Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series leading up to Valentine’s Day.
Here are the basic intimacy skills a healthy intimate relationship requires of us:
That I communicate with you the very best I can. Good communication takes place when I put aside my own thoughts, feelings and needs for a while to concentrate my attention on you while you are speaking. When I listen, I give my full attention to what you are communicating, verbally and non-verbally. When I am listening, I am not thinking about what I am going to say next or how I am going to respond, and I do not interrupt (which only communicates to you that I don’t consider what you are saying important). Good listening requires that I not get defensive (I quit listening when I get defensive), and it requires that I be empathetic to what you are saying.
Empathy is communicated when I “step into the puddle” with you. That means that I have to tune into how you’re feeling and temporarily join you with my presence, my response, my touch and my heartfelt participation: “I’m sorry to hear that.” “That must feel terrible.” “That sounds exciting.” “I’m so proud of you.” “I can only imagine how I would have handled that.” Joining you with my presence and my participation is not a bottomless pit. I’m stepping into a puddle, not an ocean. In order to do this, I have to temporarily put aside my resentments, disappointments and grievances. But if I am willing to do this, I’ll most likely find that joining in my partners emotions will not drag me down. Instead it will assist the two of us in walking out of the puddle together and greatly assist the two of us in feeling closer and more connected. This idea comes from Patricia Love and Steven Stosny in their book “How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking About It.”
Be AN Emotional Leader
To be the emotional leader in your relationship. This means taking responsibility — taking the lead — for making your relationship deeper, closer and more meaningful.
Know when to express anger, and when not to express anger. You cannot focus a lot of negativity on your partner and still be in a great relationship. That means you must give up put-downs, harsh judgments, criticisms, raging, sarcasm and nitpicking and you cannot use names that are designed to hurt or offend, no matter how upset you may be. You must work as a team together toward building a common goal.
Make sure you do periodic repair work, by apologizing when you say or do something that hurts or offends your partner. This repair work is not just desirable, it’s required. In addition, when your partner addresses a grievance he or she has with you, you cannot respond with anger, aggression, threats or defensiveness. Your partner has to tell you what’s bothering him or her — that’s how repair work happens. If you don’t do this, grievances will fester and grow in your relationship.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 22nd year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website, www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.