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Those who seek the security of marriage do not find romance.

— Karmayogi

Level 4 Reaction

Relationships at this level are characterized by an underlying tension, irritation and intense reactions between the partners. Partners are extremely sensitive to each others words and behavior and react strongly to what they find disagreeable.

Fixed habits, intense emotions and strong opinions evoke intense opposition in other people. Insistence on our own habitual ways of thinking, feeling and doing things is the main source of disharmony between otherwise compatible and complementary individuals. Reacting to another person's behavior invariably makes it worse and initiates a spiral of tension that can snowball from a tiny seed to a big explosion.

Each of us naturally considers that our opinions and attitudes are the right ones and expect others to accept and embrace them. Opinions are like sharp needles than sting when we express them with insistence. Vigorously projecting our attitudes conveys to others the feeling that what they feel does not really matter to us. We value our preferences and want other people to defer to them. We insist on our own fixed habits and get disturbed if anyone tries to change or disrupt them. That is the prison of ego that each of us lives in. No matter how strongly you feel something should be done in a particular way, it is better to know that it is only one point of view. Learn to express your preferences as mildly as possible and do not to expect or insist that your partner think or feel the same way.

Disagreements are natural. We disagree even with ourselves on many things! But that is no reason to get emotional. We get emotional about issues because our egos are involved. Egoistic reaction inevitably spurs reaction in the other person and sets in motion a snowballing effect that keeps building over time. When people do not understand or accept our viewpoint, we may feel rejected or of less value. Learn to separate the issue from the person and deal with the issue impersonally. Deciding an issue one way or another does not make you a greater or lesser person. Even if your partner makes it a source of egoistic pride, your objectivity will gradually help them to acquire a more mature attitude.

No doubt, it is pleasing to be around people who share our thoughts and feelings and defer to our preferences. It makes life smooth, easy and comfortable. It satisfies and gratifies our ego, but it does not necessarily lead to growth and lasting fulfillment. It is also no guarantee of harmony. Opinions, attitudes and preferences change with time. We may start out in the same place and end up in different worlds. It is much more important for partners to agree on how to disagree than it is for them to share the same opinions and attitudes. Good manners is the basis, but there is much more too it. The real secret to harmonious relations is to give up the habit of reacting to each other whenever your partner says or does something that you do not like or approve of.

When Harry met Sally

The story of Harry and Sally depicts a couple who discover how to convert a level 4 platonic relationship based on intense reaction into a close friendship love and finally marriage. Harry Burns meets Sally when they share a car ride to New York City upon graduation from the University of Chicago. During the drive, they explore many topics including friendship, sex and death and discover that they have absolutely nothing in common and everything to disagree about. Over the next 13 years they meet repeatedly, find fresh topics to argue about and then drift apart. Each passes through several failed relationships. Eventually they develop a close, platonic friendship and find that they understand, like and enjoy each other's company more than any other relationships they have been in.

Harry and Sally’s friends Jess and Marie are attracted to each other from their very first meeting. After a whirlwind courtship, they find themselves madly in love and are engaged to be married. They are excited about setting up a new home and are busy decorating the house. Jess brings home an unfashionable Wagon wheel coffee table which does not suit Marie’s stylish tastes. After having gone through the cycle of being in love, building a life together with his partner, seeing it torn apart and ending in a nasty divorce, Harry is cynical about the entire process and advises them not to spoil a good relationship over trivial issues. Even though Jess is not entirely convinced, he throws the coffee table out of the house ending the argument in order to preserve the harmony of their relationship.

As they watch their friends have this disagreement, Harry and Sally quarrel over his reaction to it. But even when they have disagreements over trivial or serious issues, they find they can quickly resolve them by being themselves and by being honest with each other. Their feelings of mutual respect and affection help dissolve their differences and settle arguments. Finally it dawns on them that their life together is far happier and more fulfilling than any other of their romantic pursuits have been and an intense intimacy grows between them.

To raise your relationship to a higher level of harmony, see Strategies to Increase Harmony in Your Relationship

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