Is it fear that prevents emotional intimacy? Not exactly.

Posted on: January 12, 2016 by Chris Kingman

Imagine you were in a NYC yoga class and the instructor asked you to touch the back of your head with your foot. Or, imagine a street performer in Washington Square Park called you into the circle and asked you to juggle 5 tennis balls in front of the crowd. My guess is that you would not be able to successfully do either of these things. But it would be silly to say, “Well, you’re just afraid or else you’d be able to do them successfully.”

The truth is you wouldn’t be able to do them simply because you’ve not learned to do them. And yes, you’d feel fear, but it would emanate from your unfamiliarity with the task, not from the task itself.

emotional intimacy is a skill-set

Fear is too often seen as the cause of emotional disturbances in relationships when, in truth, it is actually more of the effect. The effect of what? Insufficient experience and inadequate learning. As is highlighted in the simple example above, if you never learned to juggle or contort your body then you simply cannot do them well. In a somewhat similar way, far too many of us just simply never learned the nuts and bolts of emotional intimacy which can take many forms such as:

  • Being vulnerable and asking for your needs to be met
  • Asking your partner about his/her emotional needs
  • Talking about your emotions constructively when you feel most insecure or upset
  • Setting healthy boundaries with your partner knowing he/she will not be pleased
  • Initiating and leading a constructive conversation about emotionally charged issues (i.e. sex, finances, in-laws, division of labor, etc.)

effective couples therapy involves rigorous learning

Did your family life in childhood teach you emotional literacy and healthy emotional communication? Probably not. These are rare things. If you didn’t learn these things growing up, what did you learn regarding emotionality-in-relationships? What did you observe?

When the principles and processes of emotional intimacy are not learned in childhood then there is some serious learning to do in adulthood IF you want to form and maintain a healthy and vibrant romantic relationship. You probably know this already or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog post. In fact, it’s likely you’ve already done a bunch of valuable learning in this area and simply want to go further.

Do you want to feel less fear? Less anger/resentment? More gratitude and appreciation? More consistently harmonious connection? Of course you do. Everyone does. But it is the rare people who are ready and willing to do the hard work that is required to get there.

psychotherapy for relationships in NYC

An important dimension of my work with people in couples and relationship therapy is this: I help them create conditions and opportunities (inside and outside of the psychotherapy office) where they can learn what they need to learn so that emotional intimacy can be part of their relationship. It’s just too important and too valuable to neglect.

To advance your competence with emotional intimacy, it’s essential that you give yourself permission to be in a serious learning process. This type of open and receptive attitude (“a growth-mindset”) combined with a willingness to step outside your comfort zone will greatly increase the probability that your primary relationship will be a source of comfort much more than it is a source of stress. Feeling increased mastery regarding the nuts and bolts of emotional communication will instill a sense of internal safety and security in you that is far more valuable than anything you own.

Why? Because being able to form and maintain a healthy and mutually satisfying romantic relationship is the best foundation for human well-being that there is.

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