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Seidenberg, R. (1970). Noli Me Tangere!. Psychoanal. Rev., 57(2):196-202.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Review, 57(2):196-202

Noli Me Tangere!

Robert Seidenberg, M.D.

The water's wide, I cannot cross; Neither have I the wings to fly. Give me a boat that will carry two, And both shall row—my love and I.


Many metaphors exist involving the sea and matrimony. Together with the achievement of the voyage and the joys along the way, there are difficulties and dangers. Storms and shoals, being struck or becalmed, and other external threats are to be expected. But where is the captain (in either situation) who fears internal threats? He is not likely to consciously mistrust his own management. And he certainly does not expect mutiny. If it occurs, he is nonplussed. The voyage may continue, but it can scarcely be a happy one. Less dramatic but more familiar, the boat being rowed by two may go on toward the other side of the lake if one stops rowing, but the trip is bound to be erratic. Unfortunately, this happens often in marriage. The owl and the pussycat were atypical marriage partners, if we assume that their bliss continued wherever that pea-green boat went.

A common form of mutiny in marriage is the withdrawal of one partner from the other. He or she “stops rowing,” and in extreme cases will have nothing to do with the other. “Don't touch me!” the partner says, and is no longer a partner. Eventually there follows emotional chaos—silence, harassment, violence, alcoholism, going home to mother, a triangle or quadrangle, separation or divorce, or other suffering—unless the motivation for withdrawal can be uncovered, understood, and dealt with.

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