Read any current material on intimate relationships and you’ll likely glean that we’re in uncharted waters in terms of what an intimate relationship is and what it requires to flourish. Esther Perel in Mating in Captivity states “Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
There’s a lot to be said about the cultural evolution of intimate relationships. We’ve moved from hunter-gatherer to agrarian to industrial to a post-industrial society where we have so much more choice at our fingertips. For now, let’s just say that there’s a growing emphasis on the quality of a bond between two people that weren’t on our ancestor’s radars. With all these changes, we still don’t grow up being consciously taught how to be in a relationship, get our needs met and find fulfillment. We’re in new territory, scrambling for new frameworks and many are suffering.
On the light side, this predicament is an opportunity to broaden and deepen our sense of what’s possible in the relationship. We get to define what relationship is for each of us and it doesn’t need to be ‘one size fits all’. However one chooses to get their intimate needs met, real intimacy requires each of us to show what we feel, ask for what we need and face the ways we don’t know how to let someone close. That demands vulnerability and a willingness to be hurt.
The problem with that plan lies in the fact that our internal protective system is designed to do the opposite! The parts designed to protect us want safety, acceptance and to minimize risk. Whenever we have conflict or distance in a relationship, it can usually be traced back to the protectors who have been working our entire lives to make sure we never get hurt again.
If we’re going to enjoy more sustained intimacy and connection in relationship, we’re going to have to get curious about our protective parts, the job they’re doing and what they’re afraid would happen if we really let others close. While that may seem daunting, it’s a way to practice a relationship that results in us having more of ourselves, more from our partners and more life overall. It’s never too late to start.