“We had no secrets;
We’d tell each other everything…”
– Carly Simon
When we commit ourselves to a relationship with another person, we rightly expect to experience a sense of fulfillment that we didn’t have before. Humans, as social beings, seem to have a universal desire to find a partner. Sexual attraction often serves as the motivator for making initial contact with the other person, and this is usually replaced over time with a deeper sense of commitment and intimacy. It comes as a terrible disappointment to some people when the sexual phase of their relationship fails to lead in time to something deeper. The task, then, is to understand the forces which block the development of a deeper sense of intimacy – and to do something about it. Fortunately, with some work – and it’s often hard work – couples can learn to move into the stage of deeper sharing and more fulfillment in their relationships.
The excitement which comes with entering a new relationship touches us at the core of our being. It influences our thinking, our emotions, and our physical bodies. In some sense it feels like a dream come true. We feel that, finally, the hard years of experiencing the world alone have come to an end. The thing that we have longed for has been achieved. We now have a partner, someone who can share, understand, and appreciate our most private experiences. The world suddenly seems like a happier and more secure place. The beginning stages of a relationship can bring a precious sense of connectedness – but when that phone call doesn’t come, when a plan goes awry, when the wrong words are spoken, the emotional high can turn swiftly into a feeling of devastation. Being in love can have its down side.
Over time the physical stage of the relationship is typically replaced by a period of getting to know more about other aspects of our partner’s personality. Some of these characteristics are endearing to us – and others irritate us. We learn how our partner attends to the demands of everyday life, and we learn that he or she may not do things the way we do them. Our partner may take a more aggressive approach than we do. Or we may find that our partner dwells on issues, mulling them back and forth, before coming to a decision – which is something that may create anxiety in us. Our partner’s sense of loyalty to the relationship may be different from our own. These differences may seem catastrophic during this phase of the relationship. And at this stage, rather than looking within to make our own personal adjustment to our partner’s quirks, we may try to force our partners to change their behavior. Power and domination may enter into the dynamics of the relationship – and this can have a major negative impact on intimacy. It is at this stage that genuine communication becomes important to the continued success of the relationship.
Communication is at the center of relationships. The quality of a relationship depends on the quality of the communication between the two partners. The most treasured times within a relationship are those in which we tap into our partner’s authenticity with heartfelt communication – those times when we talk truthfully.
Unfortunately, these moments come far too rarely for many of us. Those who can achieve physical intimacy are not necessarily those who can communicate well verbally. Why is this? Some people simply lack the tools and experience for talking about emotional issues. Others talk a mile a minute, needing to be validated by others but instead driving them away. Some people are guarded and have difficulty in opening up about anything personal. Some people are unable to listen to their partner – they always bring the topic back to themselves, or they may see their role as the one who gives (unsolicited) advice.
Some people interpret their partner’s desire for a serious talk as criticism. They become defensive when their partner tries to share the honest truth with them. A serious talk, then, can easily lead to an argument – and this leads to a failure of honest communication. The more failures there are, the less likely the couple will try to communicate on a genuine level in the future – to the detriment of intimacy in the relationship.