Barriers of intimacy ultimately mean breakdown in communication. This breakdown usually manifests in one of two ways – blame/criticism or shutdown/withdrawal. Intimacy doesn’t always feel good and it sometimes includes wrestling with issues and a struggle. But, if done properly, and with respect, it will bring you and your partner closer. A disagreement is different from an argument an arguments involving tempers, stalemates and hurt feelings can be avoided. A disagreement can be respectful and the end result is both parties better understanding each other and coming to some form of resolution. In that way, future problems are avoided and resentments don’t build.
The first step when entering disagreement or potentially volatile ground is to remind yourself not to blame or criticize your partner. This is made easier if you remember to speak about yourself, your feelings and your experience instead of focusing on what you think your partner did “wrong”. The classic “I statement” is a great start. It’s also equally important not to shutdown/withdraw by choosing to avoid a potentially tense discussion.
#1 – Tell your partner what you feel.
To do this, you may want to do some reflection and gather an inventory of feelings you can express. Examples are “I felt disappointed when you did X”, “I didn’t feel cared about when you did X”, or “I didn’t feel respected when you did X”. Keep in mind, its difficult to argue with someone’s feelings. If I say, “I feel disappointed”, a person would be hard pressed to say, “No, you’re not”. But if I say, “You shouldn’t have done X”, or “You made me feel disappointed”, it’s sure to lead to a standoff which moves us further away from each other emotionally.
#2 – Ask for what you want and need.
You may not always get what you want from your partner, but they will have a better understanding of who you are when they are aware of your desires. That in itself is intimacy as there is deeper understanding. Plus, it’s more likely your needs will be met when you open up the conversation expressing your feelings as your partner will not feel defensive and will be more willing to work with you.
Even if your partner cannot give you what you are asking for (seeing your point of view, bending behaviors, etc), simply validating your feelings will go a long way. If someone’s experience or feelings are validated and heard, they will feel cared about. And, at the end of the discussion, both people will know more about the other, an argument will be avoided and the intimacy in your relationship will increase.
Sylvia Flanagan, MA, MFT is a licensed Marriage & Family therapist in San Diego where she has a private practice working with couples and individuals.