Counselor at the International Wellbeing Center, assisting adults and adolescents
Knowing our own and our partner’s characteristics will help us in finding the middle ground intimacy in our relationship. (Shutterstock/File)
February is the month of love and intimacy. Who doesn’t know Valentine’s Day? It is considered the official day to celebrate relationships and show one's appreciation for persons close to one’s heart.
However, to many people, the intimacy associated with Valentine’s Day also brings feelings of anxiety. They become agitated as the day approaches, especially for those who have been struggling to attain intimacy with their significant others. They often ask themselves, “Why am I anxious about this day and not excited?” and unfortunately, “What is wrong with me?”
The anxiety that occurs due to a lack of intimacy often happens because of a common misconception that intimacy is equal to sameness; or the merging of two people into one worldview. Hence, many become preoccupied with attempts to “fix” or shape their partner.
William Glasser stated in his book, Counseling with Choice, Theory that “when 99 percent of the people in the world have difficulty getting along with someone else, they use an ancient, commonsense belief I call external control psychology. This controlling, punishing, I-know-what’s-right-for-you psychology is the source of the unsatisfying relationships that afflict so many people’s lives”. This is because human beings are scared to change as change often hurts their self-esteem.
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Author Harriet Goldhor Lerner in her national bestseller book The Dance of Intimacy suggests that one specific way we get into trouble in our relationships has to do with our own particular style of managing anxiety and the dances we get stuck in with others. Anxiety initiates reactivity and when we are in reactive gear, we are driven by our feelings, without the ability to think about the self or our relationship with much objectivity at all. In this condition, anxiety has locked us into a polarized relationship, blocking productive communication and problem solving, and making intimacy impossible to achieve.
There are many possibilities that cause anxiety and tips are readily available on how to tackle it. However, the goal of this article is to recognize our automatic reaction to the anxiety itself as our defense or coping strategy.
We can begin to identify our individual coping style toward anxiety, observe how it interacts with the style of others and hope to modify our part in stuck patterns that block intimacy. Karen Horney, in her famous neurosis theory, divides people into three categories of how they deal with their basic anxiety.
Moving away from people
Characteristic: the detached personality. This type often thinks or says, “I cannot hear him/her forcing me anymore”, “He/she is always controlling me.”
These people express their need for independence, perfection and withdrawal. In a relationship, they are usually considered the distancer. The positive side of this personality type is that they are independent and self-sufficient.
Moving against people
Characteristic: the aggressive personality. This type often says, “I cannot stand his/her quietness”.
These people express their need for power, exploitation, prestige, admiration and achievement. They rarely trust others. In a relationship, they usually are the pursuer. The positive side of this personality type is that they are always trying their best.
Moving toward people
Characteristic: the compliant personality. This type often says, “The more I try the more he/she runs away”, “Everything I do is wrong, he/she pushes me away, I am no good”.
These people express their need for approval, affection, and a dominant partner. In a relationship, they are dependent or clingy and most of the time are selfless, ultimately creating a fusion (blend) type relationship. The positive side of this personality type is that they are friendly, loving and readily self-sacrifice (in a good way).
Knowing our own and our partner’s characteristics will help us in finding the middle ground intimacy in our relationship. Accepting our own anxiety-coping styles and understanding our partner is key to toning down the reactivity toward each other. Once reactivity is eased, tension will decrease and eventually anxiety will subside.
Then, and only then, can we start to build intimacy. It will take time and effort to overcome this anxiety, but don’t be discouraged because the intimacy that you build with your partner will be worth it for your relationship in the end. (dev/wen)
Following the writer’s passion as a people helper, she pursued a degree in pastoral counseling. After graduating, she worked as outsource counselor in the ICAC and Singapore International School. During that tenure, she developed herself further in Choice Theory Reality Therapy as her expertise and professional forte. Currently the writer is a counselor at the International Wellbeing Center, assisting adults and adolescents and practicing several afternoons per week.
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