Thursday, May 12, 2011

MODELS OF MARRIAGE: Acceptance vs Intimacy

One of the most significant elements to a successful marriage is the level of intimacy that each partner wants to experience. Level of intimacy can be defined as the degree of emotional exchanges that occur on a daily basis between the partners, what one of my patient's called "emotional intercourse". Differences in this need can interfere with the level of satisfaction and ultimately lead to the end of the marriage.

In a low level of intimacy, differences in perceptions or level of emotional reactions to people or events threaten the bond. Each partner treats the other with the same distance as a roommate. Each "do their own thing", ask few questions, and can even be on a "need to know basis". There is extreme sensitivity to criticism and a demand to "accept me how I am." Differences are rarely discussed and there is little room to learn and grow together as a couple. Survival together is the goal without much "rocking the boat" that would threaten the relationship and expose hidden anxieties and insecurities.

In a high level of intimacy, differences are embraced as points of learning. Each partner starts with the idea that each person is some good and some bad. The bad is based on anxiety and is learned by the experience in the family of origin. Each partner helps the other to identify these fears when they arise and provides reassurances to challenge these fears. If necessary, each person challenges the denial of the fears and puts pressure on the partner to be different than where they came from. While there is a recognition that the person's emotional reactions will always be there as an "auto-pilot" response, there is mutual recognition that there are irrational fears at the heart of the defensive reactions. While they cannot change how they were raised and the initial emotional reactions to events, each can manage differently what they do with those reactions. In sum, each partner helps the other to prevent history from repeating.

Essential to the high intimacy marriage is the mutual commitment to learn more about each others emotions and reactions. Each person must be individually dedicated to personal growth and learning, especially from their partner. They both commit to the idea that "two heads are better than one". In order to learn, there must be a recognition of some personal weaknesses in order to accept the truth in the opinions of a partner This is especially true if they conflict with one's own view of one's behavior. Each strive to be less defensive with each other, as defensiveness is mutually viewed as evidence of irrational fears learned in the family of origin. Learning is lifelong, with each partner helping the other" to be the best that they can be". In the high intimacy marriage, each partner views the other as essential to this learning, a need that breeds a feeling of being each others best friend.