The Illusive Demands Of The Committed, Intimate Relationship
In looking over the YourTango website on love and relationships, the words commitment and intimacy are prominently featured over and over again, and many a love-seeker is caught up in this quest. This pattern is similar in my psychotherapy practice in which numerous clients come in asking for my help in finding a committed and intimate relationship.
Those who feel that they have failed in achieving this desire, express enormous despair and lament that their life is not complete without this. They cry out, “Will I ever find the one?” They then go on and share with me all of the times that their pursuit has ended up empty with tons of disappointment.
Typically, most people have never asked the question, “What is a committed intimate relationship?” One woman came to see me and wanted my help in achieving this goal. So I asked her, “Are you willing to experience sadness in your life?” She immediately answered, “No, I don’t like sadness. There is nothing positive in that experience. I just want a committed love relationship.”
To this I said, “I’m sorry, but you don’t meet the criteria for the relationship you are requesting.” She tried arguing with me about my “no,” and I stated that “These aren’t my rules. I am just letting you know the rules of a committed intimate relationship.” She left frustrated.
This experience is reflective of many people I have seen in my life, both professionally and personally, who have no idea what a committed and intimate relationship asks for, despite the energy they expend obsessing and seeking this goal. There is a major lack of understanding of what a committed intimate relationship (CIR) really is. The gap between the desired goal and what is involved speaks loudly why we see so much frustration in this arena, as well as the enormous divorce rates that occur in our culture.
This article is my attempt to fill that gap and assist single people, and even married ones, who choose this path. It is my hope to clarify the demands of this kind of relationship and the nature of this journey. My wish is to take the surprise out of the equation, which is a frequent result for those on this quest, in order to reduce the anguish and the mood swings.
The first thing is to realize that this journey is rarely just a smooth boat ride. A committed and intimate relationship is extremely demanding and asks you to be open and experience the many waves from joy to disappointment, as well as willingness to accept and expose numerous unacceptable internal personal parts, such as fear and sadness.
Lastly, it requires the capacity to accept one’s deepest vulnerabilities. Anything less than this kind of openness will result in attracting people who are just posing as intimate partners, which will become obvious within a very short period of time. Also, be aware that there is no shortage of posers and pretenders. One couple came to see me who had broken up numerous times even though they said they loved each other.
It was revealed that each time she felt scared in the relationship she would run, while he would desperately try to avoid his insecurity by protecting himself through getting aggressive. They were not open to their fear or their insecurity, and the relationship would continually overwhelm them, leaving breaking up as their only solution.
The Honeymoon Is Not The Trip
A major dilemma that couples frequently face is their wish that the honeymoon period will hopefully last forever. In truth, the initial excitement that occurs during this time is merely designed to get one into the relationship, and it’s a very short part of the journey. It is meant to fade, so that the real work of the committed and intimate relationship can begin, which is to look in the mirror and learn to accept and integrate the unacceptable aspects of ourselves. This will demand a shift from judging and rejecting qualities in our partners, to exploring the source of our rejecting behavior by turning our eyes on ourselves.
In no way is this easy work, and it will present daily challenges. If we select a relationship with a truly intimate partner, they will demand constant exposure from us by their presence with very few exceptions. Attempting to look good and hiding from a parade of our so-called negative qualities, including feeling impotent, inadequate and insecure will prove to be an endless task. A frequent lament I hear is, “What happened to the person I first met?” I say “Nothing happened, other than their presentable mask faded and the real person showed up.”
Numerous clients come to see me and present in various ways that they want a selective mirror that doesn’t reveal their fears, weakness, insecurity, inadequacy, boredom, or helplessness. I simply tell them that they are in the wrong relationship, and that a committed and intimate relationship is not suitable for them, since any true intimate relationship will leave them feeling all of these challenging emotions at one time or another.
In magnifying their dilemma around the risks of exposure, I humorously express that I can find them a different partner, one who would have no interest in challenging them, and they won’t have to be concerned about many of these vulnerable parts of their humanness. Then I share that they can at least feel safe and that their life will have less uncertainty in it.
Another point that many people fail to realize is that commitment is not just a word. Of course, we all favor that word, but to be able to sustain commitment in the presence of one’s fear usually reveals quite a different narrative. I have seen numerous individuals, who are starting relationships, state that they were committed, but as soon as fear shows up, they run for the hills or use many defensive postures to protect themselves from their partners.
One needs to realize that fear is not an option in a committed and intimate relationship; it is a given. It will be there every time there is exposure to anything unknown that presents any uncertainty or insecurity, or any other unacceptable part that is revealed. After all, we have devoted ourselves to protecting against all of this long before we choose to enter a committed relationship.
Yet despite these efforts, our partners are standing in front of us asking us in a variety of ways to be vulnerable and naked. It is at that moment that we are faced with demonstrating our commitment, and many of us say “No.” It doesn’t matter how we say it, whether it is through avoidance, substances, attacking, or defending. It is still saying that we are not open to a committed and intimate relationship.
A committed and intimate relationship is clearly a long-term involvement, which asks us to address many issues over a life span, such as raising children, economic hardships, learning to deal with an assortment of friends and family, managing the demands of a home, and facing losses including death. It is not designed for hiding.
The partner that has been chosen will be there in the morning, night, and throughout the day. For many people that is too much exposure to bear. Yet short of divorce, it is very difficult to avoid the intensity and the glare. Even if we choose to leave, it will only be a matter of time until we are again facing exposure from a new set of eyes, and finding other ways to hedge the light.
Many Emotional Shifts
A part of a couple’s journey is learning to deal with the emotional shifts in the relationship dance. In some periods we may feel extremely close to our partner, only to be followed by episodes of great distance or on other occasions there will be great excitement, followed by periods of powerful boredom. Then there will be times of deep love, interrupted by times of anger. Each experience will leave us longing for constancy, as our cries for just closeness end in extreme frustration. It is essential for each couple to allow room for the entire range of feelings and the realization that over the long-term there will rarely be only one feeling.
Reflection In Selection
It is also important for partners, if they are considering the intimate couple journey, to appreciate two things about who they select.
1. Your partner is a reflection of who you are and will match your emotional and mental capacity no matter how they look on the surface. They are certainly not an accident. They are a clear match, provided one looks beneath the surface, since one can only create a relationship based on who we are. So on the intimacy continuum, someone who is a three on a 10 scale can only select someone who is also a three. Now, many people find this too humbling because it can certainly put a dent in any inflated sense of who we think we are, especially in a relationship to our partner.
2. The CIR can be viewed as a series of doors, and each door we go through asks us to expand our love capacity. Can we love our partners when we experience their entire package, including ex’s, stepchildren, illness, and job loss? As stated before, despite the variety of appearances and styles, our partner has a similar love and pleasure capacity to be intimate or they wouldn’t be on the same path. No one can be with more or less than they are, in my view. This can be tricky since some partners can put on a great act and appear to be a lot more than they are.
Two Feet In
Another difficulty couples run into in desiring a CIR, is that it will ask us to put two feet into the relationship and close the back door or there is no real commitment. Closing the back door and not using leaving as an option when things get tense freaks out many people, as they view this as a trap and the loss of their freedom.
If one needs the divorce threat as an escape from the intensity and demands of the CIR, I would not recommend this kind of relationship. I meet many couples who threaten the relationship every time they have a fight. The result is a relationship with zero safety. So before considering the CIR, ask yourself if you are ready to close the back door. If hesitation is present, it will be best to reevaluate your goal.
Finally, we need to be aware that the CIR brings up a lot of testing activity whenever our partners feel insecure, which is normal for such a lengthy trip. So be prepared when your love, respect, acceptance, and commitment are being doubted by your partners. This is just part of the nature of walking together through the many challenges of life.
The key for any partner in getting ready for the CIR is anticipating difficulty that arises, so that one doesn’t get hooked into proving and defending when the personal accusations start flying. Then we can merely listen without getting defensive or emotionally reactive when our partner says, “You aren’t very open like other men” and be able to respond, “I hear that you don’t think I am equal to other men, so what do we do now?”
Another aspect of deescalating the predictable tests is awareness that most testing among couples are flunk tests. Ultimately, there are no passes in relationship testing, in contrast to our conditioned beliefs stemming from our school backgrounds. An excellent tool to use when our love is doubted is to simply ask our partner, “What needs to happen for me to pass your test once and for all?” In almost every case, the partner will have no real answer, enabling them to see that this was just a maneuver being used to inflate their perspective of themselves.
The more each partner can say “yes” mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually to everything described here on this journey, the more they will be ready to benefit from all the gifts that a committed, intimate relationship has to offer. If we don’t have a willingness to accept all these demands, it is best to not go down this path and save yourself a lot of grief.
Author: Bruce Derman Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and author of his best-selling books about relationships. He specializes in working with people in all stages of relationships. You may reach Dr. Derman by calling (818) 375-7194.
For more information on couples counseling in Los Angeles & Woodland Hills, contact Dr. Bruce Derman PH.D. at TheRelationshipDoctor.net