Guest post by Amanda Woolveridge
I often hear the word “intimacy” in my therapy room when talking to couples about their relationship. But what does it mean and how do we achieve it and maintain it in our significant relationships?
It isn’t just the domain of our romantic relationships, it goes to the heart of our closest and most endearing relationships with family members and friends too
So if intimacy describes “Into-Me-See,” how do we allow that to happen? When is it okay and when is it not?
Do you struggle with vulnerability?
Often I hear my clients say they “don’t do vulnerable.” When I ask why, they say they see it as a weakness, or they apologise for having a tear – saying they ‘don’t normally do this’.
That is such a common mistake, as being intimate means allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough that your partner sees how wobbly you might be around a certain subject or in the telling of a particular story. Your fragile sense of exposure can be exquisitely uncomfortable and yet so connecting at the same time
Have you ever had the experience of a partner or friend speaking of how they have been struggling with an issue, which was really quite upsetting for them?
Have you felt the first stirrings of the warmth of connection as they speak more about what may have happened, a kind of ‘moving towards’ them with empathy? This is the experience of intimacy.
When intimacy is a missed opportunity
Or perhaps you have you felt the door close on that blossoming feeling as your partner or friend tells you they have dealt with it, possibly quite masterfully, and now the crisis is well and truly over?
Why do you experience a sudden cool current flushing out the warmth?
Because they are safely on the other side of whatever it was that was troubling them and have regained composure. And you were kept out at the time. They did it without reaching out to you, which denied you the chance to be a listening ear, to provide empathy – in short – to be intimate. They didn’t let you see.
“I didn’t realise…” you might begin, feeling a mixture of guilt and hurt simultaneously. You weren’t there for them but – wait – how could you be? They didn’t let you in and a golden opportunity to build trust and intimacy was lost. (We are talking major relationships here – not acquaintances where you may well be right to feel you’ve dodged a bullet!)
Your partner might have been well-intentioned – not wanting to trouble or upset you. But how’s that working out for you? Wouldn’t you rather have had the opportunity to support and nurture them through a tricky time? Wouldn’t you relish the opportunity to create another rich layer in your relationship history? You bet you would. But they have put the block on that, only ‘showing up’ when they are in control again.
It is even worse for you if you know you’ve been vulnerable in front of them, leaving you with the thought: ‘How come they keep it together and I end up being the messy one?” Doesn’t feel good, does it? So what happens next? There is another little tear in the relationship, which starts to weaken the fabric of your bond.
The relational playing field needs leveling otherwise you are consistently going to feel exposed while your partner consistently ‘has it all together.’ Not so good for an equal partnership.
How to respond to your partner after the event
Next time your partner tells you, after the event, about their struggle you might respond like this:
“I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been upset. And I can only imagine how it must have been for you. It sounds like you’ve managed it well. But next time you feel upset, I would like you to share it with me. I’m your partner and that is what partners do. I would love the opportunity to be there for you when you are down. When you tell me afterwards, I feel kind of shut out. I’m sure your intentions were good – perhaps you didn’t want to worry me or maybe you were just plain uncomfortable, looking vulnerable. But I promise you; it will only make me feel more connected to you. And then I know I can be wobbly in front of you without always feeling like the messy one! How does that sound?”
If you can do this, it will make all the difference to the level of connection you feel with your partner and build new neural circuitry in your brain and your partner’s brain, which grows the capacity to be intimate. Your relationship will become a safer and more loving place for each of you.
About the author
Amanda Woolveridge, M.App.Sci, Member AABCAP, is a psychotherapist and couples counsellor with 24 years of experience who currently works from her home consulting room on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Her relational work is largely informed by PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) and her studies in Gestalt, Narrative, and Mindfulness. Find out more about Amanda on her website.