Why Is Intimacy Necessary For Successful Relationships?

 

Rooftops of a European town with mountain in background

“Without love, the rich and poor live in the same house.” ~ Author Unknown


How would it feel to live a life without love? 

Imagine relating to other people on a purely superficial level without ever knowing their hopes and dreams, or struggles and fears. Only seeing the outside physical persona and never getting a glimpse of the inside where emotions and feelings dwell. 

Imagine if you never truly shared yourself? Your own ambitions and goals; fears, and failures. The countless life experiences, both good and bad, destined to stay locked up in your own heart and mind.

One would assume that these aren’t conscious choices. Why on earth would someone deliberately avoid the intimacy that makes life so meaningful?

These familiar associations and deep levels of understanding are the hallmarks of loving relationships. They can exist with lovers, parents, children, and other people who have a prominent role in our lives.

So, why do some individuals have such a fear of intimacy?


The first contact we have with other human beings is our family of origin. Usually, this is a mother, father, and siblings. 

Love Parental

Sometimes it’s a single parent, another relative, or foster parents. Regardless of whom our first caretakers are we’re directly affected by if and how they nurture.

Some of us get lucky and are born into good families. They possess the ability to set proper boundaries while allowing us the freedom to learn and explore. 

They invest a lot of resources into our growth and development and these youngsters have the best chance for success in life.

Some of us end up abused and neglected; throwaway children largely left to fend for themselves. Their parents are absentee, addicted to drugs and alcohol, or struggling with the ill-effects from their own childhoods. Exposed to such negative circumstances and lacking love and guidance the outlook for these kids is very poor.

These are the extremes and there are many variations in between. However, love itself can be divided into two types:

Unconditional love

Unconditional love is neutral and has no opposite. Because it comes from the spirit it’s available to everyone. We’re not required to do anything to qualify for it.

2 BirdsWhen we decide to think and act in ways based on unconditional love, it doesn’t automatically mean that we agree with everyone and everything. It does mean that we make a conscious decision to respect and show kindness to others despite our differences.

We reap many positive benefits in all areas of our lives (physical, mental, emotional) from loving unconditionally.

Conditional love

Conversely, conditional love is a polarized emotion and has an opposite, which is hate.

When we love someone conditionally we expect certain things from them. We want them to think and act according to our own paradigms. If they want to receive our love and approval, they must meet those expectations. 

Conditional love causes us to believe that “I’m right and you’re wrong, so you should think the way I do.” When we begin to judge someone as being right or wrong, we assume authority over them. This leads to controlling behavior without regard to the other person’s thoughts and feelings.


Both types of love are seen in a wide variety of households.

PuppetInitially, one would assume that higher levels of education and socioeconomic factors would guarantee unconditional love. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. 

Unhealthy, controlling relationships aren’t limited to lower-income families. They thrive in better neighborhoods, as well.  Our true personalities are a direct result of how we were raised and not our financial portfolios. 

Some of the kindest, most generous people possess very little in the way of material assets. Yet, they are genuine and honest, never attempting to pad their resume in order to be something they’re not. They give freely, with no strings attached. They love unconditionally.

Then there are those people who define themselves according to what they’ve accumulated in life: houses, cars, country-club memberships, etc. They fall into the trap of trying to impress and “keep up with the Joneses.”

Instead of building and maintaining healthy relationships, they focus on status and image. This creates flawed expectations of themselves and those closest to them. They confuse love for control.


People must feel kindness towards themselves and possess self-confidence in order to live authentically. They must have the encouragement of family and friends to be who they truly are. This need for acceptance begins in childhood. If they don’t receive loving affirmation then feelings of inadequacy can deeply and negatively affect the rest of their lives.

“Children Learn What They Live” (Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte) is a timeless poem that offers simple, yet profound insights into how a child’s upbringing determines whether they’ll fear intimacy or embrace it:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

My mother introduced this poem to me and I referred to it often as I raised my own children. It made good sense then and even more as I’ve grown older. 

To be loved and accepted for our strengths, in spite of our faults, can only occur between people who understand and practice the art of intimacy.


 

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Emotional Memory and Why It’s So Powerful

 

Old Car.png

“It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.” ~Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams


Memory can be a funny thing.

Sometimes, when you need it most it can’t be found. Like when someone is approaching you, waving and calling your name. You realize that you should know this person; they obviously know you. But, no matter how hard you struggle to remember their name, your gray matter just won’t cough it up. 

Then there are times when something triggers a memory that’s been long forgotten. The trigger might be a song or a smell; it’s often sensory. And in an instant, we’re transported back to a time and place that we haven’t thought of in years. 


 As a small child, I often stayed overnight at my favorite aunt’s house. She was great fun and knew how to entertain children. My first experience with emotional memory occurred as a result of those visits, and it was quite powerful.

Before bedtime, my aunt would draw a warm, bubbly bath and let me play for a while. There was always a bar of gold Dial soap on the side of the bathtub, along with the toys that she kept for my visits.Dial Bath Soap

Unbeknownst to me then, the scent of that soap would stay with me long after those overnighters came to an end. Many years went by before I got another whiff of Dial soap, but when I did the memories came flooding back. In my mind’s eye, I could see that bathroom again, the light reflecting off the salmon pink tile. I could feel the warm water against my skin and hear my aunt’s laughter.


The house we grew up in had a sizable backyard and just beyond that were train tracks. In the 1960s and early ’70s, there was a lot of activity on those tracks. Freight trains came by multiple times throughout the day and night. During the daylight hours, we would race to the backyard as soon as we heard the whistle off in the distance. We waited patiently for the train on the crest of the small hill overlooking the tracks. This was our chance to wave to the conductor and the rear brakeman who always rode in the caboose.

TrainWhile some people would complain about the noise, we grew accustomed to it. It was a comforting reminder that we were home. We lived on a quiet street (other than the trains) and on summer nights the only sounds were the crickets and the hum of a box fan trying to cool the humid air. I loved hearing the train whistle and feeling the vibrations as the approaching engine got closer. When I grew up and moved out, I left those sounds behind. 

Some years later I was staying in a place that was near a set of train tracks. It was a warm August evening, the bedroom window was open, and the crickets were singing their familiar summer song. Suddenly, I heard it. Off in the distance, a lowly train whistle blew. At that moment I was back in my twin bed, in the old house, in my old neighborhood. The feeling was intensely pleasant and I squeezed my eyes shut, wanting desperately to hang on to it as long as possible. 


Who knew that seemingly insignificant things could stay with us, buried in the long-term memory of our brains? The things and objects that were a somewhat mundane part of daily life.

So, what is it that causes them to generate the strong emotions that they do so many years later?

While the process is still not fully understood, it’s believed that the hippocampus and two amygdalae regions in the brain play key roles in processing both memories and emotions and that interactions between the two may reinforce the link between them.

I’ve always assumed it’s the feeling that we’re actually pulled from the present moment and thrust back to a time that occurred many years prior. After all, the sensory components remain the same, while we ourselves have changed.


Vintage CollageMost of us have old family photos that are occasionally brought out and reminisced over; a tangible connection to a past that’s gone forever.

Similar to those pictures are memorable occasions filed away in our subconscious minds. They’re easily recalled due to the significance they played in our lives.

However, many thousands more exist that have slowly faded away. Seemingly insignificant moments that are all too soon forgotten.Moments

Those rare occasions of emotional memory are golden opportunities to relive, for a few precious seconds, the moments that are no longer inconsequential. Only with the passage of time does the true value of these flashbacks become obvious. 

And therein lies another reason why we should live every moment to the fullest.