Few relationships these days achieve the depth necessary to sustain them. Depth in a relationship requires intimate connection with your partner, and on multiple levels. Of course, this is particularly hard to achieve when one partner is character-impaired.
I’ve worked with many couples over the years. And it was always a bit heartbreaking to witness a relationship unravel. (Wresting free from abuse being the exception.) Unfortunately, too often couples seek therapy after their relationship has already deteriorated significantly. That makes any repair difficult. But I have seen my fair share of salvaged relationships. And one thing always seemed to characterize them: how deep and mature the connection between the parties was. Relationship intimacy makes all the difference.
Types and Levels of Relationship Intimacy
The types and degrees of interpersonal connections vary. Of course, some connections exist at the purely physical or “chemistry” level. Connections can also be made at the intellectual, emotional level, or even “practical,” lifestyle-based level. The strength of any of these kinds of connections can vary. So can the quality of connection (i.e. level of depth). Connections made at a purely superficial level are generally short-lived. (That doesn’t mean they can’t be intense!) And, generally speaking, how deep and genuine the connection is has a lot to do with whether a relationship will endure through hardship and be an instrument of fulfillment for both parties or eventually fail.
Many couples report that at the onset of their relationship the strongest connection they felt was the on the physical level. Now, physical attraction and passion are certainly important to a relationship. But many a relationship has failed because “chemistry” unduly dominated all the other kinds of connections so essential to an enduring relationship. Overly-intense physical attraction generally produces distorted perceptions. A partner might “over-idealize” the other, or ascribe attributes to them that they don’t actually have. They also might tend to overlook or ignore signs of problematic character attributes. But distorted perceptions don’t always stem from physical infatuation. For example, one partner in the relationship can be so lacking in self-esteem and so overwhelmed by the attention and perceived approval they get from the other partner that they allow the intensity of that particular emotional connection to overrule their better judgment about other aspects of the relationship.
Intimate Relationships that Endure
For relationships to really work and endure, connections have to develop and deepen on multiple levels. And just how deep and mature these connections become over time has a big bearing on the level of fulfillment relationship partners experience. Of course, the right ingredients have to be present for this to happen. So it’s a good idea to ask yourself some key questions right from the outset:
- How does my partner connect with me on an intellectual level?
Are me and my partner intellectual equals? Do we have similar ideas about the world and how it works? Does he/she really understand me?
- How do we connect on an emotional level?
- Can I confide my deepest feelings to this person in confidence? Does she/he demonstrate respect for my feelings through his/her actions? Is he/she emotionally stable (i.e. knows how to and regularly modulates and regulates his/her emotions)?
- How do we connect at the psychological level?
- Do we “get” each other – our quirks, idiosyncrasies, and other “issues”? Are we aware of each other’s unique personality characteristics and can we live with our differences? Do we share the same sense of humor? Do we truly honor, respect, and enjoy the kind of persons we are?
- What is our spiritual connection like?
- Do we share the same core values? Can we respect one another’s beliefs? Do any of our attitudes, ways of thinking, or values challenge our ability to like, accept, or respect one another?
- How well do we communicate?
- Does he hear me when I’m expressing concern? Do I always feel like she is keeping things from me? Is there always room for dialogue or does every discussion soon become a fight?
- How do we connect at the practical level?
- Can we be comfortable with the things each of us likes or prefers? Do we share enough of the same interests to spend quality time together? Do we have enough regard for our different interests that we can afford each other private space? Are our most ingrained habits compatible and endurable or are they so distasteful and irritating that they constantly grate on us?
- How meaningfully do we connect?
- Do we really touch one another, feel one another, experience one another at the heart-to-heart level. And if we do, does that connection makes us feel truly valued and embraced?
Growing Relationship Intimacy
You have to connect on as many levels as possible and with proper balance to develop the the degree of intimacy necessary to make your relationship survive and blossom. And true, deep intimacy is the time-tested glue for any enduring relationship. That kind of relationship intimacy demands that we not only connect with our partner on the levels mentioned above but that we do it often, and with sincerity and depth.
The emotional baggage we bring with us into a relationship (as well as some of our personality traits) impacts our capacity for developing this kind of relationship intimacy. Various stresses, fears, distractions, etc. can also interfere with establishing the connections necessary to foster intimacy. Sometimes, you really have to work hard at the process of connecting. But in the end, it’s always the connections we establish and maintain that holds our relationships together and deepens the regard we have for those we love. To have a relationship that truly satisfies — a relationship that nurtures, help us grow, and ultimately bring us joy — we simply have to connect.
I’ll have more to say about relationship intimacy issues in some future posts. And you might want to check out the articles on troubled relationships, too. See:
Character Matters will feature a rebroadcast of an earlier program this New Years Eve.
Happy New Year, everyone!