The 4 Points of Balance*
Tolerating self-validated intimacy is hard for everyone. It obliges us to maintain a strong sense of self, to self-sooth, have a grounded responses and a meaningful endurance. Each of these 4 points allows a person to maintain balance in the relationship so they grow as an individual and as a partner. When one of these fail, other validated intimacy takes place and conflicts eventually ensue.
Solid flexible self
Our sense of self, has a huge impact on our ability to self-disclose personal and intimate information to our partner. It is the way we perceive ourselves in our identity. Who am I? What am I like? What are my values and beliefs? How do I want to be treated? What am I looking for in a partner and in sex?
Some people have overly flexible selves which means they constantly change who they are depending on the context they are faced with. This is where other validated intimacy comes into play. These types of people will adapt to others so they don’t feel rejected. They won’t express what they really think or feel not to bother, upset or start a conflict with others. They are centered towards pleasing other people. Hence, they don’t have an identity of their own.
When it comes to sexuality, they won’t discuss their sexual preferences, talk about sexual fantasies, show who they are sexually, because they don’t really know or don’t want other people to know. Quickly enough, sex becomes a routine and they won’t open up on their possible sexual dissatisfaction.
There is also the opposite of the continuum where people are rigid in the way they present themselves. They can’t tolerate differences in their partners. They impose their way of thinking, acting and being. They perceive differences as a threat to their sense of self because it obliges them to reflect on themselves and possibly change their perceptions. This in itself is a huge difficulty to people who are rigid in their sense of self.
Someone who is balanced in this aspect has a good sense of who they are as individuals and are proud of who they are. At the same time they are capable of letting others in their world without feeling threatened. They have the capacity of self-reflection and confrontation and open up to differences and possibly change their perception of things. They are willing to explore new things and change and grow as a person.
Calm heart and calm mind
Faced with an intimate context it is not always easy to deal with all the emotions that we are feeling. Our bodies react in all different kinds of ways and our feelings can be hurt in the process. This brings people to have all kinds of thoughts in their mind, which aren’t always the nicest things to say.
For example, when someone isn’t entirely satisfied with the sex they’ve been having and tell their partner. For one, it can be hard to say those things to the person they love and cherish, because they know that it will hurt them. Secondly the other has to deal with the fact that their sexual competencies aren’t as good as they thought. This has an impact on their sense of self which might bring the person to become rigid or flexible towards the other partner.
A person’s capacity to self-sooth and calm themselves down allows them to tolerate the anxiety provoked during intense intimate moments with their partner. People who don’t have that capacity either avoid intimacy all together so there won’t be any conflicts or they become explosive when interacting with their partner, because they’ve been hurt.
In therapy, we hear many couples saying that their arguments turn in circles and never get resolved. It’s not because there is missing or lacking communication; it’s that the persons are not willing to agree with their partner. This leads to an emotional gridlock and the couple has unproductive arguments because they’re avoiding the real issue. The more we become intimate with each other the more we realize that we have differences, which can be quite fundamental to someone’s sense of self.
When couples fight about sexuality, for instance the frequency of sex; they are faced with 2 choices:
Having sex or not having sex. One partner wants it the other one doesn’t. This is where a decision needs to be made, which most couples stall or avoid making entirely. You cannot have sex and not have it at the same time. It’s one or the other! This is where most people lose their grounded response, because they want so badly what THEY want, they say almost anything to get it, even though it makes no sense, they scream and shout at each other or completely ignore their partners to send them the message that they don’t care.
A grounded response is when a person takes the time to reflect on the situation before saying whatever goes through their minds. They were able to comfort themselves and are thinking of a mature response to give so that the conflict becomes a productive one. The person that has mastered this point of balance takes the time to listen to what the other has to say and gives a well reflected and grounded response to their partner. They are not seeking to be right, but to grow as a person in this dilemma and understand their partner better, while still maintaining their sense of self (Integrity).
When faced with a conflict, partners have to decide if they are going to work it through or terminate the relationship because they are incompatible. Differences create strain between lovers, because it requires that we tolerate certain aspects that are not always pleasing to live with.
Depending on the type of dynamic that a couple has, some will avoid taboo subjects not to get into fights so not to threaten the relationship. There is a status quo that is established and nobody is willing to touch it, even though one or both partners are unhappy with how things are developing between them. For example, not telling a partner that sex is dull and needs a boost and enduring the lack of sexual satisfaction rather than dealing with the issue which entails getting out of our sexual comfort zone and become more intimate.
The other possible reaction is that when faced with differences it immediately puts an end to the couple so that they don’t have to face the uncomfortable interactions that would ensue if they were to deal with the sexually intimate issues.
Tolerating the anxiety that stems from self-validated intimacy is hard for women and men alike. There are times in long term relationships that are though and you just want to give up, pack your bags and go home. These times are when we test our limits, can learn to mature and grow as a person and as a couple. The anxiety of not knowing if you are going to get through this and that you may be wasting your time and part of your life trying to work things out can break many couples up.
People who have meaningful endurance give it their best shot. They self-confront, self-sooth and act in a mature way, all the while tolerating the anxiety, uncomfortable and difficult times that every long term couple needs to face one day or the other.
Francois Renaud M.A.
READ MORE ON: Sexual Intimacy & Sexual Desire
Other related articles:
* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch