How to develop healthy relationships…starting with the “salad theory”
De Vegh suggests we create abundant lives for ourselves, and subscribes to what she calls the salad theory. “Just as a salad needs some lettuce, a little tomato, cucumber, this and that, a full life involves friends, work, arts, and community. When I ask clients, ‘What do you believe you can only get from him?’ they say, ‘He’s so interested, he listens to me, he thinks I’m special, we do things together.’ We can do things with zillions of people. Why is it that only he can get you doing things?
“There’s no scarcity of love,” she says. “We can find it with our coworkers, with our friends and families, in our dance class. We can love what the world offers us; we can love our own vitality. And without question, there can be passionate love between a man and a woman, where you open your heart and soul and you can be yourself—your 7-year-old self, your 30-year-old self, your 60-year-old self. And he can say, ‘I get you, and here I am.
Sometimes I act like a spoiled brat, and sometimes I’m a straight-up guy.'” But the relationship has to be an “emotional peership” between partners who are already working toward becoming fuller and fuller individuals.
Such a union requires both heart and mind, which is why de Vegh is wary of unexamined attraction. “Often what we call chemistry is a mix of familiarity and anxiety, and it can be an excuse for not having to think,” she says. “Feelings are great, but we also have brains so we can decide what to do with those feelings. Now when someone comes into my office and says, ‘Oh, we looked at each other, and I so knew this man,’ I think that maybe what she recognized was, for instance, the withholding narcissism of her father.
If we really had such good parents that we felt filled up with self-respect and the ability to engage in the world, we wouldn’t be waiting to be bowled over by chemistry. We’d be saying, ‘Oh, you look like a good and interesting person. Here’s what I think about the world; what do you think?’ We wouldn’t be looking to get our needs met. Adults meet their own needs.”
Having seen so many women devastated by the end of an affair—”They feel they’ve failed, and that the halo they were given is gone”—de Vegh is adamant that we not label ourselves as losers in love. “At the church I used to go to, they always said faith enters through a wound. I think wisdom comes through our wounds, that our wounds have to turn into our blessings,” she says. “They make us soft and aware so we can say, ‘Oh, yes, I learned that.’ If it turns out that you and your partner have a different view of reality, that’s good to know. You can honor that, and find someone who shares your view. If you’re losing yourself in a relationship and he has all the power, it’s important to take the self-respecting action of leaving and learning from the experience.”
The best thing that can happen after a breakup is that you declare, I give up any hope of ever being parented the way I wish I’d been when I was a child. “You might have to grieve for that loss,” she says. “And there will be moments in a healthy partnership when you can say, ‘I’m brain-dead and hysterical. Draw me a bath and put in some rubber duckies.'” But that’s temporary.
We have to give up the longing to be the child in the relationship, she says. The good news is that once we do, we’re free to find love that’s genuinely pleasure based.
“We each have a potential song in us,” de Vegh says—one that can find its unique expression after we drop the sour chord of scarcity, dependency, and fear.