The other day a few colleagues of mine were discussing intimacy on a lunch break. The one had his own therapy group that was focused on the topic of intimacy and he was expressing his distress in how often people sign up for the groups on topics like “anxiety”, “depression” and “grief” but few wanted to sign up for the intimacy group.
“People don’t want to be intimate anymore”, one of my colleagues said in response to his distress, “We’re living in a separate individualistic culture”.
“Yeah, a lot of people are just focused on their phones and technology now,” said another, “Nobody really wants intimacy”.
Up until this point in the discussion I was merely an observer, like a bird looking in through the window, but I felt an urge to say something to add my own two cents. “Well, I think the problem is that people don’t like conflict,” I said, “and you need to be able to work through conflict in order to be more intimate”.
Now, of course, when I say this I don’t mean that we need to have conflict in order to be intimate. There are plenty of relationships out there that are full of conflict and the intimacy is severely lacking. However, what I do mean is that by avoiding conflict, we are also avoiding more intimacy.
Contrary to what some may think, intimacy is far more than just sex. Sex is just a mere expression of physical intimacy. But there’s also intimacy on an emotional level.
When we’re emotionally intimate with someone, we are then able to share someone our true emotions. Our sadness. Our fears. Our worries. And even our anger.
By becoming emotionally intimate, we allow ourselves to slowly and gradually be more and more seen by another person. It creates more love and deepens the relationship. The other person is better able to know us for who we truly are and we are then better able to know the other person.
This process isn’t easy. In fact, it’s terrifying because it requires us to be incredibly vulnerable. To be intimate requires us to take down our defenses and expose ourselves with another person with the hope that this other person is going to react with acceptance and love.
And for most of us we haven’t had that reflected to us in our childhood. We’re used to being judged and shamed. We’re used to feeling guilty. We’re used to not being accepted.
We’re not used to other people giving us a safe and loving space for us to express our emotions and to simply say something like, “I know that’s tough. I’m here for you and I love you no matter what”.
I think this is where dealing with conflict makes things tough. Because while we want to be accepted and loved by another person, conflict can feel like the exact opposite of that.
Depending on how we were raised, conflict can feel very rejecting. We may have come to believe that conflict means separation or that fighting leads to the ending of the relationship.
However, the reality is that — and some people have grown up knowing this already — is that conflict is simply a discussion of differences and that it’s naturally a part of being in a relationship.
The reality is that through conflict, if we can communicate in a way where both people take responsibility for themselves and both are able to share their own genuine internal experience, we can actually become much more intimate.
Through conflict we have the opportunity to see another persons’s deep inner wounds, so we can better understand what makes them who they are. We then have the opportunity to give them assurance that all is okay and that they are loved and accepted no matter what regardless.
So how can we better deal with conflict so that we can become more intimate? Here’s a few tips:
#1 – Be aware of your own relationship to conflict
Are you one who avoids conflict at all cost? Do you tend to believe that a happy relationship means no arguing? Do you have difficulty holding the idea that a debate can be healthy and free of anger and resentment?
#2 – Track yourself
When a discussion starts to turn a bit sour, be sure to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Are you angry or anxious? Are you tense?
When we’re triggered and become angry, anxious, tense, or upset, this is when we are unable to think clearly. We literally can’t process information the way we can otherwise because our nervous system is outside of our normal window of tolerance. So it’s important to stop, breath and recognize that you’re triggered.
#3 – Recognize where the other person is and focus on the discussion
Does the other person appear tense and angry? Are they saying things like “you always” or “you never”? If so, then it’s likely that they’re triggered.
Remember how I said we can’t process information clearly when we’re outside our window of tolerance? Well, when you can’t then the other person can’t either. So its important to recognize that and know when to walk away and cool off.
When both are cooled off, then a real discussion can happen.
#4 – Be mindful about language
If you want to be loved and respected then know that the other person deserves to be loved and respected as well. So be mindful about your language by avoiding saying things like “childish” or “selfish”. Avoid saying things that may imply trying to place all the blame on the other person because, realistically, it takes two to tango anyway.
So, do I really think people don’t want intimacy? No, not at all. I think deep down in our core we really truly do want intimacy it’s just that our own wounds and fear get in the way.
How do some of your wounds block you from intimacy? What’s your relationship with conflict? Share in the comments below!