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posted: 1/12/2013 1:43 PM

Finding balance between close and too close

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By Ken Potts

Believe me, I'm not going to get in the habit of always writing about songs I've heard, but I ran across one the other day that I can't pass up.

I'm not a country and western fan, though I do often admire the blunt and honest words of such songs. I especially appreciate the Dick Hicks 1970 country classic "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?"

Yes, you read that correctly. I don't know any more of the lyrics to the song, but the title alone is enough to make it one of my favorites. And, at the risk of diluting the power of these words, let me talk a bit about why I like them so much.

I think one of the toughest balancing acts in a relationship is that between closeness and distance. Obviously, to have any kind of relationship at all we have to have enough closeness. But how much is enough? When does it become smothering? When does it start to rob us of our ability to be alone? When do we start to take the other person for granted, if not actually resent their presence?

Difficult questions; and the answers are probably a bit different for each relationship we are in. Generally, however, there are some guidelines we can keep in mind.

First, it is important that we have the room for more than one significant relationship. A close relationship is not an exclusive one. We need a number of people in our lives who we feel intimately connected to. And that means that no one relationship can take all our attention and energy.

Second, we need enough distance to pursue some of our own goals and interests. A close relationship involves compromise, and the delaying and even sacrificing of some of these goals and interests. But we must also feel that we often have the freedom and space (and even encouragement) to live our lives "our way."

Third, we must never be so close that we lose our ability to be alone (or prevent our developing it, if we have yet to do so). If we are comfortable on our own, then we can choose to be in relationship because we want to, not because we need to. Relationships built on "want" tend to be healthier than those built on "need" as they promote our sense of being competent and attractive adults.

And, finally, every now and then we need to miss the person we are close to. We need to be reminded that it is a privilege to be in relationship, and one not to be taken for granted.

Which, I guess, brings us back to our song, "How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?" Yes, I realize Dick Hicks probably wasn't thinking of all this when he wrote it. But that's OK. In my book, it is still one of the best song titles I've ever heard. Who knows, I may become a country and western fan after all.

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