parting or just shutting down the communication channel. It may be the case that the parts of two parties had a synergy that ran its course, served its function, was a temporary season of beauty and inspiration and now the winds of change have swept that away. Or for various reasons the parties may stay together but there is now an added tension of selves in the mix, one part at odds with another. Though it is never the case that every part of us likes every other part of someone else, (this kind of relationship is a Unicorn), there is a big difference between making conscious, embracing and working with the emerged tension of parts and just settling into a friction we believe is (or are content to leave) unworkable.

Let me add even more nuance! The different parts of us perceive parts of the other person differently. Let’s say some kind of wilder, freer part emerges in our friend. Our part that likes people safe and predictable may be afraid of this wild one and react with judgement and distancing. Yet there may be something in us that admires this wild one. Maybe there is a Wild One in us that is woken up by the Wild One in the other. Or the classic example of romantic projections ( whether in a sexual-romantic relationship or one of the other myriad situations where projection is involved) where what we found a turn on in the beginning we find a turn off later on. Continuing with the Wild One, say we fell in love with a Wild Young Thing in our twenties and now that part of Them, looking from our mid-thirties, looks immature, a relic of years now long gone. “Grow up!”, we think, about a part of Them that when We were younger found invigorating. Who is seeing and being with this person now, in this moment of seeing and being, at least?

Having come this far, in light of our relations, doesn’t it seem a useful view and an experienceable thing that there are multiple selves in each of us? Parts. We are multifaceted jewels, mulit-dimensional humans. (Perhaps even with dimensions that are not human or more than human.) To take this investigation further, take time and do the following reflections. Journalling would be good.

What parts are you aware of in yourself? And with those close to you- whether a partner, family member or friend? Consider the range of your selves and theirs. Which parts of you does your partner, friend or family member know? Which do they like? Which do you feel they do or do not accept? …..PART TWO COMING SOON & A CLASS ON THIS TOPIC IN 1ST QUARTER 2022…..


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