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 Be In Relationship?

Recently I was meeting with an individual client who was questioning her relationship. We discussed differentiation and how expecting her partner to comfort her in the middle of a tense disagreement was a recipe for her continued disappointment and suffering. (Not because her partner is "bad" or "wrong", but because at those painful moments he's trying his best, just like her, to hang-in there with his pain.) Nodding her understanding, she suddenly blurted out, "Then what's the point? If my boyfriend isn't [behaving like I want him to], why would I want to be in a relationship?"

"I can give you at least two reasons," I replied.

First, humans are just social animals by nature. We desire closeness because our survival as a species has been historically dependent on it. A particular person’s social interests may take different forms, of course. “Pairing up” is not necessarily for everyone. In general, however, human survival for 200,000 years has depended on emotional bonding and social cooperation. It’s intrinsic to who we are as a species. Without fangs or claws, humans needed close bonding to survive. We can’t
not bond.

Second (and perhaps most interesting to me), intimate relationship is an opportunity to develop your own sense of self. Another way to say this is that being in relationship provides repeated opportunity for deepening psychological maturity. David Schnarch, Ph.D. calls marriage “a people growing machine.” I believe all human growth is tied into relationship.
Your partner provides an unmatched opportunity for you to deeply understand yourself. Being in relationship helps you psychologically develop, stretch, and grow.

So, if you’d like to deepen your understanding of yourself, get into an emotionally bonded relationship. It’s a real education. --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