It's Complicated Discovering intimacy BY: Troy Murphy | May 2016
Relationships are complicated. Our most content moments often are associated with relationships. Relationships are also the cause for deepest turmoil. We are biologically programed to connect. Relationships create security through acceptance, affection, and attention. When our relationship needs are fulfilled, we feel satisfied and secure. When needs remain unfulfilled, we struggle. It’s a little more complex than a partner providing these needs or not. Simplicity is not the nature of living—especially with relationships between complex and emotional beings. The feelings relationships generate derive from complex structures of expectations, needs, and past experiences. Relationships can either catapult us towards growth or destructively disrupt our lives. The nature of the relationships either creates an environment of growth or decay.
A pattern of interaction encourages openness or suppression; trust or distrust; intimacy or guardedness. Because relationships are so important to well-being, they magnify emotions. Relationships generate intense joy and fear; security and anger. Interdependence creates new vulnerability. We trust a partner with our well-being. Whether in our out of a relationship, we work to develop a greater sense of self; but loss of an intimate partner is painful. Our emotional well-being is closely tied to relationship fulfillment.
Complex human relations complicate simple explanations. Relationship dissatisfaction often isn’t easily dissected into simple causes. Some relationships work and some don’t. Maturity and experience help but not always. Some people struggle with intimacy their entire lives. Others luckily stumble into nearly perfect compatibility. Although biologically driven to create relationships, the ability to build healthy secure relationships falls within the domain of learning; we must learn to tame, direct and utilize biological drives to connect and create intimacy.
The relationships we need for security also create new challenges. Relationship skills allows us to enjoy the benefits while not being overwhelmed by the challenges. If we were lucky enough, we learned connection from skilled caregivers. But many are not so fortunate. Their childhoods were fraught with fear, rejection and punishment. Love deprived childhoods missed critical lessons during key moments of their development, creating life-long obstacles that complicate future bonding. The past frustrations in connection remain prominent in implicit and explicit memories. New events easily ignite powerful emotions. These strong emotions disrupt and deregulate their entire system leading to faulty assessment and problematic behaviors that thwart intimacy.
Relationships struggle when one or both partner’s past burdens the present. Painful memories burned into the soul make us skittish in connection, naturally sensitive to possible hurt. Instead of feeling kindness and security, the insecure constantly face fear—fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, fear of loneliness.
No magic pill cures deeply engrained emotions. The emotional reactions are not chosen or simply discarded. Knowledge may help but not cure. The past injury remains, motivating legitimate fear to the possibility of re-experiencing pain. New partners can disrupt our lives. We may have balance the past with an independent adulthood but once a new partner is added we must readjust again. We must scrutinize people we let into our lives exposing tenderness and opening to vulnerability. Emotional reactions are complex, strongly influenced by the past. We don’t purposely allow the past to destroy present joys. Avoiding intimacy because of fear is limiting but protecting. There’s no magic solution to erase the past; forever a part of our present. The right partner can assist with healing but not eliminate relationship fears altogether.
“If your heart is a volcano, how shall you expect flowers to bloom?” ~Khalil Gibran
Friends, family and professionals provide additional resources. Personal knowledge of biases and fears opens insights, helping to avoid some of the inevitable triggers. A patient partner that compassionately understands your past can provide the attention, affection and acceptance needed to heal. As we add new skills (personal and relationship), we begin to enjoy small moments of intimacy without debilitating fear. Each small glimpse provides a healing salve for our wounds. Hurts soften and fears subside. Each disrupting emotion we successfully navigate contributes to our growing self-confidence. We may not immediately notice the growth but as we look back at the valleys and the gorges traversed, we will gratefully embrace our successes and boldly move forward in love. ~Troy Murphy