Interview: Mavis Klein

The psychotherapist and author believes she knows the secret of what makes a successful relationship.

By Simon Round, January 7, 2010
Klein: “We’re attracted by both joy and pain”

Klein: “We’re attracted by both joy and pain”

A new year has begun and for many people that means a renewed attempt to find that one special person with whom to share their lives. But what makes them think that after a lifetime of trying and failing to achieve that special relationship, they are going to succeed now?

Psychotherapist and author Mavis Klein has spent years attempting to demonstrate the obstacles and the opportunities that come with new relationships. The reason that they fail, she says, is that people do not really understand why they are attracted, and attractive, to others, and therefore end up with partners who do not make them happy.

In a workshop next week, Klein, a Londoner, who trained in psychotherapy at the University of Melbourne, will attempt to demonstrate to both singles and couples who they are, and who they should be looking for.

The secret of a successful relationship is locked up in our childhood experiences, she says. “Almost 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce and we tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. The underlying factor in unhappy relationships is something that humans find very difficult to admit — namely that we compulsively seek pain as well as joy.”

As we try to make sense of the world as young children, we also try to make sense of relationships, she explains. So the conclusions we come to in those first years are based on experience —and different people experience the world in very different ways.

She says: “By and large, all human beings’ experience of the physical world matches that of everyone else’s. If a three-year-old child asks his mother why his ball comes back down when he throws it in the air, she can tell him about the effects of gravity. His kindergarten teacher would give him the same answer.

“However, because we all agree that, say, blue and yellow makes green, we make the mistaken assumption that what we learn in the bosom of our families in our early years in terms of relationships is also what everyone else feels. Actually, each person’s perception of how they should function in a relationship is unique to that person and we consciously and unconsciously seek to repeat the experiences that we had in our earliest years to prove that our conclusions are right.

“Some of those experiences are pleasurable and others are painful. While we repeat the pleasurable experiences, unfortunately we are compelled to repeat the painful ones too.”

This makes finding a partner a difficult proposition because, says Klein, we tend to be instinctively attracted to those who will confirm both our painful and pleasurable moments of childhood. The key is to acknowledge that the pain we have experienced is in a sense chosen by us. “We need to have the courage to embark on a relationship and accept both its pain and joy,” she says.

There are ways of maximising your chances of finding someone who is compatible with you, claims Klein. However, the best relationships are compromises between different qualities.

Singer Rachel Stevens recently wedded Alex Bourne. According to Mavis Klein their chances of a happy marriage will depend on their dominant character traits

Singer Rachel Stevens recently wedded Alex Bourne. According to Mavis Klein their chances of a happy marriage will depend on their dominant character traits

“Very broadly, the friendship we experience with people is like with like and the love we feel for another person is the attraction of opposites. In an ideal relationship we have both friendship and love. Males and females are very different from each other and it is this tension which turns us on. But the attraction of opposites also brings with it a tension. Sex and aggression are very closely linked. When the initial passion dies down, that energy, which is still there, is transformed into arguing and fighting.”

Therefore it is important to know what you are like and the type of partner who will offer you the best chance of a compatible relationship. Klein gives the example of a married couple who were very similar to each other. “The woman explained to me that she and her husband were virtual twins. She said her husband was her best friend, she identified with him completely and they understood each other extremely well. But she hadn’t been turned on by him since before they were married.”

So how do we find the right partner? Klein has a system she uses in workshops of getting participants to identify their personality types. She has identified five basic personalities: the perfectionist; the try-harder; the hurrier; the stiff-upper lipper and the doormat.

Most of us, she says, have two predominant traits, but some have only one. Some of these types are more compatible than others. Klein says: “For example, the perfectionist and the hurrier tend to be complimentary. The perfectionist can be a stick in the mud and has a tendency to be obsessive, compulsively organised and reliable, whereas the hurrier is unreliable, spontaneous, adventure-loving and a risk-taker. These types can be very complimentary.”

But she warns that perfect compatibility does not exist. “If we fancied someone who didn’t remind us of any of the pain we have experienced in our lives they wouldn’t turn us on. We’re attracted by both joy and pain. This is what is so hard to understand. If you handed someone a perfect relationship, they would end up bored”.

To illustrate her point Klein gives me a questionnaire to fill out. There are 25 questions. Each one corresponds to a certain personality type. By totting up the answers you arrive at a broad definition of your personality. Interestingly, Klein feels that Jews have a greater tendency towards a perfectionist personality. My predominant traits come out as try-harder and stiff-upper lip. Klein says I would need a partner with complimentary traits. She thinks a combination of perfectionist and doormat would help to unlock my relationship potential. “A perfectionist would help drag your potential out of you while the doormat side would be nice to you — not quarrelsome.”

Her workshop is designed for singles and also for couples who want to explore the potential of their relationships. The key, she says, is that: “We should not think of ourselves as a single personality, but rather as a series of component parts.”

Which are you. perfectionist or doormat?

Mavis Klein identifies five basic personality types. Most people, she says, have traits fitting two of the catagories.

The Perfectionist: The kind of obsessive who always waits for the train on exactly the same spot on the platform and double checks that the door is locked before bedtime.

The Stiff-upper lip: A leader who is marvellous in a crisis, gets on with things, and rises at 6am to go for an early morning swim every day.

The Doormat: Helps blind men and old ladies across the road, contributes to charity, sends everyone birthday and Chanucah cards, and is generally committed to doing the right thing.

The Try-harder: Deeply sympathetic to the cause of the underdog, is an ardent and tireless worker for a political party (usually left-wing), and uses wit to deflate the pompous and smug. Can also lack confidence.

The Hurry-up: Lively, spontaneous and active. Has a devil-may-care attitude to most things and is ready to do anything that promises immediate excitement.

How to Choose the One is at the Britannia Centre, London N12 on January 14. Details on 07595 342 491 or 07956 559 054.

Last updated: 10:35am, January 7 2010