This is part two of a four-part series
Though our hearts and minds crave intimacy, the self-revelation it requires is often too daunting for us to master.
Sharing ourselves completely unrestrained with those we love exposes our natural fear of being rejected for being our most authentic selves. Being who we are can be frightening because we naturally worry that others will reject us as we approach them to fulfill natural human needs of approval, emotional compassion, physical closeness, and deep and abiding love when life get tough.
The Seven Intimacy skills offer a practical guide to creating sustainable intimacy, whether you are looking for a sincerer sense of connection with your spouse, more fulfillment in your relationship, trying to improve your relationship with your children, or are wondering how to feel happier with yourself.
Intimacy Begins with Ourselves
We cannot be more intimate with a partner than we are with ourselves because self-knowledge gives us tools to connect to those we love. We can neither buy nor sell intimacy. It comes from within each person who needs to connect deeply for survival and selects others who feel like a match.
Karen loves volunteering at Cape Regional to “help those needier than I am.” Sixty-three pounds overweight, she surreptitiously hides imported white chocolate bars in her roomy day bag as she helps out at the hospital.
For her “treat” to herself, she goes into the lady’s room stall and eats three 14-ounce bars of rich, white chocolate candy instead of nutritious lunches from hospitals the cafeteria.
When I ask her why she maintains secrecy, she looks at her knees and admits, “I know it is bad for me, but I feel so lonely when I leave that the rich, white chocolate is like a pacifier. I do not know how to do it without it."
Karen is using her individual and couples' psychotherapy to learn how to master self-discipline and turn to her husband of 33 years for intimacy she desperately needs. He is giving her a large gift in his willingness to join her at therapy and learn how to nourish and nurture her healthy need for love. They are making slow progress and report that the work is hard but is “worth every penny the insurance is helping us pay for. We only wish we had done this sooner."
Champion Each Other Yearly Because "Skill Makes Love Unending"
As a result of profound advancement in understanding and treating human unhappiness, we now have many couples' experts with extensive training in theory, research and clinical practice in training couples for intimacy, but the first expert, in 2nd Century B.C., was a philosopher, Ovid.
He was correct when he said, “skill makes love unending.” There is no end to the skill level we can amass in intimacy, both with those we love and with ourselves.
We need to grow each era of our lives because fulfilling our intimacy skills bolster our courage and strength from birth to death. These simple skills require dedication and daily practice.
We need to “work in” just as we need to work out to maintain physical prowess and health. The goal for coupled adults, parents and children is to champion each other every day, week, month, year and decade because this skill in connecting creates the capacity to enter into an unending love for family, friends, pets and oneself.
Dwight and Diane entered therapy as a couple as soon as they were engaged at ages 63 and 59.
Dwight, enraged at the ugliness of his divorce, vowed, “I will do this right before I die.” Diane lost her husband and father to her two children to cancer when he was 44 and had to determine how to learn to love another when her heart belonged to a man no longer alive.
Both came to realize that they were enhancing their own life by learning how to love each other skillfully. Now at 81 and 77, they feel jubilant as a result of their hard work in therapy.
“It is never too late to learn to love more skillfully,” Dwight is fond of saying, in this therapy group with other couples.
When I was 16, my brilliant, devoted father pulled me aside and told me one of the most valuable sentences in my life - “Judy, be careful whom you fall in love with." Over six decades later, I look back at over a half-century of successful marriages.
I teach graduate students and clients that intimacy requires self-discipline. I counsel clients to only open themself to someone if they trust their integrity. I warn them to interview prospects carefully, then discuss their hesitations seriously with themself in therapy and with those they trust.
Honor intimacy as part of human attachment. We all need a secure emotional attachment to someone who parents us. Infants must love and attach emotionally to a protective adult. Insecurity in attaching is harmful emotionally to us and our coupled lives.
Research tells us that loneliness is dangerous as we get older. It informs us that a fundamental human need is to love.
I come from a family of 45 cousins, spanning the lives of a few months to over 90 years. Although many of us only see each other at an annual, large family dinner, we know we can turn to each other if needed, and that we will get love and skilled assistance if we request it.
When my first husband became terminally ill, at 48, then dying at 49, this band of cousins embraced me with advice, including whom to date. Although I did not need some of their expertise, the raw strength of the caring and loyalty helped me immeasurably.
When I became engaged to my current husband nearly three years later, one of my assertive cousins said, “Make sure you know him really well. We don’t want any ax-murderers in the family."
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.