At Weston Super Mare the tide stretches out so far that you can scarcely believe you are on a beach. Like some strange landscape which is marked by nothing and which leads to nothing, if eternity were a picture it might look something like this.
When the sea has turned on its heels and disappeared over the horizon there is a vast expanse of mud flat, a sprawling dangerous ground in which you can sink and become completely stuck. Struggle is futile as the the thick wet mud pushes you further down with every desperate movement. Exhaustion and hypothermia can follow and, if there is no one to rescue you, nothingness.
The “Push-Pull” dynamic in relationships describes the act of drawing someone close only to push them away again. The “pull” creating a feeling of safety and warmth, and the “push” creating doubt and uncertainty. But the doubt fuels desire and desperation because we all want something we can’t have. Some couples do this to one another constantly, and some relationships continue like this for years, but is it necessary, and why do we do it?
Fear of intimacy. We are fundamentally equipped best to survive the place we came from and not the one we arrive at. If you were brought up in the sunshine the endless days of darkness and cold in England will be a real test of endurance and so it is with emotion. If there was anything dysfunctional in childhood (there was for most of us) which caused us to have a less than positive view of our own value we find it hard to believe that anyone can love us. If we feel something like love we start to question it, “I’m not sure I’m lovable so how can you love me? You must be after something or crazy. I better get away”. Push.
Fear of rejection. After the initial thrill of a new relationship comes the familiar anxiety over being abandoned. We become so agitated at the idea of rejection, so sure that it will happen eventually that we become terrified of our worst fears being confirmed. What to do? Self destruction. “I’ll wreck it before you inevitably do”. Push.
Fear of being without. We want the best of everything and sometimes we might worryingly believe that it can be secured. When we truly value aspects of people we don’t want to lose them and we try to turn a blind eye to the pieces we don’t want or are less than we desire. We stop seeing people as a “beautiful whole” and instead see them as an emotional “Pick & Mix” “I want that bit” (Pull), but I don’t want that bit” (Push)”. In the end the constant emotional bartering becomes unsustainable. Push.
Too much choice. Just today I had a conversation with a client who told me that he hopes one day that he will meet a beautiful woman that he falls hopelessly in love with. He is currently in a relationship and is generally happy but feels that he could experience a deeper connection. He says he feels guilty being with someone he doesn’t believe he will stay with forever and wonders if he is being fair. I ask if it is “unfair” to be committed and happy with someone all the time that you feel committed and happy regardless of what the future might hold. Worrying that someone better is waiting for us in the future does nothing more than dissatisfy us today. Push.
Testing. We want more certainty, so sometimes we test people by pushing them away to see if they come back. We want a clearer idea of their commitment. But like a boomerang it’s all in the way you throw because it will only come back when you know exactly how to throw it in the first place. Most of us will tolerate a test but only when it feels that we are being tested and not being thrown away. Push.
The hardest part of all? Only those that push can stop the pushing and no amount of pulling from the other will have any impact.
The tide will always disappear over the horizon because it is pulled by the moon, while the shore stands still waiting patiently. If you move away with the tide you might choose to roll back in with it or you may not. But if you were the one left on the shore it is best that you stand where you are and accept the leaving, because trying to run to the tide as it drifts and pushes you away will mean a treacherous journey through the mud, and we know how that might end.