Photo courtesy HAMED MASOUMI

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mary Ann Crossno, LMFT, continues our look at the topic of intimacy and taking your shape.
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 partner 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 partner 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 partner 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 recent comments 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:
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 my childishness (emotional immaturity) led to me blurting out (self-disclosure) an unattractive truth about me.
Was it safe to do so? That’s not a guarantee I had beforehand. He could have used it against me. What I knew was that calling me out on my behavior was one way of potentially interrupting my behavior. I was disclosing myself to my husband as a means of confronting me with me. I got to know me 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 partner to understand you the way you understand yourself
    • “Accept me the way that I am”
    • Asking partner for validation of your inaccurate self-portrait
    • Demanding that your partner 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 partner 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 partner?
Or you can accept that your partner is not you, that you can both love your partner, and love to travel.
Can you think of ways that you and your partner 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.

References:
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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