Intimate relationships are the crucible from which we can grow, yet they are imbued with both the ecstasy of intimacy and the pitfalls of conflict and withdrawal. Its a two edged sword, we can experience bouts of closeness, excitement and adoration particularly in the beginning. Only to encounter disconnection, indifference and despair during conflicts. However, we only get to really discover and uncover our unknown self when we are in close relationship with another, where our unrealised aspects of ourselves are revealed.
In the beginning of intimate relationships we are often surfing a wave of delight, closeness and warmth that comes from being seen as desirable by another. Each moment of contact can illicit a deep sense of joy and excitement, where we feel met, affirmed and whole. New intimate partners can offer what we have longed for, to be seen and loved for who we are., our world feels infinitely brighter. The differences we notice,in our partner that could be annoying could be brushed off and seen as quirks and part of the others personality.
Moving on from the first stages of intimate relationships we find out what our new partner is really like, when tension and stress are added to the mix. Suddenly those quirky habits become annoying, maybe a boundary is violated, or we are not OK with something that is said or done by our partner. We might become angry and disconnect, maybe this anger is fuelled by past hurts, and emotional wounds, maybe it is simply saying that is not OK for me. When there is a possibility of disconnect, our default setting given these circumstances is to pull back and withdraw our contact, especially if our partner is angry at us. This separation can illicit anger, resentment, and we can project onto our partner as being the cause for our suffering, they have in some way left us. Our warm fuzzy love bubble has certainly burst We can feel we are on shaky ground during conflicts as we no longer feel any warmth or intimacy, but a feeling of anger and a withdrawal of love. But it is our willingness to stay with difference, that opens a doorway to reconnecting with our partner and developing deeper intimacy. When we stay in this place of discomfort, it says on some level that I am willing to be here with you, I want to understand what is happening for you, and I care about you.
Being willing to being vulnerable with another, to reveal what has been closely guarded and kept hidden is a pathway to building emotional intimacy, From experience this reconnection is more likely to occur when we and our partner are both feel safe, truly heard, validated, and empathised with. It can mean that we need to take time out, to reconnect with ourselves, to allow the anger and hurt to settle, so we can hear another. From this position we can be clearer about our feelings, be receptive to anothers experience, and seek to negotiate boundaries that support and nourish the relationship. For when we feel safe in relationship, we are more likely to speak our truth and hear another without needing to escalate our emotions. Conflict then becomes an opportunity to lay the groundwork for greater awareness of ourselves, deepening our relationships and developing intimacy, for relationships will always invite us to reveal our true self.
Richard Prince is a Sydney based Gestalt Psychotherapist in private practice. He works with clients that are interested in developing their inner wisdom, to create a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfilling relationships. He has trained in the United States and in Australia, completing a degree in Architecture, and holds Masters Degrees in Social Ecology and Gestalt Psychotherapy. He balances his therapy practice with life in the professional business world as a creative practitioner, as a father, a husband, and as a full time human being.