Intimacy 101: Is this Intimacy or Dependency?
By: Dr Richard Nicastro
Couples often seek marriage counseling because of difficulties with intimacy. Why are so many couples struggling with intimacy? In order to fully connect with your spouse/partner, you need to share the deepest parts of yourself while maintaining a separate sense of self. This balancing act isn't always easy and there may be times when it feels like you've given so much of yourself that you feel lost or that the old you is nowhere to be found.
A deep emotional connection needs to include two separate, well-boundaried individuals, as well as the blending of two souls (the "we" that becomes the relationship).
Intimacy and dependency: How are they different?
When you're in an intimate relationship you will:
~set out on new adventures with your partner because they matter to him/her; ~temporarily place your needs on hold in order to make your partner a priority; ~leave your "self" (the recognizable you) at times in order to step into your partner's emotional world; ~re-surface as a separate, autonomous individual after intense moments of connection; ~challenge and bring out the best in each other.
When an unhealthy dependency has taken hold of the relationship, you will:
~continuously neglect your own needs in order to appease your partner; ~often be motivated out of fear and/or guilt (fear that your partner will abandon you or become angered; guilt over having interests and joys that are your own); ~ repeatedly defer to your partner; ~have difficulty thinking for yourself (especially when faced with decisions); ~feel that your opinions don't matter.
We all depend on our spouse/partner—for support, validation, guidance, love, and companionship. When you stop depending on one another, you become two separate beings on parallel journeys. Intimacy (the "we" resulting from commitment and a deep connection with another person) demands that you take risks and rely on each other.
But intimacy and unhealthy dependency are very different—intimacy fills your soul and allows the best you to emerge; dependency is disempowering—it forces you to close off your truest self, your essence.
The power (and joy) of getting lost in intimacy
There may be times when you feel pulled under by the currents of intimacy. You can fight against these experiences (and try to always remain a separate "I") or try to remain open to these powerful forces. When submerged, you have moved beyond your individualistic "self" and entered into a new kind of experience –a shared connectedness that goes beyond the two people who make up the experience. This merger might result from a powerful sexual experience, a shared spiritual undertaking or an empathic connection that leaves you momentarily unrecognizable. This level of intimacy is magical and can be transformative.
Such intensity can also be frightening. When fear overtakes the experience, you may fight to reclaim your autonomous "self" and swim against these currents in order to gain a more comfortable footing and distance from your partner. You may need an emotional lifejacket that will allow you to feel safe within the depths of intimacy.
You may need an intimacy lifejacket
Self-trust will be a necessary part of your intimacy lifejacket—an important component of self-trust is having (or learning to have) healthy boundaries that will help you to re-emerge as a separate person after moments of deep connection with your partner. Without healthy boundaries, you're in danger of drowning in the depths of your partner's experiences—his/her needs will overtake you. To help secure your intimacy lifejacket, you'll also need a trustworthy partner—someone who respects your boundaries and who will give you the support you'll need as you both head into the deeper waters of connection.
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Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach with over fifteen years experience helping individuals and couples live more fulfilling lives.
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