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Intimacy: The Heart of a Meaningful Life

 

       I have been a practicing clinical psychologist for many years and in that time I have seen clients from many countries and all walks of life. Despite their diverse backgrounds if I were asked what is the one common, elusive aspect of life that all humans, regardless of circumstance long for I would have to say sustained intimacy.

         Most people can create intimacy initially but few are able to sustain rich intimacy with a spouse, friends, children and colleagues that is lasting. Regardless of wealth and professional success in the end if intimacy is missing one’s soul is devoid of the richness intimacy provides. When this occurs it creates a desperate sense, a growing uneasiness inside that prevents calmness and ongoing joy.

     People start to feel more anxious and begin to look for ways to ease the emotional pain caused by the ongoing yearning for love. This state of mind can lead to addictions, depression, anxiety and an ongoing sense that life has lost its meaning.

     I can always discern the quality of a person’s internal life once I understand the degree of intimacy a particular individual has been able to create and foster.  No matter how successful individuals are in other areas of life if intimacy is lacking the spirit of the individual will falter and grow weak over time.

     What are the ways you can begin to foster the kind of closeness you desire?

         First of all remember your self-care is an important factor in your ability to be present. If you’re eating poorly, not exercising, abusing alcohol, and not sleeping adequate hours you are probably not in a position to maintain intimacy. If you’re not feeling alive it is hard to listen to those close to you in a manner that conveys interest, patience and a willingness to go beyond the surface of relating.

         Knowing how to listen and express empathy are also critical keys to fostering closeness. Listening from an empathic position requires a willingness to enter the world of the other person while leaving your own preoccupations, biases, and judgments behind. This ability needs to be practiced and improved regularly. It is an art that makes another person feel heard and deeply understood. It is an ability that allows you to truly understand the heart and soul of the person you love.  It is not enough to understand, you must be willing to put your understanding into action, into words and behaviors. Nothing is more powerful in establishing a close bond as being able to listen and respond in the manner I am describing. I have worked with couples on the brink of divorce and once they have followed this formula over time they often create a degree of sustained intimacy they have never experienced in their lives.

   First you need to take good care of yourself. Secondly this allows you to be in a position to listen and respond on a deeper level that goes beyond the surface to the heart of those you love. In a romantic relationship you also have to develop a mature understanding of sexuality. In the Power of Empathy we stated that “ We touch bodies when we have sex, but we can only touch hearts and souls with empathy guiding the way………what we seek in the sexual experience is not simply the release of tension but the momentary merger of two souls that simultaneously confirms and expands the relationship between us. This is ultimate intimacy, the moment when two hearts and two souls join together as one”.  This experience allows us to feel more affectionate as we age with our changing appearance as we have a deep love for the person, far beyond the surface and deep within the essence of the person before us. 

     This is just a brief overview of how to essentially grow love and intimacy. I welcome your questions and comments as this is a complex process that deserves more space and time.

Celebrity Divorce Creates Anxiety in Shaky Marriages

The heralded splits of Tiger and Elin, John and Kate have made many marriages wrought with conflict seem in doubt of surviving. Try to remember that celebrity marriages are no different than yours, we all tend to fall in love (the easy phase) with an idealized view of our partner. It is exciting, changes our neurochemistry, and lifts our spirits tremendously in the early going.

The early phase, which I call Image Love, is partly based on our longings at the time. Most often these longings represent insecurities in ourselves we unconsciously hope to resolve through our new found love. Of course, as time progresses disappointment can set in as we discover the real person in front of us. He or she can’t possibly make up for our past hurts and doubts. Some couples don’t realize this is happening and they think they have fallen out of love. Not realizing this phase is the juncture of where true, mature love begins.

If we have the courage to take responsibility for our own shortcomings we can begin the process of healing and changing. If we blame our partner we find ourselves disillusioned and extremely discouraged. Our eyes start to drift to the next new love that can solve our life long problems.

My wife and I are in our 30th year of marriage. We have had our ups and downs and have had major disagreements over time. As the initial “falling in love” phase slipped away and the real relationship began we struggled to a degree as all couples do. The early physical attraction and ability to connect verbally was our beginning foundation but not enough to make for a sound, resilient love.

What happened over time that made the relationship as powerful as it is today? Falling in love progressed over time to loving each other’s character; the person deep within was discovered and revealed. I can remember seeing my wife care for my dying mother, caring for our very ill oldest daughter, delivering her mother’s eulogy with grace and wisdom, loving my dad as he became depressed after my mother’s death. I have watched her sing to her father in a nursing home, as he lies motionless and unresponsive. I marvel as I view her excitement for our adult daughter’s careers, her unselfish love for them along with the inordinate interest she takes in all aspects of their lives. Her support and belief in me has always been a constant. Even the care and love she has shown to our puppies is unselfish and devoted.

When my mother died my dad said her funeral was like the “league of nations”. People of all religions, races and ethnic backgrounds attended. My wife is the same way, she makes friends from all walks of life and she loves diversity. She abhors prejudice and bias and is deeply affected by human beings mistreating others. She can sense arrogance and opportunism miles away.

At this moment she is planning for Christmas day, my favorite day of the year because she makes it a wondrous experience. I share all of these experiences to say that my love for her is greater than ever, not because we agree on every major point, we do not. Not because she is idealizing and adoring of me, she is not. Not because she needs me, she does not. But my love has grown to its depth because of who she is, her essential character.

If you’re going to work through difficulties in your relationship you must develop love for each other’s character, the essential person deep within. It is always revealed at the most difficult times, not the days at the beach.

Don’t be threatened by hearing of the stars marital demise, even though the pundits spin stories daily we have few actual facts about their lives. Don’t be threatened if there are days when you question whether you made the wrong decision. It is normal to have doubts. It is also critical to express your dissatisfaction, to address conflict directly, with tact and empathy for your partner. When we love with all our hearts we get hurt, it is often not intentional. Try not to personalize every hurtful encounter, try to understand the perspective of your partner. And most importantly work hard to identify the areas of difficulty you brought into the marriage. He or she is not responsible for your past, but if you take responsibility for your own shortcomings your spouse is more likely to help you work through your sensitivities.

Always remember marriage is more work in the beginning and more joy as years go by. As understanding of yourself and your spouse is increased your relationship can become a great friendship and one that many will admire. A wonderful benefit for your efforts is that your children will have a model for love and conflict resolution that will guide them in their relationships throughout their lives.

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