What an amazing word, it brings to mind a world where each partner equally gives of themselves in order to support and sustain the other. Those moments of conversations are done so that you can be soothed and understood. We as a nation have been raised to believe that if our partner soothes us and lowers our anxiety about the current crisis, we have participated in an intimate moment. Yet, these seemingly loving actions only perpetuated the continuance of the existing stuckness between two people. There is no space for growth or personal development. When the next crisis hits, neither person has the fortitude to take appropriate action.
Unfortunately, that version of intimacy doesn’t produce people who develop themselves so that they are able to as Dr. Schnarch says- love regardless of the circumstances of life. True intimacy is when your partner actually knows you because you have examined yourself and explained who you really are (Schnarch, 1991). After spending the past weekend at a training taught by Dr. Schnarch, I have been thinking about how he views intimacy and its effects on people’s relationships.
Intimacy is only possible when you are willing to take risks. Yet risks only happen because a person is able to stay true to themselves as they stay connected to those around them amidst the emotional turmoil of the situation (Kerr & Bowen, 1988; Schnarch, 1991). The ignition of this intimacy pattern will only happen when a person is tired of their current situation and refuses to participate in their role any longer. However, addressing how they have perpetuated the situation is the start to strengthening of their basic self. As a person develops a greater sense of self, they become more willing and able to take risks. This willingness to take risks is what frees them so that they can experience more moments of intimacy with their partner (Schnarch, 1991).
On the surface this process seems very cyclical, one must take risks to develop their basic self which enables them to take risk. Yet, it makes a lot of sense. Let’s take an example of a wife who is tired of her partner not participating in the household chores. She manages her own full-time job, the childcare needs and her family’s general care. Her anxiety tells her that she is taking a risk in speaking to her partner about the situation. She thinks that he may not like what she has to say and may decide to stay later at work each night, he may become frustrated with her for what he might term as her “nagging”, or he may just dismiss her frustration out of hand and ignore her. At this point she has two choices; she can stay frustrated in the current situation or address the fact that she dislikes bearing a disproportionate weight of the family responsibility. Tolerating her anxiety, she speaks to her partner about her dissatisfaction. In speaking to her partner she has begun her personal growth and started to develop a stronger sense of self. It is in that moment of discussing her true self that she creates intimacy since he now knows her better because she was willing to express herself. This interaction has also given the relationship a new opportunity to develop as they discuss the management of household chores.
While this example is very simple and somewhat stereotypical, the ideals are solid. Each person within a relationship is responsible for their own personal development and for creating the moments in which they can be intimate with their partner. As relationships develop the risks become greater so that stepping out and speaking up becomes even more angst driven, but the rewards are that you develop a relationship where your partner is one with which to walk beside throughout a lifetime (Schnarch, 1991). A partner with which to walk beside throughout a lifetime, that is the kind of partner that is deserving of intimacy.
These are not new nor unobtainable concepts, but they do require taking that first step and deciding that you are no longer willing to tolerate the situation in which your relationship exists. With that realization, you are now ready to move forward into intimacy.
Kerr, M.E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. New York, NY: W.W. Norton
Schnarch, D. M., (1991). Constructing the sexual crucible: An integration of sexual and marital
therapy. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.