Friday, January 8, 2010

Intimacy Lost

Image by Tapperboy Via FlickrThere are times when a relationship is broken.  It is not that intimacy is lacking, but rather that it has been significantly altered by some painful event.  This is not the same as those that have been hurt by false intimacy (see here for that subject), but that have had intimacy and had it taken by a painful event and/or desire to get it back.  Sometimes one, the other, or both spouses are to blame.  Other times it is some event that happens outside the marriage that is such a significant trauma that intimacy is lost within the marriage.  These are painful times.  Heartache, fear, distrust, disgust, aversion, coldness, loneliness, grief, and other painful emotions are at the forefront during these times of life.  Marriage because of the potential for intimacy  can be the source of great destruction or great healing during these times depending on how the trauma is handled.  It is unlikely that one can be neutral during these times because to do nothing actually make the relationship destructive (albeit in a more passive way).  Perhaps you are at that place now: an affair, traumatic violence,  serious violation of trust, emotional trauma, significant loss in life, really anything that is a traumatic or a loss in life will fit the bill. 

A list of things that I believe are helpful during these times is to understand when it time to go "FORTH" are Forgiveness, Openness, Respect, Trust, and Healing.  These five concepts are interrelated, but is they also are different.  It is important if you are to restore intimacy to understand the similarity and differences between these five relationship concepts. 


Forgiveness is the quality of releasing the other person from condemnation for his or her offence.  Condemnation is the act of declaring guilty and holding a person accountable to the fullest extent possible.  Condemnation has no room for grace or circumstances.  To release condemnation is to forgive.  What that means individually is that a person releases his or her personal right (real or perceived) to demand retribution.  Individual forgiveness is different than pardon.  Pardon is given by society or some society representative.  For example a person might forgive a person that assaulted them, but that does not mean they are pardoned for the crime.  Forgiveness also is unique from openness, respect, trust and healing.  A person can forgive and not have the other four.  This is important because recognizing forgiveness as different will avoid you falling into the trap of believing that you have not forgiven or believing that your spouse has not forgiven because they do not trust. 


One of the casualties in traumatic events is often openness.  It is based somewhat in trust.  However it is different from trust.  Openness is both a measure of the level of trust in a relationship and the mechanism for rebuilding trust in a relationship.   Openness is being accountable, vulnerable, sincere, forthright, and clear.  It is avoiding secretiveness.   It also has a quality of gentle honesty.  I distinguish that from brutal honesty.  Brutal honesty is not openness, but rather is an attack usually meant to punish the other person for bringing the subject up.  Gentle honesty is being transparent while being fully aware of how what your are saying may affect the person that you are talking with.  It is focused more on how you say things over what you are say.  At times there is a tension that exists in that what you have to say may be unpleasant.  Gentle honesty does not hide the unpleasant, but thinks long and hard about timing, manner, and intent of sharing unpleasant information. 


Respect is another casualty of traumatic events.  This is especially true when the root cause of the trauma lies within the behavior of the other spouse (having an affair for example).  You might wonder about how to respect someone who has done something dishonorable.  I would agree that this is a difficult thing.  However if your goal is to restore emotional intimacy then disrespect will not bring that about and will in fact have the opposite effect on the relationship.  Disrespect is fuel to defensiveness and distrust.  There are times when respect (or disrespect) is learned from previous relationships and displayed in the marriage relationship.  For example if you grow up in a family that does not respect the feelings of others then you will have a greater likelihood that you will have a lack of respect for your spouses feelings and not even be aware that you are doing that.  The substance of respect is positive regard (treating with kindness), courteousness, sensitivity to feelings of the other, endure, give benefit of doubt, value opinion of, and giving of esteem when something good is done. 


I have said in a previous post that trust is vital element in emotional intimacy.  Not wanting to repeat myself here let me just contrast trust and forgiveness.  Trust is the ability to be vulnerable and entrust your life and emotions with a person that you love.  Forgiveness is a release from the right to retaliate.  They certainly do overlap, but they are different and are on different schedules.  Most of the time when spouses say "You don't forgive me" it is not true.  The fact he or she is willing to show up in counseling is evidence of forgiveness in my estimation.  Unforgiving people do not seek out reconciliation or a way to make the relationship better.  What would be more accurate to say is, "I desire for you to trust me."  In this way the responsibility is shared.  The person who has broken the trust has the obligation to demonstrate trustworthiness and the person who has been offended has to reach a point where they can be vulnerable again.  This is not the same a forgiveness and will take time as the couple grows in trustworthiness and vulnerability.


I like to use a serious break in the leg as an analogy for healing.  The recovery from a serious complicated break can be relatively short to a extensive.  It depends on many factors (type of break, whether surgery is needed, bone health, activity level before and after the break, etc).  Even when a break is healed there may be times that in cold weather or if you step just in a certain way that you will have a painful reminder of the break.  Stated another way there is never a complete healing 100%.  Recovery is lifelong to a certain extent. 
In the same way psychological trauma is never 100% healed.  I raise this issue because I want to contrast it with the issue of forgiveness.  A person will experience painful emotions for a long time after a trauma or serious loss.  However, painful emotions is in no way indicative of a lack of forgiveness.  The painful emotions are there because you are human and are still in a process of healing and recovery.  There should never be guilt over painful emotions either in the form of guilt trip (by the other) or by self reproach (why can I just get over it).  Healing takes time and will often be the last to occur in this list of five things (sometimes life long). 
That being said emotional intimacy can be forged in the process of healing.  If the person that is supporting recovery of the other becomes an agent of healing then they form of bond with that person that is extremely strong, even when the person is at fault for the trauma in the first place.  The key to healing painful emotions is to avoid the guilt trap.  Guilt turns painful emotions into suffering.  You have to accept the feelings of pain whether you are the person experiencing them or if you are the person wanting to support.  Together healing will bring the emotional intimacy that you long for.  The difficulty is that it takes time and progress is measured by months if not years depending on the type of trauma.  End the end it is worth it if you are willing and your spouse is the person that is willing to take the journey with you. 

If this describes your relationship I pray that you will seek and receive the healing you are looking for.  If you are the support person then I pray that you will be come the agent of healing for your spouse for better or for worse.  God bless you.  If this does not describe you consider supporting another couple that is going through a hard time as a support toward healing and reconciliation. 

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