Intimacy: The Alchemy Of Fear

What a privilege it is to witness the hearts and minds of the couples I see in my therapy practice. It’s humbling to be in the presence of two people sincerely plumbing the depths of human experience: How to see and be seen, how to understand and be understood, and how to love and be loved? Our hearts are eminently delicate even when they appear calloused and hardened, and so all the more delicate. When I experience two hearts/minds struggling to both give and receive, my heart opens and my humanity is replenished.

Couples therapist Dr. David Schnarch writes, “Intimacy is not for the faint of heart” and yet I also believe that deep intimacy takes courage; courage that always contains fear. Fear is intrinsic to human experience (
and essential to human survival) and is the very expression of our fragile and vulnerable hearts (also the root of our anger and defensiveness). When we acknowledge and accept our vulnerabilities as human beings, tenderness and compassion naturally arise and fear need not confound us. Just being human is a profound experience itself. What a blessing to be reminded of all this through the people who reveal their lives to me every day. --Doug

Why I'm A Couple Therapist

Couple therapy has been universally described as the most difficult form of counseling for therapists to do. No doubt there are many reasons for this sentiment. Often there is just so much invested on a successful outcome to therapy that emotions run deep and very raw for the couple; the therapist can’t help but be impacted by that intensity too. It’s good that therapists are impacted because experiencing those emotions with awareness keeps therapists grounded in the truths of that relationship. Those truths are often universal and the therapist can use experiences from her/his own life to remain connected with what the couple experiences.

In 2014 I decided to stop working with individuals and families and focus only on counseling couples. I could list several reasons (personal, philosophical, and practical) for why I made this decision.
Fundamentally, however, it’s because I realized just how greatly I enjoy the work and appreciate the vulnerability of my client couples. Furthermore, to continually improve my skill with couples takes time and focus. (See my continuing education hours.)

Couple therapy is different from individual and family therapy for many reasons: The unique intensity, the inherent and diverse issues of intimacy, and because two adults are simultaneously yearning for love,
confidence, and understanding. As a couple therapist, I help the individuals in the couple communicate their fears, hopes, and hurts in ways that reveal their tender hearts without attacking their partners; those are moments of deep intimacy and connection.

There are many reasons I only work with couples and here’s one other that’s more personal: Experiencing relationship as a source of joy is something I repeatedly work on in my own life. Everything I present to you in our couple sessions is something I am actively attending to. Our work together is never about unfounded theory; it reflects on my life too. --Doug

"So Happy Together": Building Confident Relationships

Remember the ‘60s song by The Turtles? “Imagine me and you; I do. I Think about you day and night . . .So happy together.” Since the dawn of romance both men and women have been professing love for their beloved. In popular music these declarations are often a testament of the crooner’s desire for the beloved, something along the lines of “without you I am nobody.”

Popular culture reflects truths about the culture as a whole. Many people believe that once they are with someone they love the relationship will give them happiness. Intimate relationships certainly can inspire happiness. They can also generate fear, anxiety, worry, and even depression. The truth is that many of us, perhaps most, hunger for the joy and run from the pain.

Cultivating the kind of trust and happiness we desire in relationship requires us, I believe, to transparently reveal ourselves to those we love. Doing so forges intimacy. There is a risk in this, however; that either you or your partner may experience pain through the process of authentic self-disclosure. “Intimacy,” writes Dr. David Schnarch, “is not for the faint of heart.”

While many factors can contribute to happy relationships, I believe it is confidence that deeply promotes happiness. One aspect is the confidence within yourself to
soothe your own hurt and pain when the mud and arrows fly. Confidence grows as you learn to take responsibility for and attend to your own emotional pain. In doing so it becomes easier to reveal yourself to your mate (whatever the perceived risk) and to accept the same from her/him without blaming. You can increasingly trust your ability to self-soothe.

Most of us, I believe, desire a partner who is emotionally strong and supportive. We’d like someone who can skillfully weather the inevitable problems in the relationship. But there’s a ‘catch’ with this: We desire this so that
we can relax; we want to feel safely supported by a confident and calm mate. In other words, we want our mate to soothe us when the relationship feels rough. What we rarely realize is that he/she probably desires the same in reverse.

One facet that helps confident relationships grow is learning to trust one’s own ability to self-soothe. As we build trust in ourselves we can also begin to trust that our partner is attending to herself/himself in much the same way. Relationship has many enjoyable benefits. Trusting that you and your partner can take responsibility for your own emotional pain can help you be happy together. --Doug

Intimacy Begins with Self-Intimacy

This blog is about deepening intimacy in relationship. By intimacy I mean to say an experience in which people authentically and intentionally reveal themselves; reveal their internal emotional experience of self, their struggles, hopes, and desires. Intimate relationships, I believe, always begin with self-intimacy; this is because, in order to authentically reveal myself to another, I must first reveal myself to me. This is not so obvious as might first appear.

Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we feel uncomfortable with or discouraged about. Because there is stress or emotional pain associated with such aspects, many people cope with that stress by suppressing or repressing thoughts associated with the pain. Depending on the circumstances, coping in these ways can be helpful. However, although these aspects are hidden from conscious awareness, they are still expressed through a person’s behavior. Unconscious expression of hidden emotion can lead to behaviors that cause people added pain.

The first step toward healing pain of any kind is acknowledging and accepting that pain within yourself; that’s self-intimacy. In time this may lead to deeper awareness of hidden emotion that gets expressed unconsciously (sometimes called ‘sideways behavior’). From this place of awareness you may more confidently reveal your internal experiences to your mate or partner. Another word for this is transparency. When we cultivate intimacy with ourselves and with others we become more transparent and more accepting of ourselves.

Here’s the takeaway: Intimacy is cultivated through revealing your internal emotions to others. If you would like to deepen emotional intimacy with someone start by deepening your awareness of your own internal process: your likes and dislikes, your fears and your joys. Examine more closely what it’s like being you in all aspects of living your life. No doubt that examination will be a mix of appreciation and discomfort; and with practice you can accept the fullness of your life (both the pain and the joy) and more confidently reveal yourself to others. --Doug