When they met, she loved how he pursued his musical passions. He loved how they could have intellectually stimulating conversations for hours. That was 20 years ago and before three kids. What they wanted and needed in their 20s differs from what they need now. They’ve developed bad habits and don’t know how to fix it. They know it will take both of them, but they more easily focus on blaming the other person for the negative pattern.
And if you’ve been in a relationship for more than a minute, you may feel exactly as they do.
They love each other. But love is overrated.
Love will not get you out of the destructive patterns. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.
So what will help you make the changes you so long for?
It’s not sex and it’s not constant agreement. Intimacy is the intersection of truth and love.
Genuine intimacy requires skills that move you beyond the self into connection with the entity between you…the relationship, which is it’s own unique force created by the two of you.
Moving deftly between “me, my needs, my interests” and “we, our needs, what’s in our best interest” is where true intimacy lives.
The poet Rilke once advised a friend that a good marriage does not create “a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries,” but rather appoints the other “guardian of his solitude.” Rilke’s comments, applicable to all committed partnerships, point to the mutual respect and clear-eyed seeing that form the basis for genuine intimacy.
Here are 10 ways to attain it.
- Bring up difficult subjects.
- Listen with openness to feedback.
- Attempt to elicit a fuller range of feelings during discussions and disagreements.
- Respect your partner’s desire for greater distance or closeness as expressing a need for comfort—not a personal rejection.
- Listen without comment during disagreements despite strong feelings being stirred.
- Maintain perspective. See your partner as a human, not a deity or demon.
- Be honest with yourself. True intimacy with another can’t happen until we are intimate with ourselves.
- Dare to expose your imperfections and fears.
- Avoid depending on your partner to fulfill all your needs.
- Don’t use affection, sex, and loving behavior to reward or punish.
Rilke reminds us of the connection between intimacy and a healthy ability to maintain what’s separate: “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings, an infinite distance continues to exist, a wonderful living side-by-side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible to see each other whole and against a wide sky!”