Stepping Stones to Intimacy

I mentioned in a previous post that the traditional christian idea of becoming “one” has created all kinds of conflicts and problems for us, in that we lost our identities and began to focus on changing one another in order to have a better relationship. I knew what a christian wife should be and she knew what a christian husband should be so we hammered away at each other for fourteen years to the point that bitterness and resentment seeped through creating hostility and estrangement.

Our psychologist has helped us understand a model for marriage that has been insightful and invaluable.

A diagrammatic of the model is found here and as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Check it out… the tradition christian interpretation of “the two shall become one” is termed Symbiosis – denoting exclusive bonding. While important, this bonding minimises differences and individuality and unless couples move to the next stage, their relationship will become ingrown and fester like a toe nail.

The next stage is called Differentiation and is all about managing anxieties caused by differences in the individuals. The authors note “The desire to spend more time alone or with other friends as well as the ongoing expression of different values, desires, and behaviors can become quite disturbing. This can be truly a difficult and stressful time.”

Stage 3 gets worse (or at least seems that way). Exploration – moving from “we” back to “I”. Again from the authors “This vital and important stage can present a real crisis for each of you. It may well seem as if love and caring have all but disappeared. To make matters worse, the timing may be different for each of you. The more one distances, the more the other may cling. If both of you distance simultaneously, you may feel more like roommates than lovers. You may feel isolated and emotionally disconnected.”

Stage 4 is Re-Connection: Back And Forth Patterns of Intimacy. “In this stage you have strengthened your identity and learned to maintain your own point of view without hostility. You think more productively about your differences and disagreements instead of having automatic negative reactions. A return to a deeper, more sustainable level of intimacy is occurring.”

Finally Stage 5 is Synergy: Independance and Interdependance. “Intimacy deepens as you increase your abilities to manage your emotional reactions when differences cause tension. You are capable of, and committed to relating in ways that are true to your most deeply held values and beliefs. You can actively support your partner’s right to do the same – even if this becomes inconvenient. The flow between the individual and the “we” is becoming easier… almost automatic.

The relationship is now more vital than either partner separately. Each benefits from the synergy and the “we” has an energy all its own. Partners desire to create and give back to the world. Deep intimacy, vulnerability and emotional sustenance abound.”

And stage 5 sounds to me like a great picture of Christian marriage.

We fairly quickly diagnoses me at stage three and my wife somewhere between stages one and two. I’m off exploring my individuality, likes, dislikes, values, ideals and learning about what makes me tick and “come alive”. She in the meantime is torn between wanting to be symbiotic (because of some really deep-rooted childhood issues) but being forced to differentiate because our differences are so vast and in-your-face. My responsibility to her is to help wherever I can to support her efforts to differentiate and explore.

The authors state that “One of trickiest challenges in a relationship is to successfully find a balance between the need to be close and connected as a “we”, while at the same time respecting each person’s desire to be a separate and independent, self, or “i”.”

I’m confident that if we can both move through this model that good things will come as we re-connect and experience the synergy of two fully functioning and healthy “I’s” becoming one “We” without losing our individuality.

A text version of a summary of the model is here.

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