MANAGING INTIMACY

relationship difficulties

“My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem, but they don’t really know me”

Love Songs, Ballads & Bullshit…

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” With this opening lyric of a cover song made famous by Three Dog Night, reminds us in a vividly emotional way of the incredibly deep need to be seen, recognized, valued and connected with others, and in particularly, our choice of a paired mate. In fact, the need, desire and ambition of experiencing this level of intimacy is driving a multi-billion dollar segment of the music industry. While we can guffaw at love songs and ballads as bullshit, we wouldn’t be human without them. Love songs are not the only art form to recognize the power of intimacy and the primacy of touch; Michelangelo deftly depicted this when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where he chose to showcase God extending his hand and touch towards Adam to depict touch as the gift of life.

Our Biological Nature

We are a social creature by nature. It is part of our mammalian heritage to exhibit non-independent organizational patterns and to act in a social cooperative manner, seeking companionship, refuge and rejuvenation amongst members of their own kind. As a social species, we are ill-equipped to deal with all of life’s ordeals in a solitary manner and in its absence, it will adversely impact the quality and nature of one’s physical health, welfare and longevity, as many highly public health studies have pointed out.

Babies who wither and die and other not so happy-endings

Touch is a deep primal need. It is reflected in the manner in which we raise our young and while science is just getting around to formally recognizing this, it has long been understood that babies who are held, touched and caressed thrive, those that are denied tactile stimulation wither and die, as 13th Century German Emperor Frederick III, so callously observed in conducting empirical research during that time. While we appreciate an infant’s need to be held and touched in order to appropriately grow and develop emotionally and physically, we fail to realize that the need for connection and physical tactile stimulation never goes away, but don’t take my word for it. Even for the Manosphere this post struck a deep chord that resonated with many of us, because we know it to be true. We know of the dark places and of the abyss of isolation, alienation and desolation. Even if we’ve never been there ourselves, we know it exists, but never has it so openly been addressed, so directly within the community from someone who has journeyed there and returned. “Misogyny. No child was ever born with it”. Misogyny isn’t the worst that happens when we send our boys along this path. We should be lucky if misogyny is the only result.

In a world of 7 Billion people

In a world of 7 Billion people we are awfully alone. Technology has provided us ways in which to stay informed and abreast with society and culture at large and to create and to tap into social networks globally and locally, all the while increasing the rate of personal autonomy. Strangely the Information Age and Service Economies within it are driving and vastly increasing the emotional quotient requirements and proficiencies needed to succeed in them, yet we are progressively feeling more alienated and isolated from each other all the time, because we have not appreciated the fundamental shift taking place. Furthermore our criteria for intimate relationship development has shifted generationally from security, stability and child rearing and has moved into meeting our base emotional, physical and psychological needs for love and intimacy, with all things being equal with regards to attraction. If that wasn’t enough, there is a sexual based differentials in regards to needs when it comes to men and women; men are more visually, tactile and sexually based having an emphasis on physical intimacy and women have more need for emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection with their partner. All these factors are putting men squarely behind the power and learning curve and at a major deficit for dealing with relationships and women in their lives.

Primary Meaning

The quality of our closest relationships is often what gives life its primary meaning. There are few gifts more precious than listening to another person with empathy, especially during times of stress, anxiety, loss and uncertainty. While it is easy to recognize the value of close trusted relationship during hardships, we fail to appreciate that having the skills of empathy, understanding and compassion, in addition to managing those on a regular basis, actively plays a protective role in reducing stress, anxiety, anger and frustration within our partners. A lot of us avoid intimacy for any number of a variety of reasons, justifications and simple omissions. It’s natural to focus upon oneself, the issues at hand and the obligations of life, but when we do, we lose connectedness and intimacy with our partner. Done chronically and it can cost us more than just our relationship; it can cost us our families, our homes, our projected futures and can be the difference between a life of middle class and poverty for us and our children.

The Onion Theory

There’s a theory that intimacy is very much like an onion with five major wedge segments;

Intellectual– the sharing of thoughts, ideas, concepts and beliefs.

Social– the act of spending time together. Consider this portion to be a ‘verb’ , these are the things you do together. Focus on the ‘doing’.

Emotional– This is the sharing of the emotional responses we go through within our lives. How you feel about something.

Spiritual – While this is the least researched, it does pose significant impact and relationship with the other major segments of intimacy and thus overall relationship health and success. A mutual agreement with regards to spirituality isn’t a requirement, but an understanding and acceptance of your partner’s beliefs are.

Physical – sex will reign supreme here, but it is about all of our senses, their psychological and psychological responses and not just physical stimulation.

These segments researchers will consider the ‘breadth’ of intimacy when looking at the range of topics in which people share understanding and compassion with each other. This would be the ‘outside’ skin of the onion. The layers of the onion would be described as the degree of which trust and depth of sentiment that has been shared within a major segment and subject matter. When evaluating the degree of intimacy shared, this is commonly referred to as of ‘penetration’ which ranges from the superficial, intermediate, personal and finally to the core of one’s beliefs and being.

Infinite Possibilities

Intimacy therefore is not just a single element, but a range of major segments with infinite possibilities of subject matter and the depth for each is variable as well. We may open up about one subject deeply and on another subject, with the same person, not nearly as much. It is important to not to make sure that we’re intimate with our partners evenly across each wedge segment, but that we are intimate with our partners in the segment and manner of their preference and your partner should be attempting to meet your intimacy needs within the range in which you need and desire. Generally speaking men tend to value physical intimacy, which means our partners should focus upon the sensual feminine nature of the five senses; sight, sound, smell, touch & taste (hear that ladies?). Women generally tend to value emotional intimacy and the bonding and companionship that develops when we hear, comprehend and understand what they are experiencing, it’s impact on them and how that makes them feel. As men we’d do well to channel our inner Dr. Phil here.

Beware of the ‘Over Share’…

As with most elements within relationship building, we need to understand that there is an acceptable tempo at developing these relationships and levels of intimacy. Worse than having a deficient of intimacy (a lack of sharing) will be the dreaded ‘Over-share’, when someone advances the speed and depth of intimacy in too great of detail that we are comfortable with and accepting of. It will cause rejection, alienation and isolation as a result. We must fine tune our ability to read not only our partners, but the context and situation, as well, to give us clues as to the degree of appropriateness for disclosure. A supplicating beta male for example will have no problem over sharing emotionally with an immediate willingness to commit and as a consequence lose whatever attraction and desirability he may have had going for him. Likewise when a woman over shares sensually and physically she’s relegated to slut-dom.

ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS

Time without attention is worthless…

 

Listen like a shrink…

Powerful listening goes beyond hearing words and messages; it connects us emotionally with our partner. It is equally important to listen to what your partner is NOT saying, as it is important as to what they are saying, whether that be the nature of their body language or a deep core vulnerability that just isn’t being expressed openly. We need to learn to focus intently on the complete message being conveyed behind and between the words our partners use.

Throttling back the Alpha…

As a man, you will be expected to lead the relationship in developing and fostering conditions within the relationship that allow these mutual vulnerabilities to surface, which leads to meaningful and deep connection to form. These vulnerabilities are areas of our psyche where we feel raw and unprotected. We all have them. They stem from emotional injuries of our childhood and the bruising we take on the road to and through adulthood, which have left emotional scars that we carry with us, unless attended to. We can attempt to attend to these emotional wounds by conducting psychological social development self-analysis and relationship autopsies for ourselves and with our partners, but like so many issues in life it is what we do consistently that has greater influence than what we attempt acutely. We need to make acceptance and mutual understanding a regular part of your relationship, as all wounds are not old wounds. We know and can come to expect that fresh ones will and do occur, often inadvertently by our own hand. A healthy relationship is one set up and prepared for them.

The setting

The initial goal of active listening is to set a comfortable tone, to allow time and opportunity for your partner to express their thoughts and sentiments, under your undivided attention. Recognizing these moments when they occur is crucial. Conveying that you recognize your partner’s need of this more so. Take the time to be in a position, atmosphere and situation where this can be realized. If you are not, create it. Pay attention to your frame of mind, as well as your body language. Be focused on the moment and operate from a place of sincere respect, care and understanding. The message being sent here is one of care, consideration and respect.

Withhold judgment

Active listening requires an open mind and as a leader, you cannot be open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities, while being judgmental and single-minded. Withholding judgment creates an atmosphere of safety where your partner has the opportunity to authentically express themselves, which develops emotional intimacy and trust through respect. It doesn’t mean you have to agree, but that you allow room for them to express their sentiments and you see, feel and acknowledge their perspective prior to forming and sharing your opinion.

Reflect

Don’t assume that you initially understood your partner’s message. Paraphrase key points of understanding, intent and emotions before continuing. Don’t move the conversation forward until you do. Reflective listening is a way to indicate that you and your partner are on the same page within the discussion and that you understand not only what they are stating but the sentiments and intent driving them.

Clarify

Don’t be shy to ask questions about any issue that is ambiguous or unclear. Asking open-ended, clarifying and probing questions are important devices to draw people out and encourage them to expand their ideas. The details of a message are often defined here, and as it is stated in so many cases, divinity resides in the details.

Summarize

Restating that portion of the conversation again, as the conversation has proceeded, confirms and solidifies your understanding of the other person’s view and returns the conversation back to where it was prior to the reflection or clarification process. Ask them to do the same, so that you know they received your message regarding any clarification as well.

Share

Actively listening is first about understanding your partner, then being understood. As you gain a clear comprehension of your partner’s perspective can you then introduce your ideas, feelings, sentiments or opinions and be well received.

Arguably the most important trait for a leader and a man is the ability to communicate effectively and in today’s knowledge economy this requires and demands a vastly heightened sense of emotional intelligence prior to doing so. It goes beyond mastering the craft of language, but attitude and actions of effective listening, that send powerful messages for forging collaboration, team building and consensus building within any relationship structure, none more critical and important than your intimate and romantic one, your life-partner.