DRIVING THE ROAD TO INTIMACY
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Sometimes I get this crazy dream That I just drive off in my car
But you can travel on ten thousand miles and still stay where you are
Can you think of a time where you felt like leaving and walking away during an argument with your significant other? We think we can relieve the pressure if we just leave… just get in the car and go. As Harry says in the song, you can leave, you can divorce, you can get involved with someone else, you can run away, you can hide, and guess what, you’ve brought yourself with you. We recreate the issues we have with intimacy in each romantic relationship until we address them. We all have patterns that develop in our relationships that keep us distant from our partner, and we cannot be successful developing intimacy until we address and heal these patterns, issues or traits. This is our road to intimacy.
One way to improve intimacy is to develop your Emotional Intelligence. As I’ve written in an earlier blog, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is what allows a person to understand, to be in control of their emotions, to recognize and understand the emotions of others, and to use this knowledge to foster success for him or herself and others (Goleman, 1995; Mayer & Salovey, 1990). EI has also been defined as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. As we increase our proficiency in these areas, it increases our EI and moves us along the road to intimacy.
Self-awareness is having conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires. It is the first step on the road to developing our EI. When you are self-aware you realize you only have the power to change yourself. You also understand, you cannot change your partner. Self-awareness allows us to know what we are thinking and where it’s coming from when we are interacting with our significant other.
Often in relationships we react to situations without really understanding what we are feeling. For instance, your partner comes home and starts complaining that the house isn’t clean, the dinner is not on the table, dirty dishes are in the sink, or any other issue. On a particularly stressful day you might react without taking time to think or analyze your feelings. It's easy at that moment to start an argument with your significant other.
Self-management is the ability to know you have the choice, and you can choose not to say words you know will start an argument. It is taking responsibility for one's own behavior and well-being. When self-managing we may agree that the house is messy and say you haven’t had time to help clean it up.
In our hypothetical situation, you may know the criticizing spouse is having a lot of stress at work. After taking a deep breath, you may draw the conversation in another direction by asking what type of day it was at work thus starting a talk that may help the criticizing spouse relieve some tension. This is social awareness. Social awareness gives you the ability to understand and respond to the needs of others.
Relationship management is using your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully. Relationship management involves clear communication and effective handling of conflict. As part of the management you may set aside time for talking about those issues that need discussion. This can be a weekly discussion set for a specific hour. It’s important to agree to a time limit for the entire discussion so issues do not become excuses for arguments rather than calm discussions.
Certain actions such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling are speed bumps along the road to intimacy. Learning how to diffuse these common couple situations or speed bumps is driving down the road toward intimacy. Developing your EI will help.
Criticism is a common behavior that creates arguments. One spouse starts the criticism by saying an overly broad statement like, “You never”, or “You always”. Rather than escalate the situation into an argument, in response you use words that express your feelings and start with the words “I feel.” For example, “I did leave the dishes in the sink today. I feel hurt by your statement, but I am not interested in arguing. Can we table this discussion for a couple of hours until after dinner when we can discuss it calmly?” Omit the words always and never from your response. Confine your comments to the specific topic and incident. If you start gently with statements about your own feelings, you can keep the situation from escalation when one spouse starts with criticism.
Defensiveness is a behavior people use to ward off a perceived attack. It is often a response to criticism. Let’s imagine a situation where one spouse is saying to the other that they always are leaving dishes in the sink. It would be easy to respond defensively explaining what a miserable day you’ve had at work, and why you don’t always leave dishes in the sink. The development of our EI has taught us to be self aware and to manage our feelings. With that in mind, there is no need to explain or become defensive. We can admit that we left them in the sink today, and hopefully, keep this conversation from escalating into an argument.
As an argument escalates it can result in behavior that is contemptuous. Contempt is attacking the other person with an intent to insult or abuse. If your partner is attacking in this manner, step back, take a breath, remind yourself of your good qualities, and stay calm. Keep your cool and wait for the tension to subside. If this is occurring in your relationship, I’d recommend you seek out a third party who can help such as a coach, counselor, or therapist.
Another common reaction that occurs in arguments is stonewalling, where one person withdraws from the other to project disapproval. The best antidote to stonewalling is to calmly tell your partner you are going to take a few moments break to relax and calm down and leave the room. There is no point talking to an individual who is stonewalling. Perhaps later you can talk again.
I frequently remind myself that what Harry said is true, you can travel ten thousand miles but still stay where you are. Unless you learn your own contribution to the arguments occurring in your relationship, you will repeat this same argument with the same or a different person in the future. It’s my lay opinion that the divorce rate for 2nd marriages is higher than for 1st marriages because the people have not taken time to develop their EI between marriages. These individuals thought changing the person would change the result, but it will not unless you change you first.
You cannot change your partner, but you can change yourself. You have control over whether you stay in that same place or you grow and develop your EI. It is not easy, but with practice and discipline you can unlearn certain patterns of behavior and learn new qualities. Simply begin by identifying and understanding your own patterns, your own behaviors – what’s keeping you from the intimate relationship you want? Do you act like a martyr, a victim, a young child, a spoiled brat, a bully, or any other version of yourself you use for protection? Following these steps will strengthen your EI and drive you down the road toward an intimate relationship. As a coach I can work with you to establish goals and change your actions unlearning patterns you identify you want to change. If I can be of service, please do not hesitate to call.