This second installment addresses the relational dance at the human level. In a recent post, Three Approaches to Relationship (archived on the Softening to Love website, Feb. 3), I compared two imbalanced approaches to relationship – fusion and isolation – with a more balanced approach that mirrors the cosmic dance of UNIQUENESS and ONENESS. Our story continues, with a focus on that third approach: Intimacy.
A Love Story: The Dance of Intimacy
The dance of intimacy is essentially a two-step - with infinite variations – the two steps being the two essential tasks of close relationship: knowing and being known. The dance requires that we let go of control agendas and self-protection strategies and that we honor uniqueness and oneness in a balanced way.
This segment of the story, shifts our attention from the cosmic level to the human level, offers practical wisdom about intimate life, and touches on the following topics: Spaciousness, Into-me-see (self-revelation), Partnership in Conflict, and Balance.
The intimate stance in relationship sees and honors what is. It creates space for the self, for the other and for the relationship. Spaciousness offers partners in relationship the freedom to be fully themselves and, thus, the freedom to connect deeply.
The lover’s declaration of intention to the beloved might sound something like this:
“I want to enter your world gently, to see the richness of you through clear and compassionate lenses. I want to be a mirror that reflects the beauty and uniqueness of you.
“Without abandoning my own perspective, I want to try on yours and see what you see. I want to appreciate your inner world and your outer world. I want to know what makes you laugh and what makes you cry, what you want and what you don’t want, what you value and what you think.
“I want to approach you, each day with fresh, curious and attentive eyes and ears – humbly aware that you are evolving and growing and that I am not the expert on you. Each day, I want to learn more about you – and more from you.
“I want to meet you, discover you and accept you, as you are, without correcting, criticizing or confining you – or confusing you with anyone else. I welcome every aspect of you into my life and into my heart.”
The lover continues:
“I want to reveal myself to you. I want to reveal how I feel, what I believe in, what matters to me, my hopes, my dreams, my wants and desires, my sore spots and vulnerabilities, my fears and joys, my failures and triumphs, my heart, my mind, and my soul.
“I intend to share myself with you, as truthfully and accurately as I can – resisting the temptation to present myself to you as someone I think you might like, as a way of trying to win your affection. I will do my best to stay honest with you and to stay open to your honesty with me. My intention is to be fully present with you - to open my heart to your heart.”
Revealing the heart is an act of courage. The emotional nakedness of deep self-disclosure feels risky. We long to be seen. We long to belong. And we feel vulnerable to rejection and judgment. Sometimes, in our fear and yearning, we reveal too much too soon. Sometimes fear tricks us into hiding from connection. It takes wisdom, trust in ourselves and in each other, and conscious effort to keep fear from running the show.
In this story, the essential tool for self-revelation is the I-statement. For example, if I want to express what I feel or what I want, I first attend inside to discover what I actually do feel or want. Then I simply share it, as in: “I feel…” or “I want…”
One pitfall here is the common tendency to hide a judgment in the guise of a self-disclosure. For example, if I let you know I’m unhappy about something and then go on at great length to convict you of wrongdoing, I’m probably delivering more of a you-statement than an I-statement. I may find it hard to trust that my feelings are valid. I may try to build an ironclad case to protect myself from being discounted. Ironically, the case I build can make it less likely that my feelings will be heard.
In the intimate approach to relationship, I don’t have to prove my validity. If I’m feeling hurt or angry or unhappy, I can say so. I can speak about what I like and what I don’t like, what I want and what I don’t want. I get to set boundaries about what is ok with me and what is not ok. Genuine self-disclosure - even when it is hard to share or hard to hear - is a gift to a relationship. It’s an act of intimacy.
Partnership in Conflict
In any authentic approach to close relationship, conflict is inevitable. The relational dance can be especially challenging at these times. Our focus can easily shift from knowing and being known to winning, defending, controlling or self-protecting. We may see the partner as an adversary, rather than a friend and resource. The body can flood with the chemistry of fight-flight. With the nervous system on high alert, our most primitive self tends to grab center stage. We armor up, harden our hearts and act tough, as if we’re fighting for our lives.
In order to reorient toward knowing and being known, we may need to do some breathing or take a break to get back in balance. As we re-engage, we may need a structure to help us return to the constructive conversation.
The Native American practice of the “talking stick” can be helpful to create the room needed for spacious and skillful talking and listening. The person with the stick uses I-statements to self-disclose from his/her perspective for up to five minutes without interruption and then sets the stick down. The partner takes the stick, mirrors compassionately something that seemed important to the speaker, then self-discloses – using I-statements - for up to five minutes without interruption. The stick can alternate in this fashion, till each has had his/her say.
This practice invites a nice balance of spaciousness and into-me-see. We can stay soft, gentle and receptive, and still be honest, clear and firm. Sometimes, just having our say and listening to each other in a respectful setting allows a conflict to melt. Especially with big issues, it’s often better to allow some time for “percolation” rather than push for immediate resolution.
When resolution is needed, knowing and being known is at the center of a constructive, win-win approach. We set a time and declare our intention to find mutually beneficial solutions. We work as collaborators - not as adversaries advocating exclusively for their own agenda.
Win-win problem solving begins with each person stating what he/she wants. A very important next step is for both persons to acknowledge the validity of what the other wants. Then, they can collaborate to find creative possibilities.
In some cases, when both needs are honored, partners can agree that one individual’s need is more crucial at this time and should take priority. In other cases, if the two wants appear mutually exclusive, partners can dig deeper to see the goals that underlie the stated wants – thus, allowing new possibilities to emerge. Sometimes, brainstorming can result in a mutually acceptable compromise. Sometimes, partners agree to take turns, as a way for both to get what they want/need.
Once relational partners become collaborators, routes to conflict resolution are abundant. Trust deepens.
Dancing skillfully in the ballroom of human relationship requires balance in so many areas. Here are a few:
· Honoring self and honoring the other;
· Listening and self-disclosing;
· Showing up and letting go;
· Following and leading;
· Wise heart and wise mind;
· Receptivity and clarity;
· Flexibility and firmness;
· Playfulness and seriousness;
· Gentleness and strength.
Balance and skill in the dance of intimacy grows us as individuals. It grows relationships. And it grows the cosmos.
Stay tuned for the final installment: A Love/LOVE Story: The Alchemy of Intimacy.