“Dread is an alien power which lays hold of an individual, and yet one cannot tear oneself away, nor has a will to do so; for one fears what one desires.” ~Soren Kierkegaard
When we left my story, I was sitting with a client in ever-increasing pain.
After completing that session, I am now thinking that I should drive myself to the emergency room. Then, another thought, “Call Stacy.” So, I call my wife and luckily, she answers her cell. (It’s also a good thing that she is a wonderful and outstanding nurse.) “Stacy, I need your help,” I express in a very slow and vulnerable voice. She replies with the same level of emotional affect in her voice, full of empathy and concern, “What’s wrong?” I tell her what is happening. She directs me, “Call your doctor. I will meet you there.” Immediately, I experience a sense of clarity to balance the intense moments of crisis that I was having.
At the doctor’s office I learn that I might be passing a kidney stone. To confirm this, Stacy takes me to the hospital. The pain now very severe, I am agitated and restless. The ultrasound confirms that I have a 5mm stone and they can only keep me if it is 6 mm or larger. So, my wife takes me home and I experience the most severe pain that I had ever known.
What I also know is that human beings fear relational intimacy. “I fear getting hurt,” says one young man in his early 30s who ends another relationship before it becomes too serious. Unconsciously more than consciously, our desire for relational intimacy seems to create an invisible sense of dread long before we are able to experience authentic affection from others and authentic compassion and self-love for ourselves. Take our quote above from Soren Kierkegaard, “Dread is an alien power which lays hold of an individual, and yet one cannot tear oneself away, nor has a will to do so; for one fears what one desires.” Developing a significant relationship with regard to intimacy of depth is a lifelong process. This process, therefore, requires patience and longsuffering, and may create feelings of dread before we experience a sense of inner peace within ourselves. The process is arduous, difficult, perilous and gradual. Moreover, this reality applies to any relationship where two individuals are seeking to develop meaningful memories with another human being.
This blog series is about the challenges and opportunities of developing intimate relationships, not about marriage, per se. Marriage is a metaphor for perhaps the most intimate of all relationships. So, my aim in sharing these thoughts is to help create an ongoing dialogue among and between individuals that take their relationships with themselves and others of significance, seriously. Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “Marriage is difficult, and those who take it seriously are beginners who suffer and learn!”
Let’s begin with understanding that achieving an intimate relationship is messy. It is messy because we as human beings, are unaware that we are committing ourselves to being a living and reflective mirror image for another person. This dynamic is messy in that we see ourselves in the other person. An internal reflection of ourselves becomes possible. In other words, I am agreeing to be of help to the other person in seeing herself or himself, as well as looking at myself, being played out before my very eyes in real time – my virtues as well as my flaws, my strengths as well as my weaknesses, and my possibilities as well as my limitations. In this mirror reflection of myself, I am going to see every aspect of my childhood relationships, my parents (adoptive or biological), siblings, cousins and other relatives—grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and neighborhood playmates and friends—every aspect. Moreover, if I do not remember cognitively everything, emotionally, I do. In the words of Howard Thurman, “I am looking for myself in you, and perhaps I cannot find myself until I find it in you.”
Additionally, in this mirroring process of “looking for myself,” we as individuals will early and often attack the negative images (played out through actions and behaviors) that we see in the other person. We fail to realize that at our deepest cores, we are attacking aspects of ourselves. A woman, 50 years of age, recently exclaimed in her therapy session:
“The parts of my father that I did not like, I later began to see them in me. I made a conscious choice not look closer at those parts of me because I did despise my father. I am coming to realize that I have been despising myself as well because for years I have tried NOT to be like him; and now, I am discovering that in so many ways I am like him—the parts that I despise. I was like him in my two failed marriages. And I see it more clearly today.”
As she is transforming this deeply internalized and mirrored self-image of herself, it becomes possible for her to deepen the emotional level of intimacy with her, first, and others second.
Next, let’s seek a deeper level of relational intimacy. As individuals we live by our own collective misconceptions and internalized models about what intimacy is. Consider a few commonly made statements:
- “I thought that I would not feel alone once in my marriage.”
- “We need to have more intimacy.”
- “Something’s missing; we seem to be growing apart rather than closer—I want more intimacy, not necessarily sex, but not to feel like this … lonely.”
Moreover, the social images associated with intimacy models, for instance, visual expressions such as couples locked arm-in-arm or warmly embracing each other in the public sphere or even holding hands. These are outer expressions of closeness, possible relational warmth with another relationship of familiarity. Yet, when these expressions are seemingly lost, we utter statements like:
- “We used to have such a close relationship.” or
- “We used to cuddle all the time and I don’t know what happened.”
I often hear individuals, men more so than women, using the intimacy word primarily in relation to sexual intercourse. Physical/sexual intimacy is an important part of the relationship between committed individuals. It may become one of depth if we are able to commit to the relationship rather than having a “friends with benefits” arrangement. According to David Schnarch, author of Passionate Marriages, achieving meaningful sexual intimacy requires the individuals to be able to become a well-differentiated self. Differentiation in this context means that as individuals, we are able to work sufficiently through our own interpersonal and intrapersonal wounds, in the process of becoming one, with ourselves.
Return to sexNspirit next week for the 3rd and final post in this series to discover the 3rd step toward achieving relational intimacy.
NOTE: In my narratives, I change the names of others than my own to protect individual privacy.
© 2016, James Bernard Kynes, Sr.
The Rev. James Bernard Kynes, Sr., M.Div., LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) practices at Crossings Counseling Center, Inc., in Decatur, GA. To read more about him and/or to connect with him, visit his website (http://www.jamesbernardkynessr.com/index.html), email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (404.378.2232).