In the movie, “Harry Met Sally,” Billy Crystal’s character Harry says to Meg Ryan as Sally, “There are two kinds of women: low maintenance and high maintenance.”
“Which one am I,” asks Sally.
Harry answers, “You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.”
From time to time, Joyce and I hear people refer to their partner, male as well as female, as high maintenance, meaning the relationship takes too much work. Naturally, there is an undercurrent of unfairness and even resentment, as if they were shopping for a good used car and got sold a lemon.
And these are their complaints: the relationship takes too much of their time; their partner has too many needs; their partner is too sensitive, or too damaged from past hurts.
There is the feeling that relationships should be easier. But, as we wrote in The Shared Heart, “Your mind will naturally seek the easiest person to be with, one with whom there is no struggle, no rough edges to work out; but your heart, your true inner self, will seek the person who can best help you in your search for truth. The mind seeks an easy relationship. The heart seeks a spiritual partner.”
The only low maintenance relationships are superficial ones, where there is no deep communication and no expression of feelings other than perhaps anger. Maybe it’s possible to have a low maintenance garden. Every year I prepare my raised bed plots. I cultivate the soil, rototilling in fresh compost (OK, maybe that part is not so low maintenance). Then I plant my vegetable seeds and secure a “soaker” line along each row. A battery-operated timer controls a carefully calculated delivery of water to keep the seeds damp. Now I can go my merry way without constant attention to the garden beds. Right? Wrong.
No matter how careful I am, weeds sprout up alongside the vegetable seedlings, requiring my constant attention. Water timers are not perfect. Sometimes they malfunction or the batteries die. The soaker line might break or become plugged. Gophers find their way into the beds.
And last but not least, Sam, our elderly cat, loves to use my vegetable beds as his made-to-order outside litter box, digging his holes and scattering the seedlings. No matter how hard I try to make my vegetable garden low maintenance, I’m just not going to have a good crop unless I put in the time and effort. It’s my choice to consider this drudgery or joy.
All deep relationships are high maintenance. Real intimacy requires time, lots of time. Real love requires acceptance of one another’s needs, and communication of feelings, especially the vulnerable feelings underneath anger. Like my vegetable garden, it’s your choice to consider this drudgery or joy.
I used to sometimes think of Joyce as high maintenance. Her deep sensitivity wouldn’t let me get away with anything less than love. I would think I was making a tiny little request or comment, and she would feel hurt.
At first it definitely felt unfair. I thought I did a little thing, and she received it as a big thing. Then I would get defensive and accuse her of starting an argument based on her hurts from the past rather than what I had just said in the moment.
It has taken me years of maturing to realize I have an equal part in every conflict, to develop my own sensitivity to feel the hidden anger or frustration behind my seemingly innocent words. Now I am deeply grateful for Joyce’s sensitivity. As she wrote in an article, and I wholeheartedly agree, “There’s no such thing as being too sensitive. It’s beautifully sensitive.”
I used to resent how much Joyce needed my love, my time, and my attention. I felt she was too “needy.” In reality, I was in denial of my own need for her love. I was so busy pretending to be independent, a whole person, strong and complete within myself, that I couldn’t see (or wouldn’t see) the little boy inside me who needed lots of love and attention.
In fact, I was so busy noticing Joyce as high maintenance, that I was blind to myself as high maintenance. I wasn’t looking at my selfishness, how insistently I tried to get my own way, the way I made my own desires and wants more important than hers. I used to be so busy noticing Joyce’s projections, the pain from her past, that I often missed my own.
Truth is, Joyce and I are both equally high maintenance, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I love spending extra time with her. I love the long, deep talks just as much as she does. When we get tripped up over miscommunication or hurt feelings, though parts of the process may be painful or difficult, it’s always worth the time and effort for it brings us both new love and understanding.
It may take us a long time to make a difficult decision because of all the feelings that have to be sorted out, but we have learned to trust our process and have patience with the slowness. Without rushing, peacefulness can permeate the final decision and bring even more closeness to our relationship. The fruits of a well-tended relationship are worth all the effort, the labor of love.
This article was written by the c0-author of:
The Shared Heart: Relationship Initiations and Celebrations
by Joyce & Barry Vissell.
This book is intended as a guide for those who desire personal relationships. But more than this, it is a guide for those of us who want our relationships to serve as vehicles for our spiritual awakening. This book is for those of us with the sincerity and courage to look at our desires, fears, anger-our full human condition. For as we accept our humanity with love and compassion, so will we also open our hearts to that which is more than human in us. As we embrace, rather than hate, our limitations, we find ourselves embracing our perfection as well.
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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: Oct 10-16, 2018—Assisi Retreat, Italy; Feb 10-17, 2019 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island; and Jul 21-26, 2019—Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon. 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.
To Really Love a Woman
by Barry and Joyce Vissell.
How does a woman really need to be loved? How can her partner help to bring out her deepest passion, her sensuality, her creativity, her dreams, her joy, and at the same time allow her to feel safe, accepted and appreciated? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.
To Really Love a Man
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.
How does a man really need to be loved? How can his partner help to bring out his sensitivity, his emotions, his strength, his fire, and at the same time allow him to feel respected, secure, and acknowledged? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners. Although these writings refer mostly to heterosexual women and men, there is a wealth of information for LGBTQ. Our focus, after all, is how to deeply love another person, whether it be a man or a woman.