Editor's Note: Joe Weston also authors an advice column, Ask Joe, where he shares his training, wisdom, and experience with RealJock readers. Got a question? Need some clarity? Ask Joe anything that's on your mind. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your identity will be kept anonymous, but do note that questions may be edited for length and clarity. For more info on Joe's workshops, see his bio at the end of this article.
It’s a familiar story with many of my clients and students: successful in business, good friends, active social life, healthy lifestyle… but can’t seem to find a partner! Or, with a partner, but the romance and connection has faded or disappeared.
This is a common occurrence in the high-tempo, modern, urban life we find ourselves in. And it makes sense. We went to school to learn numbers and business, we get a trainer to help us reach our physical peaks, we read books and consult others on how to look good and how to improve ourselves as healthy human beings. But when did we learn in school how to be intimate with others? When did our parents teach us how to communicate our needs and feelings? Who taught us the importance of physical touch and affection?
The answer is usually: no one, never, nothing. Because of this, we tend to ignore it and hope that it goes well. Or, we hope someone else or something else will take care of it. But intimacy is like an exotic plant. You have to learn about it, cultivate it, learn what its special needs are, when it needs nourishment, light, food, and when it needs to be left alone. It is a full-time activity. Many of us, however, get the plant and stick it in a closet, hoping it will grow on its own, disappointed when it starts withering. Eventually we end up throwing it in the garbage.
Intimate relationships are great when they are still in the romance phase, when it is all new and fresh. But when the work starts, when the truth begins to be revealed, we start to get uncomfortable. We feel that it’s no longer a game, it is going to be work to cultivate the connection. And this is uncomfortable! And none of us really like uncomfortable, do we? This is the moment we often end our relationships or we find a way to stay together without really growing together emotionally and spiritually.
Imagine if we cultivated intimacy with the same dedication and commitment as we trained our bodies? Imagine if we made the same investment into the success of our relationships that we put into our work? I believe we would live more fulfilled lives. When we have vital, nurturing relationships, our physical, emotional and even spiritual needs are met, which will have a beneficial affect on all other areas of our lives—work, play, family, community.
Some of you may choose for a life that is more moment-to-moment, with little opportunity to deepen connections. If this is working for you—great. Just keep in mind the balance between fun and nourishment. The “candy store” lifestyle can be very energizing. The sugar rush can keep you going for a while. But at some point, you’ll need to “eat your greens” and seek out relationships that nurture you in a deeper way. That is simply how we humans were built.
What is Intimacy?
Deep intimate contact can be very light and playful. Take a look at children. They have a natural ability to seek out open, intimate contact with others. They are emotionally open, have no issues about touching others and being touched, speak their truth with ease and can interact with others in a spontaneous, creative way, enjoying the “dance of giving and receiving.” This is what intimacy looks like and feels like!
What happened to us as adults? What caused us to lose this way of being with ourselves and others? Most of it has to do with the things we were taught about intimacy—the judgments, the fears, the taboos. Another reason is that adult intimacy is more complex than that of a child, so the skills needed to stay engaged are more challenging and subtle. And again—if we never learn them, how are we expected to do it well?
Cutting Through the Confusion
So, here are some good pointers to help you on the road to developing the skills to maintaining and deepening your intimate relationships:
- Every interaction you have is some kind of intimacy. The first thing to consider is that intimacy involves more than just a life partner. The only differences between the intimacy between your life partner and a work colleague or your dentist is the depth of involvement, the level of commitment and the degree to which one feels comfortable to speak their truth, their needs and feelings.
- Intimacy starts with a commitment to connect and stay engaged. In my workshop, Respectful Confrontation, I mention this often. All relationships run into problems. You could say that the most successful relationships are those where both partners are willing to feel the challenge and choose to stay in it, even when it gets uncomfortable or difficult.
- All healthy relationships are uncomfortable. Uncomfortable doesn’t mean painful or unsafe. It is very important to feel safe and free of danger in a close relationship. If that is not the case in your current relationships, then I would suggest you talk to someone or seek help. The reason we get uncomfortable is because to be in an intimate relationship means we are being called to our truth. We are encouraged to be our authentic selves. And this can be scary. “What if they don’t like what they see?” is often the thought that comes up. Well, that may be true. But how fair and interesting is it to only show your polished self to the one you love? Sounds exhausting…
- Your partner is most likely not a mind reader. Another uncomfortable aspect of intimate relationships is that you are expected to speak your truth and hear the truth of your partner. You are expected to speak what you need, what you desire and what you are feeling. How many of you find this easy? How many of you would know where to begin to actually verbalize these things. And let’s not forget the fear that when we do speak this, we may not be heard, or may be rejected, or mocked. So we go around hoping that our partners know what we want. And when they don’t give us what they need (because we never verbalized what we need), we get resentful and hurt and start to pull away. Sounds exhausting…
- You don’t need to shut down or run away when you feel vulnerable. One misconception about intimacy that keeps us from pursuing it is that we think that we are supposed to always be completely open with one another, no boundaries, no walls, totally open. This is not true and a very unhealthy way to be in the world. True intimacy is the constant renegotiating of boundaries. It is ideal to always have healthy boundaries to ensure that you can walk through the world with confidence. The more conscious you are of your personal boundaries, the more elastic they become, allowing you to shift them, let them down and put them back up with confidence.
- Sex is not the only form of physical connection and affection. It has been scientifically proven that human beings need physical touch to survive. How much touch are you getting in your life? How much of that touch is actually nourishing? There are so many ways you can give and receive touch that can be satisfying and help to deepen intimacy.
The Dance of Intimacy
So, even if you have been together for 25 years, intimacy is not a static thing. It is more like a dance between individuals, a dance towards connection, a dance of giving and receiving, of rupture and repair, of miscommunication and understanding. This dance is always moving, flowing; it’s sometimes elegant, sometimes ugly, but it’s still a dance nonetheless. This is an important metaphor in my Respectful Confrontation work. When you can see your relationships as a dance as opposed to a fixed thing that you either try to smother or run away from, you will find the freedom to stay engaged, go deeper, forgive yourself and your partner when it doesn’t go well, use humor to reconnect when you start drifting apart and honoring the love you have for each other. You will open again to the spaciousness and freedom you had as a child.
In my next article, I’ll offer some tips on how to get the dance going again with all your partnerships - to spice them up. Or how to go into new intimate relationships more consciously. I will take a closer look at the different forms of physical touch. In the meantime, if you are interested, check out more about my workshop, Respectful Confrontation—developing the skills and courage to speak your truth and live from a more empowered, authentic place.
Notice how you engage with others. Seek out new ways to connect. Take a look at your current intimate relationships. Recommit to them. What can you do to get the dance going again if you both have decided to “sit this one out” or choose to go dance with others. Have the courage to be uncomfortable. Speak your truth; reveal your true self. By doing so, you get to benefit the ultimate that intimacy has to offer – the physical, emotional and spiritual growth of you and your partner.
About Joe Weston: Joe Weston is an international workshop facilitator and personal life coach. Born and educated in New York, Joe lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and now lives in California. He is committed to helping others embody spirituality and supports others on their journey towards personal fulfillment and empowerment. Joe brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings, including Tai Chi Chuan and various spiritual traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings. He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates. To find out more about his workshops and his personal coaching, visit www.joeweston.com
Joe will be offering a monthly class in Oakland Ca, Full Body Meditation, combining different physical disciplines as a preparation for a successful mediation. Check for details. He is also leading a Respectful Confrontation Weekend Training in Oakland on February 5 - 7, 2010 and he is offering a 25 dollar discount to RealJock readers. For more info: http://www.joeweston.com/register
Joe is also co-leading a retreat in Costa Rica called Sacred Elixir for Men: learning the healing power of yoga and intimate touch. For details, check here