Remember what we said was the formula for intimacy:
Safety + Honesty = Intimacy
When I’m safe, I can be honest. When I don’t feel safe, all bets are off. Most people don’t have a clue when they have inadvertently made their spouse feel unsafe. And it may not even be something s/he did. It may be tucked away in the spouse’s head, way in the back of the brain where our stories are kept, complete with all the emotions associated with that story.
Let’s say a person is raised in a chaotic home where alcohol and physical abuse is commonplace. The caregivers (usually mother and/or father), who are supposed to be safe people and create trust in us, are not safe. This creates a storyline in the child that the people closest to you aren’t safe. Be very wary of those who are close to you. And you get married, and you have a person who is very close to you. Even if that person is very safe and honest, the closer you get to that spouse, the more anxiety will be triggered. This is completely counter-intuitive. My spouse is safe and honest. Shouldn’t I be drawing closer? Deep down in your brain, your storyline is triggered that says, People close to you are dangerous. That’s a very powerful message, and if you aren’t aware of it (most people aren’t), you’ll draw away right when the relationship is getting better.
Ever notice how intense the drive toward ever greater intimacy is as a couple is first getting to know one another? Most songs and movies focus on this phase. That’s because there is so much energy expending it getting to know one another, getting closer to one another, opening up and exploring each other’s mysteries. It’s an exciting time.
In many ways, this phase is similar to going to Disney World. It’s very exciting, but you can’t live there. Eventually, you will have to ‘come home’ to the real world, experiencing the daily routines of life.
Unfortunately, for many couples, as the excitement of those early encounters begin to wane, the thought emerges that love is also waning. This would be true, if love was all about emotion. But maturing love is so much more than emotions, which have a tendency to ebb and flow for everyone.
Maturing intimacy, similar to maturing love, is something that unfolds over time, as a couple is able to draw closer and explore more deeply those things that really matter to each of them.
This growing intimacy is most robust in an atmosphere of trust. Trust is the critical fertilizer that allows intimacy to grow.
Intimacy doesn't just happen. It is achieved through conscious, deliberate effort. The formula for intimacy is:
Safety + Honesty = Intimacy
Safety is created by promises which are made and kept. Ideally, our sense of safety and security begins in childhood. We develop our sense of self in a safe environment, created by parents who make and keep promises. Our sense of self continues to unfold with our marriage partners, who are also expected to make and keep promises. If we have difficulty experiencing intimacy in marriage, it may be due to a lack of safety and security, either because our parents or our marriage partner (or both) have broken important promises in a significant way.
Honesty is crucial to intimacy because another person cannot know you intimately unless you are willing to pry the lid off the deep recesses of your life and honestly reveal who you really are. To be honest with another person, you must first be honest with yourself. You must know yourself—and that's not as easy as it sounds. Most of us are, to some degree or another, not fully aware of our feelings and emotions. We are in denial about some of our bad habits and traits. We have blocked out painful memories. We reject the knowledge of some of our worst sins and try to pretend we have no dark side.
Let’s get rid of the myths and misconceptions. Let’s accept the truth about infidelity as our starting point, and then we can begin rebuilding a damaged relationship and make it whole and strong again. The truth about infidelity is:
• Affairs are deceptive and destructive, and endanger the very existence of a marriage.
• Marriages can survive infidelity—but it’s not easy.
• While an affair involves sex, most affairs take place for reasons having little or nothing to do with sex.
• Infidelity is not normal; it is a disorder in the relationship and needs to be treated and healed.
So what makes people vulnerable to infidelity? The answer lies in intimacy – as intimacy fades or is compromised, partners become increasingly vulnerable to outsiders entering the relationship.
Next, we’ll look at intimacy and begin to wrap our minds around this critical aspect of relationships.
There are many common myths and misconceptions about infidelity, and when couples come to me for counseling about one partner’s infidelity, the offending partner usually articulates one or more of these myths during the first session. These myths and misconceptions include:
• “Affairs are good for a marriage. A little fun on the side keeps you from getting bored at home.” Fact: You really think so? Then let’s reframe this statement and see if it still makes sense: “Lies, secrecy, and betrayal are good ways to build intimacy and togetherness in a marriage.” While it’s true that marriages can and do become dull, it is a myth that marriage has to be dull—or that faithful monogamy is to blame. It is intimacy—not infidelity—that makes marriage exciting.
• “Well, it’s all out in the open now—I guess divorce is the only option.” Fact: In roughly half the infidelity cases I’ve worked with, both partners have found ways to use the discovery of infidelity as a wakeup call. In time, after trust has been rebuilt, the discovery of infidelity can often serve as a springboard to a stronger relationship. (Obviously, it’s wiser and healthier to strengthen the relationship before one partner strays; a strong marriage relationship is the best way to prevent infidelity from happening.)
• “It’s my partner’s fault I did this.” The offended partner often owns this point of view as well: “It’s my fault. If I had been a better partner, my spouse wouldn’t have had to go outside of the marriage for a sexual relationship.” Fact: We are all responsible for our own actions. No one else makes us jump into the wrong bed. In order for a relationship to be healed, the person who committed the infidelity must take personal responsibility for his or her actions. The offender must stop making excuses and blaming others for what he or she did.
• “This affair must mean all the love has gone out of our marriage.” Fact: While affairs are frequently a warning sign of deeper problems in the marriage, they usually do not signal that “the love has gone.” This myth is based on a fundamental misconception about love. The notion that “love” is a magical feeling that strikes two people like a bolt out of the blue, then disappears without explanation, is a lot of romanticized nonsense. It’s a silly, simplistic, “high school” way of looking at love.
We live in an age of sexual license, and as a result, people have become confused as to what constitutes unfaithfulness. I want to take the next few blogs to explore this whole area, and pose some questions as to what is actually occurring between two people when the word ‘infidelity’ is raised.
So what is infidelity? Some people would say that infidelity occurs only when there has been “actual intercourse.” Of course, that leaves a lot of territory open to interpretation and self-deluding denial. Does that mean kissing and intimate touching someone other than your partner is not infidelity? Does that mean that oral sex “doesn’t count”? Does that mean two people who bring each other to orgasm without penetration didn’t engage in “actual intercourse”? Or a hand up the skirt or down the blouse of an ex, a co-worker, or an old girlfriend? Or a flirtatious comment? What about lunch and sexy talk with someone from the office? What about “phone sex” or “Internet sex” or flirting in a chat room?
A lot of people play mind games with themselves and their partners, pretending that if they engage in this or that behavior, then it “doesn’t count” as infidelity. I would suggest to you that infidelity consists of any sexually related act you keep secret from your partner or which your partner would view as betrayal.
Infidelity is behavior that breaks the promise and breaches the trust of marriage. Since promise-keeping and are essential ingredients of marital intimacy, infidelity attacks the very essence of marriage bond. Infidelity drives a wedge of dishonesty, secrecy, and distrust into the very heart and soul of the marriage relationship.
This statement poses a whole host of questions. So let’s delve into this further.
You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.
-- Alan, age 10
- No person really decides before they grow up whom they're going to marry. God decides it all way before and you get to find out later who you're stuck with.
-- Kristen, age 10
WHAT IS THE RIGHT AGE TO GET MARRIED?
Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then..
-- Camille, age 10
HOW CAN A STRANGER TELL IF TWO PEOPLE ARE MARRIED?
You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.
-- Derrick, age 8
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR MOM AND DAD HAVE IN COMMON?
Both don't want any more kids.
-- Lori, age 8
WHAT DO MOST PEOPLE DO ON A DATE?
-Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.
-- Lynnette, age 8 (isn't she a treasure)
- On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.
-- Martin, age 10
WHEN IS IT OKAY TO KISS SOMEONE?
-When they're rich.
-- Pam, age 7
-The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that.
-- Curt, age 7
-The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do.
-- Howard, age 8
IS IT BETTER TO BE SINGLE OR MARRIED?
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.
-- Anita, age 9 (bless you child)
HOW WOULD THE WORLD BE DIFFERENT IF PEOPLE DIDN'T GET MARRIED?
There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there?
-- Kelvin, age 8
HOW WOULD YOU MAKE A MARRIAGE WORK?
Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a dump truck.
-- Ricky, age 10
I ran across this somewhere, and thought it presented some food for thought. A group of divorcees were asked what would they have done differently in the failed marriages. Here’s what they said.
• I’d have boosted my spouse’s mood at every opportunity. We so often wait for the other person to boost our mood, then blame them when they don’t.
• I’d have talked about money. Underneath the discussion of money is the discussion of priorities – how are we going to spend our time and money?
• I’d get over the past. So many couples, locked in discord, remember and recite the past indiscretions over and over.
• I’d blame the relationship, not my spouse. In other words, I’d see that the relationship we’d set up was fundamentally flawed, and go about fixing it, rather than blame my spouse for being a bad person.
• I’d reveal more about myself. Undergirding self-revelation is trust. People enter intimate relationships with varying amounts of trust. A healthy, growing relationship requires partners to constantly grow in their abilities to trust one another.