Intimate love — 27 November 2006
Intimacy sometimes eludes gentle couples

One would expect that marital harmony would be common among couples who are both gentle and conflict- avoidant. For many that is true. Yet, some sweet people who appear to others to live in blissful harmony find that their relationship is not sufficiently intimate.

Some necessary ingredients for intimacy are: feeling safe to be oneself and feeling secure in being accepted, understood and loved. Gentle couples who avoid conflict and refrain from confrontations, appear to others to be more intimate than they are. They seem to be deeply in touch with each other’s emotions, needs and preferences and in love.

Yet, this perception may not match the experience these couples have about their relationship. Though they admit to being non-confrontational, they lack the intimacy they crave. These pairs fall into one of three most prevalent categories: The codependent pairs, the vague communicators or the distanced couples.

The codependent pairs consist of one or two people who defer their own needs to please the other. Being agreeable is viewed as being loving. As kind as it appears to defer one’s needs for the benefit of the other– a steady diet of this conduct actually creates an imbalance in the relationship that harms intimacy. The routinely or occasionally submissive person is acting as though s/he is less important than the mate. Healthy intimacy requires exchanges between two equally valued people.

The receiving partner is often unaware that the mate is suppressing his/her needs and may be quite content with the ease with which s/he is being accommodated. However, with time, the satisfied partner may feel lonely, missing the honest input of the other mate and an opportunity to please him/her. This unequal relationship creates an emotional distance that interferes with intimacy.

The vague communicators are focused on pleasing each other without an open discussion about what is wanted and desired. Each partner assumes that s/he knows what the other wants and proceeds to provide it. But since no one can know for certainty what another desires at any given moment, many caring acts end up being poorly timed, inappropriate or frustrating. Neither partner is fully satisfied and their closeness is compromised.

The guessing pairs often speak in vague language so as to not appear to be demanding. This too leaves the partner at a loss to accurately identify what the other actually means. Even when they do talk to each other, their need to please and not be needy creates vague and indirect verbal exchanges. Others, who feel left out of the sequence of the couple’s communication, sometimes misperceive this as a sign of deep connection, while it is actually quite unclear and bewildering to the partners as well.

Some gentle people are actually distanced from each other. They do not fight, argue or debate, but may be devoid of passion for each other and/or their relationship. They are not safe to be themselves, be open, and share their thoughts and feelings, so they live effectively as disconnected partners. To others they may appear as healthily functioning mates whose affection is reserved for private times.

These pairs often lament that they lost their way and can’t find the route home. I liken them to people who started their trip together up in a capital I and slowly separated to create a capital Y – where each one is on the tip of the top of the Y, a valley is between them and they are lost in finding the way to bridge the gap.

• If you are in a gentle yet unfulfilling relationship, ask yourself if your kindness towards your partner may stem from self-discounting, a desire to not be demanding or being distanced and lost?
• Before you can resume intimacy you must respect yourself and your right to have needs known and accommodated.

• You need to not only please your mate but be willing to allow your partner to please you as well.
• Vague abstract and symbolic language is confusing and separates mates. Talking directly about yourself and your thoughts, feelings and preferences and listening to your mate’s self-expressions is essential in creating the emotional friendship and closeness you desire.
• Physical intimacy evolves from emotional sharing of two interested and equal partners.
• A presently existing distance should be a strong motivator for change toward an accomplishable closeness. You had it then and you can recreate it again.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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