Saturday, November 3, 2012

Intimacy: Longing and Fear

Why do so many of us yearn for intimacy yet unconsciously sabotage it? What are we afraid of? An awesome part of our humanity is to love and crave a soul mate and companion with whom we can share our hearts and our lives. Why is achieving this wonderful and most basic human longing so complicated?
        Let me give you the short version of the answer to that question.  Obviously, the answer is as complex as each individual situation - but I will give you some broad stroke thoughts on the answer. This is after all, Marriage Therapy 101.
     This profound longing for closeness and intimacy can stir up equally profound and often unconscious fears.  A fear of abandonment, for example, is a common anxiety that starts to stir.  If you have had a loss earlier in your life, say the loss of a parent by death or divorce, that fear of abandonment is easy to trace in a concrete sort of way.  Sometimes it's just a free floating fear without an easily traceable source.
     Here's how this issue can get re-enacted in real time.  Let's say a couple is taking baby steps towards feeling closer and more intimate. Seemingly out of nowhere, they are bickering and conflictual. One or the other has made a seemingly random comment that pushed the other's buttons and an argument has ensued.    
      What just happened here?  As they were tiptoeing into the waters of increased closeness and bonding, an unconscious fear of intimacy kicked in for one or the other or both of them.  They are not consciously aware of picking a fight because they are afraid of being close.  It happened unconsciously and served it's purpose.  Although they are no longer as close as they were a few minutes ago, the unconscious fear of abandonment which they were not conscious of in the first place has gone away as well.
     Now what?  In our intimacy scenario that we have described here, the couple squabble until they are now more separate then they were in the beginning of this encounter.  Once they have pushed each other apart, reconciling behavior kicks in.They don't want to lost the other person. One or the other starts to make up until they are back at the original place they were when this all started.
     When I was training at the Family Institute many years ago, we called this The Intimacy Feedback Loop. We learned that there were predictable patterns of intimacy that couples learned to dance with one another which were to some degree calibrated by their unconscious fears of intimacy.
     Thirty years of practice and a lot of life later, I have learned that couples don't always fit into a tidy little diagram.  Life is messier and more wonderful then that. However, there is something to this model.  What fears might you have of intimacy? Once they are conscious and you are aware that they are in the mix, you can avoid re-enacting them.  Feel free to send them along under the comment section. I will be happy to address them in a highly confidential manner on this blog.
      I love the saying from the 12 Step Programs, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  It is possible for a couple to change their dance of intimacy.  I see it every day and it warms my heart.  Well, maybe not every day but often enough to know it's possible.


No comments:

Post a Comment