The other day I attended a presentation where a noted therapist described a goal for relationships: zero negativity. I thought, “how tragic.” He proposed the ideal of having no conflicts. Yet conflict is embedded in our lives. We have conflictual desires within ourselves. Our desires conflict with those of others. My wife and I always have different desires because I am not her, and she is not me. That’s not a problem. It’s reality. We are different people who will always have different desires in the same relationship.
When I talked about this with a friend of mine, I said this was like the fantasy of returning to the womb. But he corrected me. Even in the womb we find “negativity”. After all, the fetus suffers from any drugs the mother takes, and the mother suffers from bearing her fetus.
We seek idyllic forms of relationship without conflict and then fail to achieve forms of fusion that don’t exist. Do I wish everyone agreed with me? Yes. Does that happen? No. Is that negative? To my narcissism it seems that way! But to my growth it is very positive. It’s always good for me to keep learning about others, my wife, the not me. The recognition and encounter of the not me is the path of love. And this path of love also represents the gradual death of my narcissism. Not a bad death when you think about it.
We have these powerful longings for a world that never existed: one without conflict, without splitting, where everyone gets along, and the lamb and the lion lie down together. Then we feel outraged, sad, or depressed when reality shows up instead. Or we get inspired when someone comes along with a ritual, theory, or method that claims it will “CHANGE THE WORLD!”
The music starts and the merry go round revolves again. Yet this yearning for a fantasy world that never existed keeps us from relating to the real world. We yearn for fantasy spouses who are never “negative.” We yearn for fantasy groups that never split. We yearn for fantasy colleagues who always praise us. Deep yearnings = deep demands. “Don’t be who you are. Be the way I would like you to be in my fantasy.”
Our demand for zero negativity from others reveals a deeply negative attitude toward reality. What if my wife’s negativity is worth paying attention to? What if my negativity is the portal to my growth? What if negativity is not so “negative”?
Every day I go for a walk. I see the sun, the moon, the stars, my wife’s face, the roses in the front yard, and the dog shit on my shoe. All there. All reality. I look inside and find a similar landscape, just as varied.
A priest confided his self-hatred to me. I noted that according to his religion he was made in God’s image. Did he agree? He did. I said, “Since God made you in his image and apparently loves you, wouldn’t it make sense to join God in this?” His eyes filled with tears.
This is how we are made: messy. Cherry picking what you will accept in yourself and others, then dismissing the rest, is a secret emotional ethnic cleansing. We try to purify ourselves and others to achieve a mythical holy union of the sterilized. But this is not love. This is just rationalized hatred for yourself, others, and life itself. It just looks better initially because it proposes the goal of self-transcendence but through self-hatred. After all, if I aim for zero negativity, I have to hate the negative in myself and my wife. I have to hate us. I have to hate reality. Hmm. That sounds negative doesn’t it?