by Elliott Kronenfeld

We are born for intimacy. Clients come to me with a variety of complaints, but much of the time, the root issue relates directly to intimacy: disruptions in intimacy, fear of intimacy, over-dependence on intimacy, lack of intimacy, need for intimacy, and the myriad relationship problems that occur in relation to these issues.

We all need intimacy. People are born with the innate drive and capacity for intimacy. In our culture however, we, men and women alike, grow up with conflicting messages about it. Men, more so than women, struggle in coming to terms with their need for intimacy, and often have poor skills, if any, in maintaining it. In fact, many red-blooded American men squirm at the very suggestion of needing intimacy, or groan when their wives or girlfriends ask for it. For these men, intimacy is something for guys who get manicures with their girlfriends while wearing matching outfits. Plainly put, if you are a guy who wants intimacy, then you’re told in subtle ways that you’re not really a man.  That’s a problem.

Boys are taught from early ages how to ‘be a man’. ‘Be a Man 101′ usually includes these imperatives: stand firm, be strong, be tough, be independent, and above all, when something bothers you, don’t let it show. The 201 level of the same course encourages men to take their problems head on: solve the problem, fix the problem, fight it, power it away if it can’t be fixed, and finally, if the problem can’t be resolved by your efforts, then it’s probably not worth your time, and you have every right – and usually the means – to leave the problem.  When it comes to relationship difficulties however, this ‘manly’ approach becomes painful, in that many men use the approach described above and simply substitute the name of their girlfriend or wife in for the word “problem”.

While this kind of ‘manly’ approach has always been seen as a man’s problem, in the modern world, as a byproduct of greater empowerment for women,  many more women are now adopting elements of this style of handling relationship  problems, because they are free to do so – both economically and socially –  for the first time in history. Women are more able and willing to take a problem head on, assert what they want, what they value, and, if need be, they’re willing to turn and walk when their needs aren’t met.

The difference for women in relationships is that women come into relationships having been through their own curriculum, and sorry guys, but theirs is a set of advanced placement classes. ‘I am Woman’ 101, is much more inclusive of intimacy, is open to intimacy, and teaches more of the skills of building intimacy. Womanhood today is more empowered, and from a place of greater freedom, is demanding greater intimacy from their partners. These women know what they want and have the freedom to say that if they don’t get it, they won’t stand for it, and they will leave. And they do.

I’m writing in broad terms here, so let me add this caveat – I realize that not ALL women are empowered and free in today’s world. Also, I know that not all men are intimacy challenged. Actually, greater numbers of men are now asking for more intimacy from their partners. Men have been learning from women in this regard, and as a relationship professional, I’m thrilled when I see men owning their need for intimacy, asking for it, and building the skills to get it and keep it in their relationships.

Intimacy, in a relationship, is the practice of giving your full self, faults and gifts alike, to another person who receives you. Takes you fully!  Better yet, in a marriage that other person commits to take you, as you are, every day, and for the rest of your life! That sounds like a pretty sweet deal, doesn’t it?! It’s great to have someone who is committed to you, as you are, but then remember that intimacy calls you to receive your significant other in kind. Intimacy isn’t intimacy unless it goes both ways, and that carries significant implications for how you approach a relationship that you want to be intimate.  Intimacy 101 would include both the practice of being honest about what you need from your partner, and the matching skills to be compassionate in considering what you are giving your partner – that’s more in reference to the faults than the gifts. There are ways that intimacy in relationship calls for you to help your partner both receive you and give you what you need. And yes, that too goes both ways. Sometimes being a man makes that process more difficult. Sometimes being a woman makes that process easier. Sometimes we both get in our own way.  Yet we need each other, and this means we need to practice honesty and compassion all the time.

That’s not easy, but it is intimacy.

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