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Barbara Gold

LCSW, LMFT, CST 

Compassion, Empathy and Emotional Healing 

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GOOD MEN PROJECT

Good Men Project:

Kicking the Tires: How to Find a Healthy Intimate Partnership

A wonderful quote from a (sadly) little known movie starring Cate Blanchett, Bruce Willis and

Billy Bob Thornton entitled “Bandits” goes like this. Bruce and Billy Bob’s characters are

literally fighting over who “gets” to keep Cate’s character, who walks up to them and asks, “Are

you boys sure you don’t want to kick my tires first?” Now, I’m no expert on this, but I think

that’s one way guys used to check out a car - by kicking the tires. Since we can’t do that with a

person, how do we determine if they’re really what and whom we’re looking for? Choosing a

partner is very complex and requires a balanced blend of emotion, understanding and thought!

Let’s look at the example of important decision making when buying a house. We look

carefully and thoroughly. First we decided if we’re ready and can afford to own a home. We

usually find a realtor to show us houses fitting our needs, the school district we want, our desired

areas, and comps to make sure the price is fair. Once we find a house, we negotiate a price, find

out about property taxes, search out the best interest rate, hire inspectors, find a lender, insurance

company, etc.

This obviously goes way beyond tire kicking. Yet do we do anything close to this much

scrutiny when we choose a partner? I suggest most often we don’t. Although, I certainly am not

implying that this is a business deal, I do submit that a committed relationship deserves at least

as much time, effort and learning as does buying a house or any other big decision.

Unfortunately, people often neglect to do this. I do understand that the heart wants what the heart

wants. I also realize that choosing a partner is a very emotional process. I believe however, that it

is important to address practicality and that not enough people take the time to do this. Perhaps,

understandably, we don’t want to be talked out of what the heart wants. Sometimes this works

out okay, but sometimes it doesn’t. On the other hand, some people do just the practical and

neglect the heart part. As I said earlier, this is a complex decision!

A similar pattern often exits when people become sexually involved without finding out if the

other person is sexually healthy. Of course that interferes with the flow of going with the

moment and the passion. On the other hand, STIs and STDs abound, and the level of denial

which must be present to ignore that is alarming. One of the reasons for this, based on my

professional experience, is that most people have a really difficult time talking about sex

altogether, so they just skip that part. This is risky behavior.

I believe another part of this is our difficulty in taking care of ourselves. We don’t want to

appear “selfish” or treat sexual intimacy like a business transaction. First, keep in mind the all-

important fact that we have to love ourselves first before entering into a loving partnership with

another. That said, I do believe there are ways to have this conversation which speak to concern

not only for ourselves, but for our partners as well. And while we’re on the subject, I want to

make clear that when I say “sex” I am talking about sexual intimacy - not just intercourse. Sex

and intercourse are not synonymous!

Going beyond sexual intimacy to look at how we learn about our partners, many questions

come to mind. Do I know myself and what’s important to me? Do I know if my partner shares

the same mindset? Do we both agree on having children? Do we share similar views on money

and what to do with it? If I am a left-leaning liberal, does it matter if my partner is a staunch

Republican? Does religion play a part for either one of us in terms of compatibility and/or

childrearing? How do our backgrounds compare? If there is a large disparity can we be

comfortable operating in a different world? Are we sexually compatible-have we talked about

how to manage different libidos? Are we socially compatible? Do we like each other’s friends?

Family? How do we fit in our needs for space? Since no two people will be completely

compatible in all areas, can we comfortably tolerate those differences in one another?

This is just a suggestion of some of the issues which might arise to cause difficulties in a

relationship and ideas of where priorities have to be established by each and discussed with the

other. So often, we hear what we want to hear and move on from there. I believe this is human

nature, and that we’re not to be faulted for being human. That said, the more we can learn,

discuss, negotiate and plan, the better equipped we are for a positive outcome and a collaborative

partnership.

Many people are shocked to learn that how we choose a partner is in great part unconscious.

We very often seek out what’s comfortable and familiar, even if it also creates distress and

disharmony. For example, if your mother was emotionally smothering and without boundaries,

you might very well unconsciously choose a partner with similar traits, or if you had a father

who was emotionally distant, you might choose a partner who is emotionally unavailable. The

unconscious goal is to get a better result this time than you were able to achieve with your

parents. This seems counterintuitive. Why would I want someone who gives me something I

don’t want or fails to give me something I do? It all gets back to the original imprinting and the

powerlessness we feel as children to change our parents into becoming what we want and need.

So, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

My favorite metaphor to explain this unconscious reconstruction goes like this. We’re walking

down the street, and we see an apple tree. We think “Hmm, an apple would taste good right

about now.” So we walk up to the tree to look for an apple in its branches. Failing to find one, we

think, “Well, maybe the apple fell to the ground.”, and we look around the tree for an apple.

Finally, having no luck in finding an apple, we shake the tree in hopes that perhaps there’s an

apple in one of the higher branches which we can’t see, but can shake loose. Nothing falls. We

finally give up and walk on without an apple. At some future time, we find ourselves on that

same road again and encounter that same apple tree. Once more, we go through all the steps

trying to find the apple, still, with no luck. The same results occur. We repeat this process as

many times as necessary until hopefully, we come to the realization that even though it’s an

apple tree, it has no apples. At that point, we cease to try to find the apple from the source which

doesn’t provide it.

If you apply this to finding a partner, using the above examples, you’ll begin to see that if you

find someone with good boundaries who is able to be loving and nurturing without being

smothering and who is independent but available and connected, then you have your apple! You

may not find yourself attracted to this initially, but the right mix, over time, has the potential to

turn into multiple, consecutive apples - maybe even enough for an apple pie!

Despite the fact that choosing a partner is not simple, the healthier we are, the more likely we

are to choose a healthy partner and get a better outcome. The creation of the “translation” of

intimacy to, “into-me-see” does a great job clarifying the meaning of that word. It’s literally

letting someone see into you and you into them. Although it is a blissful state, it can also scare

the dickens out of people at times!

Intimacy may or may not include sexual intimacy. One of the things which makes sexual

intimacy in a loving partnership so powerful and wonderful is that, at its best, it is an all-

inclusive sense of connection, knowing, and being known physically, emotionally and

intellectually. It has the potential to rise to the greatest heights and provide the most profound

sense of togetherness possible between two people.

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