What does intimacy look like?

It is easy to get confused about who is an intimate and who is not.  Is a parent ALWAYS a person who can speak into our lives?  Actually, no, they are not.  How about a spouse?  Nope.  What about a best friend?  Again, no. (Sometimes we are given the gift of answering one or more of these questions yes - but we cannot assume that this is true.)


A decent rule of thumb that helps us maintain safety in relationships, acknowledge boundaries and maintains a respectful distance from the living of life is this:  realize that is it NOT our place to suggest/ask/tell people what to think, feel or do.  That is an inside job - we are each responsible for our own thinking, feeling and doing.  


Why is this important?  Because when we over-step our influence, we create an unsafe relationship dynamic.  Why does that matter?  We don’t do our best listening, accepting and changing when safety is at risk.


Each of us defines relationship safety in different ways.  It requires a lot of hard work to get to know other people’s safety parameters.  But this is part of our work.  We need to be part of a relational dynamic that values and works toward conversational safety.  What helps us feel safe?  Respect.  Dignity.  Humility.  Curiosity.  What hurts?  Judgment.  Condescension.  Fighting dirty. Contempt.


Let’s give our relationships a chance to be as awesome and intimate and life-giving as they were intended to be by working toward mindful restraint when it comes to commenting on the life of others!

Marital Mayhem

In a previous blog entry, I concluded it with the following statement:  When we do not appropriately match up our needs and wants within the appropriate context for addressing them, we have issues.

 

 

I provided a couple of examples to illustrate my point: we need to become more self-aware and attentive to the love arena we are in at any moment AND manage our expectations accordingly.  One example was of a woman who acted as if a social relationship was the place to meet her needs for intimacy; a second was of a widower whose loss of a key intimate relationship cost him vital feedback that his spouse once provided.  In both examples, these folks suffered in all their relationships because of an imbalance in the area of intimacy.

 

Another example that might help us understand the need for balance involves a gentleman with the opposite problem from those two folks.  He is a quiet introverted sort married to a sociable wife. Their imbalance was not obvious while the children were at home. His wife was busy with the commitments involving her children - she was active in the PTA, they had sporting events to attend, one of their children was active in a local theatre group.  But once those kids flew the nest and before grandchildren arrived on the scene, a previously contented marriage began to fall apart at the seams.

 

What went wrong?  Can this marriage be saved?

 

The wife grew increasingly restless and discontent in the marriage.  The more she complained about her situation, the more withdrawn her husband became - exacerbating the problem.  How did they move through this rough patch?

 

They figured out that they were out of kilter in a rather simple and fixable arena of love.  They had TOO MUCH intimacy and NOT ENOUGH tribe. This required the contented husband - who was living his dream of a quiet and peaceful home with his beloved - to acknowledge that too much of a good thing was too much.  And his irritable wife had to come to grips with her changed circumstances (reduced social interaction) and take responsibility for herself. She needed to figure out how to re-introduce more tribe back into her weekly schedule.  

 

Kind of neat, right?  Both had some responsibility in the situation.  All of this came about because each accepted the premise that every human needs three love arenas:  ME, YOU and ME, and WE. He preferred the “you and me” place; she really loved the “we”. Both were a bit off kilter.  

 

Tomorrow, we will explore a couple of very practical ways these two got back on track. For today, notice these things:  1. They were looking for answers not just blaming their life stage OR each other for their marital woes and 2. Both were willing to take responsibility for their part (they both were fairly health in the “ME” arena).

 

Need for Candor

We have a widower friend, a great big gregarious guy who has always loved people and parties.  Charming and curious, he has been an asset to any community he joined - and he joined A LOT of communities.  When his wife died, it soon became apparent that he had lost a profound intimate connection that soon began to diminish his sociability.  Always the diplomat, he soon became rather dogmatic. A guy known for bringing people together during disagreement stopped picking up on the cues that there was disagreement among the group members.  It appeared as if his listening skills were slipping; I even wondered if his hearing was impaired.

 

 

One evening after a particularly awkward meeting, his daughter approached me and shared her concerns.  Her read on the situation is that for decades the ride HOME from an event was more often than not a debrief.  Her mother would ask questions, point out interactions, clarify others’ positions. Before meetings, my friend said her mom would often “coach” her dad.  She would provide valuable reviews of previous meetings, point out potential people problems and often “cast a vision” for what might be accomplished if “someone” were to take a gentle lead on an issue.  In other words, this effective leader was in part effective because he had a wise, attuned, introverted wife who helped him maximize his social consciousness and leadership skills, straighten his tie and make sure his fly was zipped.  This is the work of intimacy.

 

Her theory made perfect sense.  This is an example of a guy who had a good sense of “self”, paired with a highly effective intimate relationship, and a broad commitment to serving his community.  When he lost the ability to have that one-on-one connection for deepening his own understanding of issues, his social interaction was suffering. Ultimately his daughter found some practical ways to step in and help with the one-on-one time; soon he was better able to function as a community leader.  This is a real life example of how ALL of us need all three venues of love in order to be balanced AND for our communities to remain vibrant.

Living in a Silo

Much is being written these days about how we are all living in isolated bubbles of shared beliefs.  It turns out that social media has compounded the problem by feeding us what we have taught them we are interested in while filtering out stories and information that we no knowledge of.  Yesterday I googled, “used patio furniture”. When I went on facebook that evening to catch up on all those cute baby pictures and puppy videos I had missed during working hours, my facebook feed was loaded with ads for patio furniture.  What happened? I was being fed information that suited my silo.

 

 

This is really bad for us in so many different ways.  We start thinking that everyone agrees with us (FYI NOT TRUE!).  We stop hearing different perspectives that might challenge our own way of thinking.  This is extremely dangerous. When people prefer to hang out “with their own kind” we end up with siloed, closed relationship groups  and often lose perspective and decrease our opportunities to grow, learn, and expand our worldview. I understand that the world is moving very fast and it is sometimes tempting to hunker down and stake out a small space that feels comfortable.  But this is exacerbating our problems! We are not learning how to respectfully disagree with one another! We get in the habit of thinking in “us versus them” terms! This is all so very very naughty and not in all keeping with the call of Jesus to love God, self and others.  

 

When we depend on a few intimate relationships to provide a stamp of approval on our various points of view, we are all in danger of getting off track.  

 

We lessen this temptation if we maintain a balanced perspective and commit ourselves to taking responsibility for ourselves (take time to wrestle with what we really believe, think, feel and need to do regardless of your group)  and finding social settings where we contribute to the greater good. Any social setting that doesn’t provide us an opportunity to rub shoulders with people who disagree with us on some issues is not a community, it is getting dangerously close to being cult-ish.

 

It may seem easier to hang out with folks who “get us” but easy really doesn’t cut it for people who want to be part of God’s story.  How have you possibly cut yourself off from perspectives that would be helpful to broadening your understanding, challenged your prejudices and allowed for time to practice your interpersonal skills for loving?

Losing Touch

During the years when my family had an extremely busy social calendar, I had a competing example that helped me not run off into the woods and build a treehouse fort for one or obsessively google small islands for sale at rock bottom prices.  I had a ministry opportunity to serve a woman who was completely isolated - some of it circumstantial, other factors were self-inflicted. Always introverted, no one would have ever accused her of being the life of any party. But after months of isolation her social skills were pretty rusty, making social interactions even more difficult.  I served on a visitation committee and in that role I would visit her once a month. After doing this for a couple months, I began to dread the visits. WHY I did so became apparent one rainy spring day when I showed up with soup for a visit.

 

 

She talked incessantly for 40 minutes, which I attributed to her isolation and loneliness. I was startled when she said, “I have a bone to pick with you. I find you very difficult to have lunch with.  You never share anything personal about yourself. I share all this personal information about me but you never return my overture to connect.”

 

In the moment the only thing I could think about was how she NEVER STOPPED TALKING-how could I get a word in? I never figured it out in real time. She left the church soon thereafter when the church was not willing to pay her utility bill every month. Today, I think I understand that the problem was not her incessant talking, her demands for financial support or even my unwillingness to share my most intimate thoughts.  The real issue was confusion over the appropriate love arena we operated within. One of the prickly issues in this scenario is that this woman was acting as if we were intimate friends (I want to know everything about you) and the church was in an intimate relationship with her (pay my bills). From my perspective and I think the church’s, this was a ministerial visit within the context of community. We were willing to be community, but it was beyond healthy boundaries to take on the role of intimate relationship with her, either individually or as a church body.  When we do not appropriately match up our needs and wants within the appropriate context for addressing them, we have issues. Can you relate?