How to Pick a Lover

A woman loves the man who tends her wounds almost as much as the man who inflicts them on her.
—Richard J. Needham, A Friend in Needham

Another kind of loneliness is the common feeling that nobody understands us as we really are. We go around singing to ourselves, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” There are many kinds of unhappiness, and at the time that we’re experiencing them, each one seems a unique burden invented just for you. If you get desperate enough, then you finally get to a physician, or are taken to one, and some official person provides some kind of intervention. The tranquilizers, which are so often prescribed, are not a long-range solution: they are merely a kind of saltpeter for the mind.

Before you get to that stage, there is an alternative and better intervention in the form of sympathy from someone who loves you. Friends can be supportive; but they are not intimate enough, or committed enough, to provide pervasive comfort.

Collier Magazine - 1951 ... Why doesn't my hus...

Collier Magazine – 1951 … Why doesn’t my husband understand me?  (Photo credit: marsmet541)

One important role the lover may provide is that of therapist. He listens, he consoles, he advises. It’s no wonder that just as the lover acts as therapist, the official therapist is not infrequently also a lover, giving what is disparagingly known in the trade as penis therapy. It may be unethical, but it often does work. Independent of its benefits, however, it’s a serious abuse of power for a therapist to enter into any type of intimate relationship with a patient.

The cliché “my wife doesn’t understand me” often used by husbands is just a cliché, but it is just as valid of a cliché when it becomes “my husband doesn’t understand me.” A lover who is understanding and who provides comfort and insight may be the best kind of therapist for minor depressions and anxieties.

For a number of wives, the role of the lover isn’t so much as a sexual partner who is incidentally also comforting but more as a therapist who is incidentally also a lover in the physical sense.

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Comments on: "The Importance of Being Understood: The Lover as Therapist" (12)

  1. NormalDeviations said:

    Taking this a step further, it doesn’t require a physical relationship. Especially with the nature of the Internet making communication much easier.

    Definitely an interesting paradigm shift to what you’re saying, no?

    • I agree. It’s an interesting paradigm shift. Actually thought about including that idea as I was writing the post but then decided it was a blog onto itself. Social media certainly provides another type of interpersonal intimacy that didn’t exist 10 years ago, which we are just starting to recognize.

      • NormalDeviations said:

        Exactly.

        But also the interpersonal intimacy that allows compartmentalization. You can determine how you present yourself – and your needs – more towards your idealized self-image than having the tangible aspects influence that presented image.

        Getting back to the original point of your post, it sounds like you’re suggesting that much of the time the distilled desired result of affairs is, basically, fulfilling a need for emotional intimacy.

  2. littletash said:

    I’m interested in this idea and totally buy your argument, but there’s an underlying sadness to the conclusion that a wife should be happy turning to the lover as therapist. Surely the ideal is that the husband is both lover and therapist. Of course, ideals rarely make it to reality, but if the misunderstoof wife seeks real therapy, then any good professional will advise her to either work at making the husband therapist once more or, if that’s never going to happen, to consider the future of their relationship. The problem with lover as therapist, then, is that he has a vested interest in maintaining his position as lover, so he’ll never be in a position to provide truly helpful therapy for her and her marriage.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree with you. I didn’t mean to imply that wife should be happy to turn to a lover as therapist. Many husbands and wives certainly feel that their spouses understand them – which they should. However, if the wife consistently feels she isn’t understood by her spouse, she may at some point seek out a lover who she feels does understand her. It is easier for a lover to be understanding as role of lover is far less complex than the role of husband. The husband-wife relationship involves many joint enterprises: they raise children together, buy real estate together, paint the bathroom together, and worry about growing old together. I’m not making a judgement but right or wrong, but rather that there is a qualitative difference between the husband-wife and lover relationship. Similarly, we are often much more patient and tolerate of our friends than we are our spouses. Also, I didn’t intend to imply that a wife – who feels her husband doesn’t understand her – should seek out a lover to rather than a therapist to resolve her unhappiness. Therapy is viable option for any troubled marriage. I was simply suggesting that a lover who listens, empathizes, emotionally reassures his married lover may play be playing a therapeutic role to varying levels, just as a friend may play a potential therapeutic role by listening to our daily woes, while reassuring us that we are okay.

      • littletash said:

        Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel you had to clarify – I do completely understand where you’re coming from. It just got me thinking about the vested interest of the lover and how that may impact the impartiality of the therapy offered. Sorry again, I really didn’t mean to come off challenging, just thinking.

      • I appreciate that. I didn’t take your email to be challenging. I just thought I hadn’t explained myself very well and wanted to clarify my thoughts for you. I truly appreciate you taking the time to respond. And if I my post was able to get you thinking, then my job is done. 🙂

      • littletash said:

        Your posts always do. I read them in the mornings and they niggle at my thoughts all day. I think it’s because I approach them half as a gender studies student wanting women and the world to be free to explore all the possible ways to survive, and half as a soon-to-be wife who really should be training her thoughts along a more heteronormative pattern 🙂

  3. You don’t understand anything about what therapy is supposed to be, or what a fully human relationship is between husband and wife. You’re sloshing around words like “lover,” “wife” and “therapist” without any definition. Husband as therapist? Nonsense. How about husband and wife as responsible caring adults?

    • I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my post. I seem to have touched a sore spot. I wasn’t trying to espouse an authoritative knowledge of therapy. I’m not sure why you feel so strongly that husbands and wives can’t play a therapeutic role in each others lives. There’s plenty of convincing research that show that men and women in loving, caring, and supportive relationships have better mental and physical health than those who aren’t. The overall role of therapy (therapists) is to improve an individual’s mental health. While there are serious mental health problems that should be addressed only by a professional therapist, I would still argue that spouses, lovers, friends or family members may provide a therapeutic role – perhaps limited but therapeutic all the same – when a loved one is experiencing minor depression, anxiety, or feelings of self-doubt.

  4. Presupposes one has a “lover”..

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