Relationships Have to Be Thought About

Tim Jackins answering a question at the West Coast
North America Leaders’ Workshop, January 2019

Question: You have been pushing us to work on our relationships with each other. In any relationship, we have to discharge early distresses to move whatever might be stuck in it. I also wonder how we think about the present-time difficulties in the relationship. How much early work is needed, and how much do we have to talk with each other and try to resolve the difficulties that are there in the present? How many relationship sessions are needed?

Tim Jackins: And how many relationships can we sustain if we have to have that many sessions?

I think we first have to think about the relationship itself, not just our role in it. And we have to think about the other person’s role in it, and where they can’t think about it. We can’t simply abandon them where they can’t think about it and expect the relationship to develop well. We have to hold the line against the places where they can’t think and help them work on those places enough that they can begin to think. Distresses will limit the possibilities of a relationship until they begin to move.

To develop a relationship, we all have things to work on and move forward. We enter every relationship fighting old confusions. Often we are either pulling away from the relationship or lunging for it, and we can be suspicious of both.

Relationships in this period can’t simply be spontaneous. They have to be thought about. They have to be thought about very thoroughly. We need to think about what is possible between the two people. Something is always possible between any two people, but we have to make decisions. This means that we need sessions—on how much we like the relationship, how much it scares us, and who this person really is apart from our feelings about them. Who are they? What do they struggle with, and what does that mean?

I would like to have a relationship with everybody here, with every one of you. More accurately, I would like to spend more time with each of you than I’m ever likely to get. I won’t get the time—not because I don’t want it, but because my life isn’t going that way. Reality isn’t going that way. So I try to take full advantage of any chances I get to be with you, with anyone. I’m often watching a person’s face, trying to understand what’s holding them back and where they dare not go.

We benefit from being in charge of a relationship. If we’re lucky, both people are in charge, but at least one person needs to be. The relationship can careen out of control without thought.

We often wish to make a relationship bigger and bigger and accomplish more and more with the other person. That’s probably compulsive. I suspect we ought to have four thousand small relationships in which we look at each other and say, “Oh, it’s nice to have you here in my world. It’s really good to see you. See you next month!” That’s the contact we have—but it’s full and human and warm. We want more of that person, but we’re interested in any little piece we can get at a particular time. I think the more we have relationships in which we get to be as full as the opportunity allows us, the less we will be desperate to build a gigantic relationship in an attempt to take care of all of our old frozen loneliness.

I don’t think we know how to build relationships. We never had the chance to find out because the adults who were around us when we were children simply had been too hurt to try with us. So we are now in a period of trying to figure it out, over and over again. How could you have known how to do it? What was your childhood like? Did you have people with whom to form relationships—ones in which you really got to have each other’s minds?

Every relationship between any two people is going to be unique. It’s not going to be like any other and certainly not like the relationships that society tries to prescribe to us. What matters to me is that the relationship is not based in distress and that both minds are involved.

So now you want the practical answers? (laughing)


Any urgency we feel about a relationship is based in distress. If someone is there and we are there, then there is time to figure out how to get more of each other, to be more alive with each other. Very few of us are actually in an urgent situation in regard to relationships.

One of the best ways to work through any urgency is to slow down on what we long for. The things we long for are an odd mix of what we never got (our frozen needs) and what we don’t understand, which is mainly how to be in full human contact with somebody else. I don’t know a fast way to untangle these things. Perhaps we could try being unbearably close, staying there, and discharging the unbearableness—without having to do anything—and see how full and relaxed and together we could be without having to satisfy any old longing. A lot of discharge needs to be part of developing any close relationship.

Every one of us should be entirely delighted with the existence of every one of us. Simply taking that as a guide is useful.

Of course, we are already in relationships, many of which started with distresses involved. Now what? How do we move from here?


There’s a certain amount we can do alone, from our side only, but unless the other person gets a chance to discharge, they can’t go very far, very fast. They are wonderful, they are dear, we like being with them—and they can’t move because of some distresses. And the places where they are stuck tend to show more and more and play a bigger and bigger role as the days go on. We can try to find a way for them to discharge. But is that what we want to do? Or would we rather let the relationship be slow and put more of our mind somewhere else? That’s a decision we can make.

There’s a very sad thing we have to face. We have to face some people lagging behind. We can’t bring all the people we care about to where they discharge enough that they can come along in a full sense. They are still dear, and we care about each other, but they aren’t going to be able to move like we are going to move. As we develop more and more resource, this will be less and less true, but in the current period I think it is true.

There are very dear people I am committed to. I will always do what I can to support them, but I know they are unlikely to come along fast. That influences the relationship. I have to understand it and grieve about it. I have to try not to let my restimulated feelings of sympathy push me into doing things that quiet their restimulations but don’t actually move them forward.

We can decide how much we’re going to commit to someone in a situation like that. It’s our decision—we don’t have to justify it to anybody else—but we want it to be based on thinking. If we’re going to take on [be committed to] this person and put a lot of resource into moving them, it’s important that they move. And we want to make sure that what we do is not out of our distress.

Also, in light of fresh information, we can always think again: some people hang back for a long time and then take off [suddenly move] when we had no idea they were not going to sit there for the rest of their lives.

It’s up to you. You are there. You are the one who gets to figure it out. You may make mistakes, and that’s all right.


If the person can discharge, then you have more options. Then you can suggest that they spend part of their thinking and discharge time on you, the relationship, and what they want in the relationship. Together you can discuss what they want, what you want, what you can agree on, and what you can’t. You don’t have to agree on everything. It’s important that you not sacrifice yourself to their longings; you get to make your own choices.

I think there’s always a way to build a good relationship even though the two people don’t do everything together in the way that one of them wants.

As we clear things up, I think we can have wonderful relationships. They can encompass small pieces of our lives and be very meaningful. We can have many committed relationships, for the rest of our lives. I don’t see any real problem with having important commitments. In my experience, any apparent conflict always turns out to be [is revealed to be] distress.  

Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:29:58+00