People often think they want more agreement in order to gain a feeling of intimacy. They often mistake intimacy with a feeling of closeness or “being one with their partner.” So in their quest for intimacy, they anticipate what their partner’s beliefs are in order avoid saying something incompatible or controversial. If they foresee disapproval, they screen themselves and limit their expression to what’s tried and true between them. Or they pressure their partner into agreeing with their own position.
Unfortunately, this kind of self-screening and manipulation starts the cycle of emotional fusion (co-dependence), which curtails growth and intimacy within a relationship. Fear of disapproval leads to one or both partners striving to be in complete agreement with the other and avoid rocking the boat. As a result, the relationship becomes tedious and lackluster.
How intimacy develops
Intimacy develops when people get to know each other more deeply. When two people conceal who they are and what they think in order to get along, they do not get to know one another well. Intimacy develops when two people are able to express who they are more fully, and when they are able to change and grow while within a relationship, even though this does not always lead to a feeling of oneness. Passion requires friction, albeit not hostile friction.
Tolerating the anxiety of intimacy
To be able to express who you are, what you feel, and what you believe requires being able to handle rejection, which often triggers anxiety. Thus, by developing a better tolerance for anxiety, you enhance your ability to deepen the intimacy in your relationship.
Of course there is a limit as to what you should express to others. You don’t need to share every thought and feeling, because you don’t want to become a bore. Moreover, there is a point where consideration and discretion count more than blunt honesty and openness.
Get comfortable with discomfort
When it comes to more significant thoughts and feelings, we need to learn to express ourselves despite the other person’s potentially-negative response. If we learn to handle 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 can then 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 “correct” or attack people 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 endorsed. Yet he or she will feel understood and respected.
“I understand what you’re saying. I see it a little differently though.”
“I’m interested to hear why you see it that way.”
“Interesting. I have a different perspective.”
Intimacy develops when we learn to listen with equanimity and to reveal ourselves, our opinions, and our feelings respectfully. Only by truly getting to know one another, do we develop meaningful, intimate relationships.
by Dr. Alison Poulsen