Years ago, as part of my training in Imago Relational Marriage Counseling, I had to bring (drag) my husband to a weekend couples workshop led by Imago therapists.
Along with the other couples, we were led through exercises that helped us recall that first attraction and how early life experiences might have drawn us together; we reaffirmed what we valued in the other along with the patterns that cause us difficulty; and we learned how going through the suffering that a relationship invariably entails could help us arrive at what is called Mature Love.
We were taught that the initial phase of romantic love always fades, how a power struggle always ensues, and how, just when things are feeling bleak, the opportunity to really get to know each other and strengthen the marriage presents itself.
One of the most liberating exercises of that weekend had to do with me finally understanding a pattern that apparently is present in every couple: In Imago terms, one partner is the "maximizer" and the other is the "minimizer."
Maximizers, in general, are the more socially outgoing, the more extroverted. Minimizers tend to be more passive and leave it to others to make social contact.
In the relationship, the maximizer is the pursuer, the partner who initiates emotional connection, the one who always wants to talk about things; the minimizer is the withdrawer, the partner who needs space, the listener.
After this was explained to us in the workshop, and we nodded in recognition, all the maximizers were asked to walk over to one side of the room, the minimizers to the other. We each knew our role immediately, and without a moment’s hesitation, without even meeting our partners’ eyes for confirmation, we picked ourselves up and walked to our designated side. There we were, two men and four women maximizers, facing our spouses, the minimizers.
This exact issue was, and will always be, an annoyingly recurring pattern in my marriage, and, as the maximizer, I still can’t easily accept that my husband needs to be alone so much to mull over his life, that he’s more passive in managing our relationship, and that he doesn’t seem to need or want the same intense connection with me that I do with him.
And back in that workshop I was with five other people who knew exactly what I was talking about and had the exact same complaint. As a group, we were asked to try to describe the pain we felt to always be the one who wanted more. We got pretty vociferous about it and it felt great.
The freeing thing, though, was to hear the other side. Here was my husband, and five others, mixed personality and gender, explaining to us the pain that they felt to be pushed, nagged, found wanting by us partners who could be bullying and angry, when they, too, wanted the same intimacy and closeness, just at a different pace.
Hearing it from all of them, admirable and likeable people in their own right, somehow legitimized the minimizer role as just different, not less evolved, as I had wanted to see it.
So there we all were with a greater understanding of at least one upsetting pattern that apparently affects most couples. Nowadays in my marriage, I can see when we’re starting to fall into it, because we still do (matter of fact we’re in it as I write), but most of the time, not always, we can agree to some compromises and head off the worst of it.
So, the moral of the story is if we want a contented relationship, we all have to learn how to accommodate these differences, and it is up to both sides to learn the compromise.
We maximizers have to slow down and soften up if we want to get our need for more closeness met.
You minimizers have to risk reaching out with affection and words, and use these behaviors to make us feel loved and reassured.
Both of us have to make sure that the atmosphere is inviting, safe and rewarding enough for these accommodating behaviors to happen. With the sacrosanct ground rule that neither of us right or wrong, just different, we can get together, overcome our fears and reengage.
If we can get back to that feeling of connection with each other, we’re doing O.K.