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What Does it Mean to Be Intimate?

Intimacy entails two processes: self-confrontation and then self-disclosure. That is it! Nothing more. It is not about the response your partner gives you. It is not about your partner reciprocating and sharing.

Intimacy is about letting yourself really be known, including parts that you or your partner don’t like. But it’s not just about letting “your uglies” be known. It often involves showing strengths you’ve been hiding, too.

Most approaches to therapy focus on getting your partner to validate and accept what you disclose. “Make it safe for your partner to share.” It would be nice, I guess, if you could count on this but you can’t. And if you try, it inherently limits self-disclosure because you won’t say things your partner won’t approve of or validate.

So our desire for intimacy is often rooted in our quest for a reflected sense of self. We attempt to reduce our anxiety by getting approval from our partner, or demanding agreement. Unfortunately psychotherapy often approaches intimacy this way too. So instead of correcting our problems with differentiation (our having a reflected sense of self and not regulating our anxiety), therapists panders to this lack of differentiation.

There is a real problem with only sharing things that will get approved of. First it is self-limiting. Getting approval becomes more important and more of a priority than truly being known. Eventually depending on your partner’s validation will leads to a stalemate in the relationship and consequently it gives control of the relationship (especially around sex and intimacy) to the lowest common denominator in a relationship.

But intimacy where you validate your own disclosures, when you partner won’t is so much more important for long-term relationship stability. If you want to keep intimacy and sex alive in long-term relationships, you must get to know yourself and be willing to share yourself.

Don’t forget that this process occurs naturally… since most of us go into emotionally committed relationships at a relatively low level of differentiation. When we start relationships, we often depend on each other’s approval and that is what makes gridlock in relationships so common. These problems often show up in a couple therapists’ office as low sexual desire and low intimacy. The only way through the stalemate and gridlock issues of relationships is to be able to validate self. Couple therapies that promote other validated intimacy exacerbate this problem without even realizing it!


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