In our last article we explored how the past intrudes upon the present and ardently influences the emotional quality of a relationship. Most people accept this at face value, an important face of life not needing much attention. When conflict takes place in a relationship, it usually isn’t wise to dredge up the baggage of the past, for generally speaking–the ride is inherently smooth when able to live in the moment.

Here and now conflicts reflect keen reality level type issues. Hurt or angry feelings can much easily be resolved by listening to our mates and paying attention to the needs and feelings they express, rather than resorting to the blame game.

Recently we collectively watched the Super Bowl, where intense cooperation and competition—two powerful human forces—were engaged. The public loves to watch a team pull together in unison to successfully execute aggression, while putting the opponent on a defensive drive to neutralize them. Human relationships, personal and organizational, have dual tendencies, so the capacity of either anima (love) or animus (hostility) is ever present. We can opt to cooperate, love and empathize, or we can merely cope and hate.

I often refer to a relationship as two “I’s” forming a “we” and creating an “it.” If I yield some of my “I” in the (we) relationship, would I diminish myself, or would the “we” enhance my sense of self? In the romantic phase, the “I” is uniquely buffered somehow—the enemy (ill will) is ever expanding. Once married, the purr may transform into a growl whereby the enemy is within the marital gate, setting up a fresh set of behavioral parameters thereby darkening the once honeymoon bliss.

Take for example, an actual situation involving a charming, handsome couple together for more than dozen years. Her birthday falls a few days short of Valentine’s. As a result, her husband gives her a lovely pearl necklace, with twin earrings, the same gift given to his sister for Valentines Day.

When his partner learns of this mishap, feelings of anguish, pain and turmoil swirl throughout her body, leading to pulsating thoughts of betrayal. “Am I no longer special?” she ponders. He dismissively rejects her complaints, convinced in his heart that he did no wrong. Resentment consequently builds between his wife, sister and family causing each party, especially the man to stubbornly withdraw in righteousness.

After interviewing a few people, unfamiliar with the couple, mixed reviews were given. An attorney, married several times, jokingly dismissed the husband as a masochistic nut. An attractive female psychologist insightfully noted how he simply gives and takes with the same hand.

Who do you identify with? Take a step into another’s shoes and give us your take on the situation. Email me at:, and I will detail my personal opinion in our follow up column.

Dr. Jerome Leff

Got thoughts or opinions on this topic? A helpful anecdote you want to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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