Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Intimacy -- a True Learning Curve

   I've been thinking about intimacy lately. I've been watching two friends get married and self-destruct. Actually couple-destruct. I'm hoping that it ends up being self-building. If they had a little more self, they wouldn't be so afraid to be intimate.
   I'm not talking about sex. I don't think sex is the problem. Their honeymoon was "perfect." I'm talking about the relationship (not sex either); the coming together of two beings in safety. Safe enough to abandon themselves to each other. Safe enough to trust themselves to the other. That is the stuff of good sex. That is true intimacy. Without it you've got mechanics that are pretty dependable -- at least for younger men -- but not very satisfying for women, and problematic for older men.
   So why are they struggling now? They've hit the wall, or maybe it's a rite of passage, that every marriage goes through: The power struggle. How much of my wants and needs can I give up to fill your wants and needs and still maintain my identity? How much can I give before you take advantage of me? How much can I insist on my way before you leave? It's tortuous terrain, difficult to navigate even with a strong sense of self--what we call "solid self" in family systems therapy. A self definitely helps.
   The stronger their identity, the more likely couples are to negotiate commitment easily, because the stronger your solid self is, the less painful it is to give. Not to be confused with a "pleaser" who has learned "giving" as a defense mechanism or lifestyle. Giving is their modus operandi --it's what they do--it is their identity. They have an easy time giving, but huge solid-self deficits.  If your identity is strong you can give in to another's need, even want, and not have your world rocked. You adapt.
   Unless, of course what they want you to give goes against your solid self. But hopefully by the time you get married, you know the person's belief system and moral fabric. That's why it takes time to love which is 90% commitment. But once you know someone, really know and have chosen that partner, most of the rest of it is about stuff. And stuff is negotiable. Remember "When Harry met Sally"...
   "You really hate that beautiful wagon-wheel coffee table? I love that! It's my favorite piece of furniture!"
    And even that can go.
   If you find yourself fighting over stuff or space or who has the power, just know that power-grabbing is any enemy of love. If you have to hang onto power or insist on your rights, take a look inside. How comfortable are you with yourself? Can you let go of things for the good of your beloved? Can you give until it hurts? When it begins to hurt, re-evaluate. What is more important--power or love? If you have to have all the power, then your partner is not safe. Safe power is shared power. Love is safety, not power. That is the message from the cross.