Speaking to his girlfriend, Annie Hall, Alvie Singer says, "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."
Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen
The notion that relationships require movement is familiar to anyone who has been in one for more than a few months. Naively, many of us believe the movement will be essentially linear and in a positive direction. Oh sure, we say, there will be difficult times, disagreements and disappointments. But, we expect that over the long haul we will be in a better place when all is said and done than we were when we began. Often this is pretty much what happens in one of the several dimensions that make up an intimate relationship.
In another dimension there is also constant movement but it isn't linear. It's circular. In this dimension, we move in a repeating pattern of merging and separating, merging and separating--over and over again. Imagine two circles, side by side, with one moving in a clockwise direction and the other in a counter-clockwise direction. In a healthy relationship this is the pattern of movement that prevails. We connect, enjoying our time together and move apart enjoying our separateness. For example, we have a nice evening together but when it's over we eventually fall asleep and move into our individual worlds. When we wake we may cuddle and discuss the day ahead before getting out of bed. But, eventually we go to work and move into our individual interests and obligations. This is the pattern--merging and separating.
Alvie Singer's "dead shark" can show up in a couple of places. The most obvious is when a couple needs or demands constant connection--constant merging. It doesn't take long for this to produce an environment in which there is so little fresh air that the inhabitants eventually asphyxiate. Jealousy and the fear of loss are usually behind the inability to move toward appropriate separation. In much the same way, being afraid to give up separateness creates the kind immobility that eventually eliminates the fresh and new experiences necessary for life.
Good and fulfilling connection comes when we are moving toward or away from the experience of separateness. Likewise, healthy separateness usually comes in anticipation of or after a clear sense of connection. The constant merging and separating movement keeps the "shark" alive and well.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.