Intimacy is a hot and often difficult subject. It implies letting someone else get close to us to see all our secrets and hidden places. An intimate relationship means that we are willing to let go of our defenses and be seen by another for who we are, including all of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses—into me you see—which can be terrifying.
Intimacy can cause fear, apprehension, even a shutdown of feelings. Rather than exploring the longed-for togetherness, it can all get too overwhelming, causing us to retreat back into our separate corners, hesitant to reach out again. Being seen so closely can feel as if we are totally exposed with nowhere to hide. So then we resist and put up an invisible wall in an attempt to protect ourselves from such exposure, or from rejection and hurt. However, as much as this wall may protect us, it also shuts us off from our own feelings.
One of the great benefits of a loving relationship is that it provides a safe space for all of these fears that have never before seen the light of day to be acknowledged, known, and held. In other words, love brings up everything that isn’t love. This is especially true as a relationship enters into a deepening familiarity. In the midst of all the good stuff, past hurt, insecurity, or self-doubt can emerge, straining a relationship. Yet moments like this are an invitation to embrace ourselves and breathe into the fearful places so that we can come defenseless into a relationship.
Deb: “Ed and I thought that we had nothing to hide from each other, but as trust grew it exposed all those corners where we hadn’t looked. Pain that had happened years previously was suddenly alive again, creating an emotional roller coaster. My father was abusive, had a big temper and lost it very easily. Somewhere inside, as I grew up, I unconsciously put my own anger on hold. My first marriage ended when my husband would get angry. At first, I refused to respond, but one day I couldn’t control myself any longer. The sight of my own anger freaked me out, and that was it, I was gone. When I married Ed, I discovered that I had a whole storeroom of anger locked away inside, but now I was able to face it for the first time. He gave me permission to be angry; he was willing to receive it. I could release it without fear of recrimination.”
Ed: “My mother died when I was 5 days old. Growing up I always felt alone, that no one could really love me, no one knew me. I didn’t know how to get close to someone so I learned to cover it up by being an extravert. I was voted one of the most popular at school and won all the dance contests. But I lived behind a façade. I even became a monk, not realizing it was a way of protecting myself from letting anyone get too close. All that to hide how fearful I was! As Deb and I grew closer, there were many moments when I would feel so exposed, as if I were the least lovable person in the world, and I would wonder how she could possibly love me. That someone I loved could truly love me back was immensely liberating.”