What’s one of the biggest obstacles to experiencing intimacy in your marriage?
More often than not, the answer is unrealistic togetherness expectations, i.e., idealized or fantasy togetherness. I can hear the objections coming on loud and clear! Think through this with me.
Let’s start with the definition of expectations – for our purposes, we’re going to define expectations as planned disappointment.
What expectations did you bring into your marriage?
Here’s a list of common themes:
1. You want a relationship with your spouse that is
— just like the family you grew up in
– denying the reality of weaknesses in your family of origin
— or nothing like the family you grew up in
– denying the reality of strengths in your family of origin
2. You want your spouse to make up for the damage you experienced in your family of origin either
— by providing what you did not get
– acceptance, validation, approval, security etc. OR
— by accepting your extremes (clinging or distancing) without requiring you to mature
3. You want to feel loved, accepted, and appreciated for your uniqueness and you expect to feel safe and cherished
— Romantic love should make everything right with the world
— If he/she truly loved me, he/she would understand my needs and wants and know what to say or do to meet my needs and wants
4. My spouse wants the same things from our relationship that I want, so if I give him/her what I want, he/she will give it back to me
— A “GIVE TO GET” relationship
How often do you give up or rearrange self for the sake of connection and/or intimacy?
Take a look at some of the common responses I hear about intimacy and notice the expectation of partner trust and reciprocal disclosure as a requirement for greater intimacy.
“Intimacy requires trust in the person we are sharing with.”
“Real intimacy is opening yourself up on all levels to the other person and showing that you trust them to know you and love you for who you really are.”
“The true intimacy and trust, the true union, happens when the other party returns it in kind. They open themselves to you just as thoroughly.”
Does safety (i.e., trust) as a requirement for intimacy, foster true self-disclosure? Or does it foster self-presentation?
Here’s an example of true self-disclosure (taken from an account from a female colleague of mine and her husband):
Husband: What I said was stupid – I shouldn’t have said it.
Me (uh . . . oops!) I mean Wife: Why don’t you just call it what it was – childish! Emotional immaturity!
Husband: Because I’m not a trained professional like you. Can’t we just move on?
Me (uh . . . oops!) I mean Wife: No way! Once you open the door to who is going to act like the biggest kid on the block, I’m gonna win that battle every time!!!
(Both dissolve in laughter, thank goodness)
Was this an intimate moment? You bet it was. Self-awareness in the moment of her childishness (emotional immaturity) led to her blurting out (self-disclosure) an unattractive truth about herself.
Was it safe to do so? That’s not a guarantee she had beforehand. Her husband could have used it against her. What she knew was that calling her out on her behavior was one way of potentially interrupting her behavior.
The beauty of this scene was she was disclosing herself to her husband as a means of confronting her with her. The reward? She got to know herself in the presence of him!
Here’s what we know about intimacy and intimacy expectations:
- Intimacy is just as likely to be disconcerting and uncomfortable as it is to be warm and fuzzy.
- Obsession with intimacy leads to less satisfying relationships
- People who pursue only intimate relationships limit the pleasure and freedom of less demanding relationships
- Seeking understanding is often a demand for your spouse to understand you the way you understand yourself
- “Accept me the way that I am”
- Asking spouse for validation of your inaccurate self-portrait
- Demanding that your spouse understand what you yourself haven’t figured out about you
Many times the complaint about lack of intimacy is actually the inability to tolerate the intense awareness of self and/or other.
When your spouse tells you that they have no interest in travel, knowing full well that you love to travel, what happens to you?
Do you feel rejected and unloved?
Do you appreciate your partner’s willingness to tell you who he/she is, whether you like it or not?
Do you immediately plan to give up travel . . . or get a new spouse?
Or you can accept that your spouse is not you, that you can both love your spouse, and love to travel.
Can you think of ways that you and your spouse might deal with the challenges presented by your differences?
A truly intimate relationship is the meeting place of two separate but congruent realities. It’s the leap of faith – that showing up with the real me is the only pathway to experience intimacy.
Freeman, D.S. (1992). Family therapy with couples: The family-of-origin approach. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation. NY: W. W. Norton.
Schnarch, D. M. (1991). Constructing the Sexual Crucible: An integration of sexual and marital therapy. New York: W.W. Norton.
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