Two Very Different Types of Intimacy*
Intimacy and couple’s dynamic
Every couple is unique in the way they are intimate with each other. It is determined by each partner’s individual experience and need for intimacy with their lover and also the dynamic that develops during the relationship. As we get to know each other better, we either appreciate the parts they are self-disclosing or find out things that we would have preferred not to know. This is where the couple dynamic with intimacy starts to form itself. When someone is self-disclosing to their partner, there is an inevitable reaction on both ends. The first reaction comes from the partner receiving the self-disclosure, which can be either acceptance or rejection of the new element that is being introduced. The second counter-reaction comes from the person that self-discloses, who then evaluates if it was a good or bad idea to share this intimate information with their lover.
This type of intimacy is what our society tends to promote in the media and amongst friends and family. It is the safe form of intimacy where we only self-disclose personal information that we know our partner will accept and not reject us (sexual fantasies, seducing in a different manner, proposing a new sexual style, etc.). We also expect the other to reciprocate immediately afterwards, so we don’t put ourselves in too much of a vulnerable position with them.
Sounds great at first glance. No one gets hurt, we don’t have to be too vulnerable and it feels like an equal relationship; in other words SAFE. We also call this type of intimacy “other validated intimacy”, which means you are searching for validation from the other when you self-disclose. We can’t BE who we truly are unless our partner accepts us that way. Hence, we hide behind this false image of who we are so that we don’t feel rejected.
On the other hand, we can easily see how in the long run this can become problematic. If we are only willing to divulge as much information as your partner is willing to accept with open arms, it comes to a point where the couple stagnates in their growth as individuals. If we are only willing to talk about issues that won’t make us potentially feel rejection or hurt our partner, it leads to major conflicts in the couple never being addressed.
For example, sex hasn’t been the best lately, but we don’t tell our partner to avoid hurting their feelings. On the same front, we don’t try to change the sexual dynamic because we are afraid we’ll be judged by our partner of our sexual preferences. We are afraid they’ll reject us, laugh at us, or even humiliate us. This path inevitably leads to sexual boredom and a decrease in sexual desire for one or both partners, because everyone wants to play SAFEin the couple. Safety is not what creates sexual desire and erotism.
This form of intimacy is hard and requires a lot of self-soothing. It only takes one partner to be this way for it to work. This type allows a person to be vulnerable in front of their partner, show who they actually are sexually; quirks, issues, weirdness and funkiness included, without looking for approval and validation from the other. People who are capable of self-validated intimacy know who they are and proud of themselves. In the face of rejection they are capable of self-soothing and accept the differences between them and their partner. When they have something difficult to say to their partner, they can deal with the reaction and the distance it causes.
Rejecting or being rejected is difficult for everyone, especially when it comes from a partner. It is a part of us or them that is not loved. It forces us to face the fact that we are not entirely lovable, sexy or competent lovers in all regards. People who validate themselves from others on most aspects have a really hard time with rejection. When they need to reject or feel rejected on one element of who they are, they generalize it to their whole person. They lack the capacity to self-sooth and confront themselves. They don’t perceive it as an opportunity to grow as a person, but as a threat to their identity.
Francois Renaud M.A.
READ MORE ON: Sexual Intimacy & Sexual Desire
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* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch