There are four stages to intimacy. Each can be described and felt. Unfortunately, the path is not straight, and it is certainly not without false paths.
Stage One: Pseudo-Intimacy
This is where we all start. Nearly every relationship starts with the assumption that
“We are just alike”. Sometimes, a couple is amazed to discover such common things as favorite foods, music, books, movies, similar values and beliefs. The couple looks at each other lovingly, amazed to have found someone with such similar interests and loves.
Pseudo-Intimacy is based on these similar interests. In fact, the individuals may find that they tend to ignore the differences at times, and may choose to accentuate the similarities. This maintains the sense of connection and of being alike.
Pseudo-Intimacy exists in the upper level of the personal view. At times, it extends into deeper areas, but the first points of connectedness are often around that top layer. Eventually, one takes a risk and disagrees. This marks the beginning of the end of the stage of Pseudo-Intimacy. Some couples are years into marriage before they risk this. Others find this on the fist date. Either way, both find themselves in a new relationship. This leads to stage two.
Stage Two: Chaos
Suddenly, the couple is aware of the feeling that, “You changed. I need to get you back.” This would be far less chaotic if each could see these differences were there all along, but we all cling to the feeling of being alike. So, the stage is set. Two people who are very different are each trying to get the other back to seeing things like he or she did. The chaos stage is marked by unproductive struggle. Each states his or her view, but fails to listen to the others. Why? Both are convinced that their view is the correct view. And so they struggle – arguing, debating, haranguing, and pleading; but both have discovered their voice and neither budges. In the end, neither moves, but both are amazed at how quickly someone can change.
Stage Three: Emptiness
After the stage of Chaos comes the most painful stage where the relationship is most likely to be abandoned. In Emptiness stage, there is a deep pit of emptiness in one’s stomach. It feels like the relationship is mired and lost. The good news, however, is that this comes just before true intimacy – if you hang in.
If Chaos is the discovery of differences, Emptiness is the discovery that “We are nothing alike, and I don’t have a clue what to do with you.” Unfortunately, the stage of Emptiness is a very vulnerable point for the relationship. People often assume, “it’s all over,” even though this stage is so close to intimacy. When our stomach feels the empty pit, we become frightened. We may bail out to a new relationship just so we won’t feel empty. When we don’t know what to do with our partner, we begin to feel hopeless. That means you are ready to move on. It is hopeless to change the person back to something he or she never was. It is possible, however, to move to something new. That something may be a renewed and fulfilling relationship with your partner. Emptiness has to be waited out. There is no way to avoid it if the goal is intimacy. There are ways to lengthen the stage of Emptiness. One way is to decide to move back to the stage of Chaos. This does little but prolong the movement toward intimacy. The only way to intimacy is through emptiness. Going around Emptiness is impossible, and going backward is counterproductive, and jumping out into a new pseudo-intimate relationship just puts you back at the beginning.
Four strategies for moving through the stage of Emptiness:
1. Decide to hang in. This is hard because our instinct is to drop out – get away from the feeling. Make a decision to hold on, to continue moving through this stage. People often fail to realize they can make the decision. There is more destruction by moving back and forth, vacillating on what to do. Make the decision to hold on, and trust that this is a stage.
2. Decide that things must improve. Unfortunately, it is at this stage that we feel little energy to improve the relationship. In fact, we often feel drained by the feeling of emptiness. So, make a decision that things must improve in the relationship, and take it upon yourself to make some of these changes. It is possible to own the situation without owning the problems.
3. Decide how to re-energize, re-invigorate and re-impassion the relationship. What would it take to bring energy into the relationship? Do you need to play more? Do you need a fresh perspective? And what will bring passion back? Part of the antidote for emptiness is fullness; bringing the creative side of you back into the relationship will fill the relationship.
4. Move toward acceptance of the other. This is key. If the statement, “I don’t know what to do with you,” marks the stage of Emptiness, the answer is simple – accept each other for who the other is. Love them for their differences; cherish what they bring into the relationship.
These strategies move you forward through the emptiness, and move you to the final stage: Intimacy.
Stage Four: Intimacy
After viewing the fist three stages, you are probably anxious for the good news. That would be Intimacy, the goal of this journey. Intimacy is an appreciation of the differences, an understanding that these differences cause growth in both and add strength to the relationship. At the stage of Intimacy, the meaning is “We are nothing alike, and that is what makes our relationship so wonderful.” Intimacy is a full appreciation of the other. It is when we move beyond our “projections” about the other and see them for who they are. When we are caught up in our projections, we see them for who we want them to be, good and bad. Some people see only the bad in the other, while others are only able to see the good. In actuality, neither is fully correct. Yet how we see the other person so profoundly impacts how we treat them that we must take the risk and see them for who they are. When there are problems in a relationship, especially when one is considering divorce, the view of the partner is skewed. Don’t make your partner out to be evil, pretend their lack of love and kindness is a reality. They are never found with horns and pointed tail that you make them out to be. You will instead find another human being who is just as hurt and just as confused as you are. For deep reasons neither can see the other for who he or she is. That is the task of intimacy: to see the person for who that person is – and treasure it!