Guessing game: Cycle of fusion
People often mistake intimacy with a feeling of closeness and “being one” that comes from all-encompassing agreement and approval, similar to the feeling of falling in love. So in their quest for intimacy, they will anticipate the other person’s response before saying something controversial or showing a new side of themselves. If they foresee disapproval, they will screen themselves and limit their expression to what’s tried and true between them. Or they subtly pressure the other person into approving of them.
Unfortunately, too much self-screening and manipulation start the cycle of emotional fusion (co-dependence) and lead away from growth and intimacy in a relationship.
Agreement vs intimacy
Two people don’t get to know one another intimately when they conceal who they are and what they think. Moreover, relationships become tedious when people are always in complete agreement.
Intimacy develops when people express who they are more fully, even though this does not always lead to a feeling of oneness. People may say they want more intimacy, but in fact it may be too much for many to tolerate.
Tolerating the anxiety of intimacy
To deepen intimacy, two people must get to know each other more deeply. They each have to be able to express who they are, what they feel, and what they believe. This requires being able to handle the possibility of not getting approval, which can trigger anxiety. Thus, by developing a better tolerance for anxiety, you enhance your ability to deepen intimacy.
Of course there is some limit as to what you should express to others. You don’t need to share every thought and feeling. There is a point where consideration and discernment count more than blunt honesty and openness. You also don’t want to bore someone else, or yourself, by expressing every thought you have.
Get comfortable with discomfort
Regarding more significant thoughts and feelings, however, we need to learn to express ourselves despite the other person’s potentially-negative response. If we get comfortable with discomfort, we no longer need to feign agreement, laugh at a poor joke, or dumb down our conversation to avoid upsetting another person. Our relationships will be based on stimulating thoughts, growth, and authenticity, rather than sham consensus.
Intimate relationships develop best when we express our honest opinions respectfully, and most importantly, when we really listen to another person’s message without shutting him or her down. This means not being reactive — sarcastic, angry, or cold — when someone has an opinion that we disagree with. When we attack someone aggressively for their ideas, we’re not encouraging them to be open and honest with us.
Respectful communication is different from acceptance and approval. Good communication does not necessarily make the other person feel his or her opinions are validated. Yet, it does not make the other person feel attacked either.
Learn to reveal yourself, your opinions, and feelings respectfully, and to listen with equanimity. You will find that, with the right people, you will truly get to know one another, and develop meaningful, intimate relationships.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD