All of us who are living at home with our partners through the COVID experience are having the most intensive opportunity for greater intimacy of our lives. In order to really leverage the opportunity, we need to understand what it is. In addition to the four basic qualities of Self-Knowing, Caring\Trust, Clear Communication, and Honesty explored the last blogpost, comes Acceptance, Appreciation of Difference, Safety, Compassionate Problem Solving, and Emotional Connection.
Intimacy can be about sex and certainly is a major sex enhancer, but sex in and of itself is not necessarily about intimacy. Intimacy is about knowing and being known deeply with and by another person. Unlike falling in love, intimacy does not happen immediately, nor does it have a shelf life. Intimacy is nurtured over time and with constant attention can deepen and have more personal meaning than “falling in love”. Intimacy is at the root of mature romance and defines the quality of relationships.
So why doesn’t everyone have more intimacy? Everyone longs for it wants it, perhaps even needs it. Why do so many marriages go the way of less intimacy and even divorce? For some people, the price of intimacy is too high. The price is revealing yourself to the other person and to yourself warts and all. It’s taking a chance that when you wear oyster heart on your sleeve with your partner they will snatch it away and crush it. For many of us, it means unlearning the lessons of our childhood learned at the feet of our parents who had no clue how to maintain and nurture intimacy in their lives.
If Self-Knowing, Caring\Trust, Clear Communication, and Honesty are the values of intimacy, then Acceptance, Appreciation of Difference, Safety, Compassionate Problem Solving, and Emotional Connection are the action verbs of intimacy.
Acceptance is more than just accepting one another as you are. It’s about accepting the difference between the person you see on another as being and all the missteps to becoming that person. We often choose partners not just for who they are. We see who they aspire to be, and part of our partnership is supporting one another in that aspiration, even when inevitably the other person (or even we) falls flat on their face. This is NOT about getting them to change, rather loving them for who they are in the moment when they are NOT that person we fell in love with who inevitably is a manifestation of some future self that at best will appear in pieces when circumstances and drive reveal them. In order to accept and love our partner for both who they are and who they aspire to be (not who we aspire for them to be), we will need to exercise the next action verb, Appreciation of Difference.
We are drawn to people with different strengths and qualities from ourselves. Part of the life partnership process is that we strengthen one another in individual growth. The danger is that we will eventually resent the other person for having different views or for ordering their values differently than we do. Instead, in these moments of “why can’t they be more…” we need to live in “thank God we are not the same, how boring would that be?”. The strongest partnerships are built on differing and complementary strengths. Appreciation and Acceptance lead to Safety.
When we feel unsafe, it is almost impossible to experience intimacy. Safety is created when there is a harmony of values, principles, and goals. Safety occurs in the environment of shared vision, values, and principles. Identifying sensitive areas within the other person and working with them to create an understanding that even these are safe in your presence takes safety a step further. Often, revealing these personal sensitivities and how to work through them engages compassionate problem-solving.
Compassion is the quality of not only knowing what it is to walk in the shoes of another but to understand how to make that walk a little easier. First, we see through the eyes of our partner. Next, we can begin to address long-standing barriers to intimacy in our partnership. Inevitably, this means foraging through our unconscious minds and revealing the roots of our triggers and/or triggering behaviors. This is the real, in the trenches work of intimacy in a marriage.
Connection does not just happen, it is worked at. As we are so easily distracted by our own development, our own interests, our work passions, it is oh so easy to lose sight of the relationship, to take the vision and values that we share for granted. When we are confronted with Compassionate Problem Solving, for example, we often would rather shelf the problem and focus on our own goals rather than invest in the marriage. This is a pretty normal reaction to several years of marriage particularly when there are children. Once we have children, the temptation to live parallel lives and seek our own satisfaction is subtle, insidious even. Working at emotional connection can change that.