Intimacy is a paradox.
We both crave it, and hate it.
Richard Rohr, in his book Immortal Diamond clearly and succinctly summarizes this paradox: “intimacy happens when we reveal and expose our insides, and this is always scary. One never knows if the other can receive what is exposed, will respect it, or will run fast in the other direction. One must be prepared to be rejected. It is always a risk.”
And yet, “such risky self-disclosure is what I mean by intimacy, and intimacy is the way that love is transmitted.”
This tension of our craving love which comes through intimacy and wanting to shield and protect ourselves from rejection and hurt will always be there. Intimacy is a paradox.
If an intimate, personal, deep relationship is going to survive, then two partners are going to need to learn how to wade through this intimacy paradox. And I want to suggest that a core ingredient to living with the tension is creating safety.
Actively choosing to be warm. Choosing to be warm is choosing to be supportive rather than negative. It’s choosing to be patient rather than hurrying. It’s choosing to be understanding rather than critical.
I imagine you’ve experienced someone whom you’d describe as warm, or warm hearted. And maybe you think that’s the result of some innate personality quality, in their genes, or simply a wonderful life. But the truth is it’s a choice. People choose to be warm every day, and often they choose to be a warm presence in the world because they know what it’s like to experience coldness.
To practice choosing to be warm: think of your friend, partner, someone you already trust and care about. Picture them, imagine and connect with specific things about them you appreciate, care about, and cherish. Be in that state of warmth. With practice you can do this also with co-workers, bosses, acquaintances, and people who drive you crazy.
Verbalize your understanding, compassion, empathy, and support. Yes, you’re going to have judgmental thoughts. Whomever you’re trying to build intimacy with will probably share something at some point that you’ll want to reject. But that doesn’t mean your partner needs to hear those words. And please, don’t mask judgment with advice.
Advice is so often rejected because people don’t experience compassion and understanding in advice. People experience empathy through someone else acknowledging their feelings, concerns, fears, and insecurities. Choosing to not fixate on my judgmental thoughts, and rather turning my attention to what’s going on for you in this moment.
Finally, be present. Be here and now. Set aside any distractions whether physical or mental. Give the other person your full attention. Breathe a little slower, take your time, slow your brain down, and take in the other’s self-disclosure as it unfolds. You’ll also have tons of thoughts and other mental distractions. But just like choosing to not fixate on judgmental thoughts, we also need to choose to not let our brains distract us mentally. Your thoughts can only distract you with your consent.
Finally, practice being present by meditating. Move slowly and pay attention to every detail while washing the dishes or walking the dog. Pay close attention to the taste and texture of food while you eat. Anything that brings you more into the present moment.