This morning I got a text from my wife that asked, “Why is our wifi so slow?” Over the past few days, we’ve been having some reliability issues with our internet and there have been several occasions where the bits seem to be crawling along.
I didn’t ask what she was trying to do but, if I know my wife, it probably involved trying to stream something from the Internet. When we’re getting ready, or doing something around the house, we often have Netflix streaming, or a podcast playing, or a clip of the late night comics from the night before, in the background. It’s just one of the things that we do that makes cleaning a bathtub or drying hair less monotonous.
So, when the Internet is slow, we notice.
You’ve probably had a similar experience. Videos get blurry. Audio can seem really choppy or even start and stop. Sometimes it gets out of sync with the actors mouths. Most of us would rather to be able to see things clearly, without the annoying stoppages as our videos buffer.
We prefer to watch in high-definition. When our wifi is slow, less information can get transmitted. Less definition often means a less enjoyable experience.
Definition is one of those things that intimacy brings to relationships.
Last time, we talked about how is about knowing more of our partners world. We said that this is modeled in our sexual encounters when literally nothing is hidden; there are no other time when we are more vulnerable. As our ideas about intimacy start to include other areas of our life, there are emotional experiences and pain and joy that is no longer hidden.
Not only can we know what their favorite food is and what they studied in college, but we can also start to understand how they felt when their dad worked too long or their sister made fun of them whenever they were in public. We can understand more than just the facts. We can start to understand their experiences too.
That is a high-definition relationship. That is intimacy.
Making Sense of What We Don’t Understand
How does a pursuit of intimacy change our relationship?
Remember what we said when we talked about how biology matters? One of the points that we made is that your brain really wants to understand situations and, when there is information missing, it will fill in the blanks. The filler material is drawn from your own experiences and memories, your context, and your own expectations.
It’s just what happens.
Here’s a simple example:
It deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm.
Of course this is just an example of words, but these processes are at work every single day, and every single moment. Your brain really wants to make sense of things. When you more intimately know the people you love, you’re more able to make sense of their experiences using their experiences instead of trying to make sense of it using your own.
What does it mean when your partner cries while watching a television show?
What does is mean when your partner gets quiet when you try to reorganize the dishes in the dishwasher?
What causes your partner to get angry when you make an ill-timed joke? And what makes the joke ill-timed?
In all of these situations – in almost every situation – we fill in the things we don’t understand.
We build intimacy in at least four ways.
When we communicate well we build intimacy. When we take time to use the techniques that help us hear our partner and to let them know that they are heard, we learn more about their world, their wants, their desires, and their needs.
When we turn towards each other, especially in conflict, rather than turning away, we give ourselves an opportunity to learn more about what our partner is experiencing in difficult circumstances.
When we approach our partners with a genuine sense of curiosity, we consciously override the automatic processes that would fill in those blanks. But there is effort involved; we have to force ourselves out of the mindset that we already know and into the stance and wanting to know more.
Finally, experiences are the best way to learn and when we have experiences together we create shared memories and shared meaning. It is one thing to tell someone that you love them, it’s a completely different thing to someone to experience love. It is a different and powerful kind of leaning.
These four ideas are about building our knowledge of our partner. Not just the facts, it builds our understanding of their emotional and experiential worlds. When we provide opportunity to become more intimately aware of each other, we get to experience each other in high-definition.
Let Intimacy Grow
There’s one last thing. How is it that we can foster a sense of intimacy with our partners? There is a wonderful therapist and researcher that works with children named Gary Landreth. He is a remarkable human being who exudes compassion when you’re around him. His work with children is inspirational.
What’s really interesting, though, is how applicable his work is to adults as well.
Landreth has four messages that he says he tries to convey to his clients:
- I’m here
- I hear you
- I understand
- I care
These messages describe an experience that we all want to have. We all want to be together with others who care about us. We all want to be truly heard and not ignored. We all want to know that our experience is understandable and that that someone else can relate. And we all really want to know that there is someone who cares about us no matter who we are.
To foster a sense of intimacy with our partner, we have to convey these same messages. We have to convey that we value and love them. These messages convey worth.
Intimacy is knowing that when partner says, “I don’t know if you love me” what they’re often really saying is “Sometimes, I don’t feel as though you love me; and I really want to feel that way. But there is all of this stuff in my past that have taught me about what to expect, and I don’t always think about it but its there, and I just want to know that you’re there and that you care enough to stand beside me to help me to figure this out.”
Intimacy truly is everything.