“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” – Rolo May
In the waiting room of the physical therapy clinic, I watched as a woman in a wheel chair was called to proceed into the therapy area. She began to roll herself forward, then stopped, and turned to speak to her husband. I didn’t hear the conversation, but observed her body language. She shook her head in a very disappointed manner when she noticed he was not beside her, but rather already at the exit door leaving the facility. She returned her gaze in front of her as she navigated slowly and awkwardly down the aisle alone. I felt a sadness for her solitude.
Just moments earlier there was a couple seated by each other, engaged in conversation and enjoying each other’s company. When one was called, the other got up and both proceeded to the appointed area together. Both sets of couples appeared to be in their early 60’s. I was struck by the contrast between the couples. One couple was clearly there as a “couple” fully invested in the well-being of the other. Juxtaposed to this model, was the portrait of the woman in the wheel chair who was left on her own to fend for her self.
It brought to my attention the reality that there are so many lonely people in relationships.
Have you ever experienced loneliness while in a relationship? I think that’s the loneliest feeling of all. Having someone physically present in your life, yet their emotional presence is separated from you by a vast cavernous divide.
I recall one evening sitting at a restaurant with my then spouse. We sat facing each other in long silence. Nothing wrong with moments of silence. I’m talking l-o-n-g awkward moments where silence is the escape for those evading connection. He appeared content in silence as he looked about the restaurant. I felt invisible. Everything inside me was screaming out for a connection. I looked about as well, and noticed all the other couples staring into blank space. It felt like an epidemic.
My heart hurt for the partners in these listless relationships, whose sadness was clearly written on their face. Often it was the wife looking at her mate with sad expectation, anticipating he’d turn to look her way. Typically this silence was broken by the arrival of the meal. The waiter’s words spilled into their void, quickly absorbed without a trace, much the same way as a short burst of rain sprinkles onto the parched Texas soil, during the dog days of summer.
When I found myself in the midst of a verbal drought, I gave myself the routine pep talk. I reminded myself that it takes two to tango, so I took the initiative to begin conversation. He responded with lack of interest and involvement. It was akin to a dance where I am leading him and if “I” stop taking a step, he’ll just stand still, lifeless on the dance floor of life.
For this to be a heart-warming and fulfilling moment, both parties must be mutually interested and energized. It can’t fall on the shoulders of one partner to be responsible for initiating this vital connection. One day I experimented to confirm if my then spouse was truly listening. I purposely stopped mid sentence, whereby you’d have to be completely lobotomized not to notice I stopped speaking. He did NOT notice. He made no mention of it, didn’t even interject a grunt to denote he was following up to that point. Nothing. Silence. More of nothing.
So many people who have experienced the termination of a relationship say, “I didn’t see it coming. It was a surprise!” I believe this kind of thinking is part of the problem. Many people walk around making the motions of being in a relationship, but they are not fully present emotionally to their partner. Just being physically present is like showing up to work to sleep. Your manager hired you to be awake and fully engaged in your job. Yet in a relationship, how many times have you allowed it to coast, and in effect were asleep at the wheel? Just like in a vehicle, if you sleep through a relationship, it leads to death. Weeks, months and years of apathy and disregard will eventually break the spirit of someone you love, one demeaning, and apathetic moment at a time. Like a slow drip, it breaks us.
"Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body.
When the flow of blood stops, the body dies.
When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born.
But dialogue can restore a dead relationship.
Indeed, this is the miracle of dialogue:
it can bring relationship into being, and
it can bring into being once again a relationship that has died.
There is only one qualification to these claims for dialogue:
it must be mutual and proceed from both sides,
and the parties to it must persist relentlessly."
-Reuel L. Howe (The Miracle of Dialogue, 1963)
Many of us will leave a lonely relationship looking for the next excitement. Often even the most passionate beginnings, end the same way—Lackluster and neglected. I think most people don’t have the stamina to invest in a relationship. They think it’s an initial investment to get the embers lit, then once you’re dating or married, it’s all coasting from then on.
A guy once told me, “You know after you get married it’s all supposed to go downhill from there.” His expectation brought him what he expected. He was not surprised by the outcome, though he was ignorant that by expecting this outcome, he did no work to keep the marriage growing and the passion and interest alive. There are people who don’t want the relationship to go downhill, but they invest little to no energy into it.
Some are in denial of the need for relationship care and feeding. They have an expectation that the relationship is to magically prosper without any investment or work on their part. It’s like initially opening up a bank account with an initial deposit, then afterwards only making withdrawals. Are deposits supposed to magically occur on their own? Or is it your responsibility to make deposits?
Communication is a deposit that cannot be neglected. I’m not talking about empty-headed robot talk like the weather, the mundane lists of every day duties, and work, which tend to clutter our limited connection moments. Yes, those topics also must be discussed, but hopefully you are giving priority to engaging in subjects which draw you closer to the one you care about, and which allows them to see into your heart. This intimacy is not only necessary for relationship health, it’s paramount to the feeding of another’s spirit. You can see a person wither or flourish, all as a consequence of how their significant other engages them in this dance of intimacy, in which dialogue plays a pivotal role.
Intimacy is a “dynamic process whereby an individual discloses personal information, thoughts, and feelings to a partner; receives a response from the partner; and interprets that response as understanding, validating, and caring. The speaker discloses thoughts, or feelings. As the intimacy process continues, the listener must respond to the speaker by disclosing personally relevant information and expressing emotion. For the speaker to interpret the listener's communication as responsive, the listener must convey that he or she understands the content of the speaker's disclosure, accepts or validates the speaker, and feels positively toward the speaker. Intimacy accrues across repeated interactions over time. (Paraphrased from: http://people.umass.edu/~monaco/Laurenceauetal1998.pdf )
As described, the two fundamental components of intimacy are self-disclosure and partner responsiveness (i.e., accurately capturing the speaker's needs, feelings, and situation, validating by confirming that the speaker is an accepted and valued individual, and caring –showing affection and concern for the speaker) Self-disclosure refers to the verbal communication of personally relevant information.
There are factual self-disclosures which reveal personal facts and information (e.g., "I've had five romantic partners in my life''), and there are emotional self-disclosures which reveal one's private feelings, opinions, and judgments (e.g., "My last relationship was very painful and I'm having difficulty healing from it.”). Although both types of disclosures reveal private aspects of ourselves, emotional self-disclosures reveal the core of who we are. We humans are relational beings which yearn to be known by another. We want someone to want to know us, to care enough about us to want to know what lies within us. It is in this dance of sharing the self that we truly feel intimately bound to another, and we feel connected to another in a way that makes us each other’s allies, champions, confidants, and best friends. This is essential for a thriving emotionally healthy relationship. It takes two people to make this happen, and begins with the first steps of discovery.
If you have a fear of intimacy, know that you are not doomed to living a life of separateness and isolation from others. If you are open to self-discovery and doing the healing work, you can bless your loved ones with the closeness they yearn from you. And you in turn will experience a depth of caring (as recipient and giver) that occurs when you take ownership of your relationship’s happiness.
Just as love is a verb, requiring action to demonstrate it and to deepen it, so is a thriving relationship. Rather than victimizing your loved ones by your emotional isolation, and thus being a victim yourself to the consequences which result from that, you can choose change.
There are many resources including receiving coaching from a counselor or psychologist. Fear of intimacy comes from woundedness that occurs during childhood. You may want to check out Harville Hendrix’s “Getting the Love you Want” which explores this very thoroughly. Also as I Googgled I found an informative site: http://www.joy2meu.com/Fear_of_Intimacy.html
This takes practice, lots of it, so don’t be discouraged. A healthy, energized and robust relationship is the result when two people are intentional to consistently create emotional connection moments.
Some Questions to Start the Discovery Process:
"To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly." - Henri Bergson
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