ack sadly described the way he guarded his heart in his relationship with Allie. “Allie really wants me. She’s fully available for a relationship with me. She wants all of me, not just the part of me I offer her. I’m holding back my full love, my full heart. I’m not being fair to her by staying in this relationship.”
Joyce and I soon discovered the reason for Zack’s unavailability. His heart was still broken from his previous relationship with Laura a year earlier. In Zack’s words, “I gave myself completely to Laura. I’ve never given my heart so completely to another woman. I envisioned having children and spending my whole life with her. I felt – and still feel – devastated by her breaking up with me.”
It Takes Two to Tango...
We completely understood Zack’s unavailability, but we still challenged him, “Is it possible that Allie is just as unavailable as you?”
“I never really thought about that. On the surface, she appears to be the available one. She keeps asking me to be more present with her. But now that I think about it, I see what you mean. Allie is still very connected with her ex-husband. They go snow-boarding together, a sport I don’t do. True, she’s not physically intimate with him, but she’s emotionally intimate with him. They talk often on the phone. He’s her confidant. Often I feel like the odd man out, like she has more of a relationship with her ex-husband than she does with me.”
In fact, Allie is no more available for a relationship than Zack. As long as she can attribute the unavailability to Zack, and he can blame himself, Allie doesn’t have to look at her own unavailability. This became clearer in a later session with both of them. We observed Allie judging Zack as not being fully available to her. All the pressure was on Zack to change and come aboard the relationship. We could see Zack pulling away partly because of this feeling of pressure.
When we asked Allie about her relationship with her ex-husband, she at first defended it and denied that it was a problem. It took Zack’s vulnerable expression of his discomfort to finally get through. With tears in his eyes he said, “I feel like I’m in constant competition with your ex. I know you want to be with me, but it hurts to feel like you want me to be more like him.” Finally, Allie was able to see her own unavailability, her own inability to be fully present with Zack. This helped them both. Now they could each focus on grieving and letting go of their past relationships, rather than one being blamed as the problem.
You often hear about the attraction of opposites, two people being attracted to one another because they are so different. This refers to soul qualities, like Joyce’s introverted nature and my extroverted nature.
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You may be attracted to someone who can balance the qualities of your soul, but you will never be attracted to someone who is not your equal in overall soul growth. Joyce’s introverted nature doesn’t mean she is more evolved than me, just like my extroverted nature is not a higher quality. You’re attracted to someone because they have just as much to teach you as to learn from you.
The Meaning of Availability in Relationship
Can we look deeper at the meaning of availability? On the surface, it means accessible to another person, or readiness to love and be loved in return. On the very surface, it means single or unmarried but, as we all know, this has little to do with real availability for relationship.
To really be available for relationship, we first have to be available to ourselves. If we perceive ourselves as fully available to our partner but not fully available to ourselves, then we are not fully available to our partner. To the extent we love ourselves, that’s how much we love our partner.
Here’s a classic example: Vinny was addicted to pot. He smoked it every day. His wife, April, didn’t use pot or any other substance. Vinny’s pot use hurt her deeply. She felt like he was having an affair with another woman, named Marijuana. She naturally felt he was unavailable to her much of the time. She complained about Vinny’s pot use. She tried to get him to change. She stayed in the relationship, waiting and hoping for Vinny to give up the pot and become fully available to her. She saw herself as fully available to him.
But just how available was April to herself? And how codependent was her behavior? How much was she making Vinny more important than herself? If she was fully available to herself, she would demand his full recovery from the pot. If he continued to choose the pot addiction, she would have enough self respect to leave the relationship.
Relationship Is First & Foremost An Inside Job
Relationship is first and foremost an inside job. Are we willing not just to spend time alone, but to make it quality time? Are we willing to give thanks for the blessing of our life – not just the blessings of other people or events in our life, but the blessing of our own life? Can we see our own life as a blessing?
Are we willing to look into the mirror, see past that latest wrinkle, look into our own eyes and say “I love you”? Are we willing to keep looking into the mirror and feel our own lovability, that no matter what mistakes we’ve made, we still deserve love as children of the universe?
To the extent we can do these things, then we are available for a partner who is our spiritual equal, who loves themselves to the same extent. The more available we become to ourselves, the more we attract a partner with an equal availability to him or herself.
*Subtitles by InnerSelf
Book co-authored by this author:
The Heart's Wisdom: A Practical Guide to Growing Through Love
by Joyce Vissell and Barry Vissell.
About the Author(s)
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA. They are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Feb 11-16, 2020 — The Couples Journey, Aptos (for couples); Jun 7-14, 2020 — Shared Heart Alaska Cruise, leaving from Seattle (for singles and couples); and Jul 19-24, 2020 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR (for singles, couples and families). For further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org.
Listen to a radio interview with Joyce and Barry Vissell: Relationship as Conscious Path