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 to decide whether to avoid saying something controversial or to show 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 will pressure the other person into agreeing with 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
People do not get to know one another intimately when they conceal who they are and what they think. When two people are always in complete agreement and busy soothing each other’s egos, their relationships become tedious.
Intimacy develops when people express who they are more fully, even when it does not lead to a feeling of oneness. People may say they want more intimacy, but in fact, real intimacy 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, and that 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 others by expressing every thought you have. It’s important, for example, to avoid expressing every criticism or self-criticism that comes to your mind.
Get comfortable with discomfort
If you get comfortable with discomfort, you no longer need to feign agreement, laugh at a poor joke, or dumb down your conversation to avoid upsetting another person. Your relationships will be based on stimulating thoughts, growth, and authenticity rather than sham consensus.
Intimate relationships develop best when you express your honest opinions respectfully, and most importantly, when you 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 you disagree with. When you attack someone aggressively for their ideas, you are not encouraging them to be open and honest with you.
Respectful communication is different from acceptance and approval. Good communication does not necessarily make the other person feel his or her opinions are validated, but it also does not make the other person feel rejected or attacked.
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 that are much more fulfilling than those based on self-screening and validation.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD