A Relentless Pursuit Of Intimacy
Wednesday - November 07, 2007
It seems these days that intimate relationships are even more the hot topic of daily talk shows and best-selling books. Everyone wants to know how to get closer, stay closer and be more in tune with their partner.
But is this relentless pursuit of intimacy placing way too many expectations on our romantic relationships? Is there a limit to the amount of closeness people can tolerate?
Some believe that this over-focus on relationships leads us to demand too much of intimacy. We put all our eggs into one basket and expect our romantic partner to take care of us in every possible way - demanding unconditional love, unfailing nurturance, ultimate affection and, sometimes, incredible mind-reading skills.
But no one would be able to fill that bill. And as much as I’m for emotional closeness and spending quality time together, I think most of us can attest to the very real human reaction of what happens when you spend too much time with anyone.
Periods of closeness have to be balanced with periods of distance. An occasional retreat from intimacy gives individuals a chance to recharge and appreciate their partner.
This is not a new theory, but it’s one that is too often overlooked. It’s easy to get wrapped up in someone you love and want them to know you inside and out.
“We all enter relationships with expectations,” says Thomas Cummings, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and past president of the Hawaii Psychological Association. “Some of these expectations are normal and healthy and others are unrealistic. To expect your partner to always be there for you emotionally and to fulfill all your relationship needs is unrealistic.”
This is why it is so important to have friendships outside of your romantic relationship.
“There are some things a husband might not be good at doing, for example,” says Cummings. “Maybe he’s not as good with words or he’s not emotionally intelligent.”
This is when you can go to your friends to get that extra support that you need.
Cummings explains that some people tend to wall themselves off once they’re in a relationship, letting their friendships fall by the wayside and making their romantic partner their everything.
“This puts too much of a stress on the relationship,” he says.
Partly to blame for this unrealistic expectation of what relationships should be is Hollywood, says Cummings.
“Much of what we see in the Hollywood version of things is romanticized,” he says. “It’s all due to great editing. Hollywood movies are about drama and passion.We grow up thinking that a great relationship is about drama and passion. I see a lot of these types of ideals in younger couples.”
But research has shown that the real “meat and potatoes” of a long-lasting relationship, says Cummings, are the little day-today connections and courtesies between a couple and staying away from destructive relationship behaviors such as criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Whether or not there is too much demand on the intimacy of a relationship really depends on the couple.
“There are some things we should expect and we work at them, and if we put our needs out there in a non-critical way, it will make for an improved relationship,” he says. “Keep reaching for closeness. Don’t just write it off and say I’ll rely on my friends for this. However, the amount of closeness needed by each individual in the relationship can vary greatly. If there is a mismatch between what you and your partner need, there can be trouble.”
Contrary to popular belief, Cummings says he believes it’s not always the women who are most needy in a relationship.
“Maybe men need that intimacy too, but they just aren’t as aware of it. This is evidenced in couples who have been together a long time and get divorced, and the men really fall apart,” he says.
It is important to work on your relationship, says Cummings. Talk things out and strive to reach that higher level of connection. However, talking all the time about your feelings is not conducive to a healthy relationship.
“You also need to spend time just enjoying each other,” says Cummings.
As with everything in life, there needs to be a balance. A good relationship is not necessarily a relationship where you rely on your partner for everything.
You can’t starve your relationship of the nurturing it needs, but you also can’t put so many demands on your partner that they reach their intimate breaking point.
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