So many parents are quick to cover up their emotions and thoughts with their partners and children and by doing so we get into a state of isolation, feel alone and helpless. This is because we’ve been taught we can’t share or acknowledge or even show our emotions as children. Most people can remember times when they may have cried or been upset and our parents response was something like “It’s fine, you’ll be OK, Stop crying!”. This taught us that we couldn’t trust or show our emotions. We weren’t allowed to have them. So we grow up feeling like we can’t share them or acknowledge them even with those who love us deeply… like our partners and children. We use statements like “I’m fine!” when we are clearly not.
An intimate relationship is the opposite of this… it’s a solution to our feeling alone and isolated. Healthy intimacy is not specfically about sex! It’s about being comfortable enough to be and express who we really are and being fed back that we’re OK, we’re loved and we’re accepted. Healthy intimacy doesn’t require that we do or be something other than what we are for another person and it’s OK and safe to disagree with someone else we’re intimate with. Unhealthy intimacy can look like manipulation based on our relationship (“If you loved me, you’ll do xyz”) or it can be exposing ourselves to those who we don’t know well (e.g. talking about your rotten relationship problems with someone you met in an elevator). It’s with those that truly love us that we need to reveal who we are and feel safe that we will be accepted.
What is intimacy? (in·ti·ma·cy or in-tuh-muh-see]
- the state of being intimate.
- a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
- a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.: an intimacy with Japan.
- an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like: to allow the intimacy of using first names.
- an amorously familiar act; liberty.
Healthy Intimacy takes Discernment
Trust is often required when we reveal who we really are as we often have been brought up to use the signals we get from others to determine our self worth. For example, when we first get with our partner, we may hold parts of our personal story back because we are afraid that they will find us less desirable or loveable if they knew the full picture. This implies that we already do not accept ourselves! How can we possibly feel accepted by our partner if we don’t accept ourselves? We can’t!
When the timing is right, it’s important that with those we love and want to be intimate with that we share the full picture of us. That includes our children. Often we hold how we feel and think back from our children leaving them in the dark to our internal world. The gift of sharing that information means that our children learn about us truly! Instead of saying “I’m fine”, take the time to share what’s going on in your world so that they begin to understand you better. If you’ve had trauma and tragedy in your history, pick an appropriate moment to share it calmly and explain what happened, how it happened, the effect on your life and how you felt and feel about it now.
For example, I shared with both of my children that I had been sexually abused as a child by a neighbour and as a result, it lead to my being raped as a teenager. As my response was imprinted, from my early experiences, to not tell anyone, I then didn’t reveal it to anyone until I was in my mid 30’s. Those early experiences had taught me unhealthy intimacy! They taught me to hide my experiences and emotions because the threat was that I would not be loved. The perpetrator used our relationship to manipulate me into an abusive situation and then keep it secret.
I shared my experience with my children when they were at an age they could understand so that they knew what I went through and could protect themselves (and future generations) and also so they could make healthy and safe choices when the time came for them to decide if they were ready for sex. I taught my daughter at a young age what the difference was between a good secret and a bad secret so that if someone close to her tried to get her to hide something from her parents by telling her that we wouldn’t love them, that she knew that wasn’t true and to tell us. We taught her who had the right to touch her body, especially in an intimate way, and that she owned that right to say yes or no. With our son, we taught all of that and also to ensure he knew his partner was ready and wanting a physical relationship and how to safely navigate that path. Our daughter also got that information, but only when she was ready to hear it.
Throughout my children’s development years I have endevoured to encourage them to always be real with those that really care about them. We model this behaviour in our home every day. There is a lot of loving touch, kissing and hugging and yes, some fighting.
It’s especially important to be real when you’re angry or frustrated with someone. Being real though, means that we own our response, behaviour and actions. We don’t blame the other for how we feel.. (e.g. “You make me angry!”). When we take full responsibility of our emotions and actions in an intimate relationship we reveal ourselves fully and feel safe in doing so because we accept ourselves as we do this! When we accept ourselves, then it actually doesn’t matter what the other persons reaction is. We can own our emotions, express them safely and then take the time to listen and hear the other person without the need to be right, but with the need to understand and find a resolution. So our children witnessed us expressing ourselves, our emotions and then watched as we talked it through and resolved the issue.
So remember… healthy intimacy involves feeling safe to express ourselves physically and emotionally with the loved one, accepting ourselves fully as we are in each moment. That moment could be either a positive or a “negative” emotional moment! (By the way, negative emotions are positive because they move us into action or into a response that we need to feel or face!)