The Paradox of Intimacy: Embracing Space & Closeness
Jan 03, 2020
Most of us have probably heard bits of traditional advice surrounding relationships, something like In order for a relationship to work, you must have similarities AND differences. So the concept of embracing Separateness in Intimate Relationships as much as Closeness, may be a familiar idea. And yet, WHY is does this contradicting paradox exist in the realm of Intimate Relationships?
Here’s what I’ve come to understand: Intimacy, is the connection of two separate individuals; coming together to create a NEW, third entity, which is “us”. While the connection of the two, the joining, the togetherness, is what technically defines the intimacy-- there is something else to consider.
Intimacy cannot exist without separateness. As intimacy is the joining of separate individuals-- if the separate individuals cease to exist (joined/morphed together)-- how is INTIMACY to prevail?
In other words: In order for intimacy to exist between two people, there needs to be two separate people.
In the cases of couples where separateness is lost and one or both parties begin to wonder Where do YOU end, and I begin?; there is little space for Intimacy to brew.
The idea of talking of taking personal space in your relationship might feel heavy, tense, or uncomfortable. That’s okay! Many of us were taught (through mainstream media and other sources of opportunistic learning) all about the closeness that comes with intimacy, but never really taught about the separateness that is equally important! It’s okay to feel how you feel! There is nothing wrong with you.
And-- you can CHOOSE, right now, to become educated and learn how to EMBRACE the SPACE that already exists, somewhere in your Partnership.
So, let’s talk about some tips for Embracing the Space in your Relationship.
As always, open communication around space and your needs is essential. If you need time for yourself, to pursue a hobby, or to connect with friends-- simply ASK for that. The more “buffers” or cushioning you try and put around the truth of your needs, the more icky and complicated it will FEEL to address it. Just be real.
Now, the goal is that me and my partner are communicating openly throughout the continual process of embracing space in our union. If we are not communicating throughout the process, then my NEED to insert my independence can begin to feel overwhelming. When we feel overwhelmed in our need to feel sovereign, our communications in asking for that space can come out sideways, harshly and misdirected.
Moreover, when I feel overwhelmed in my need to insert and protect my independence, I might show up in my partnership distant, frustrated, resentful, or judgmental.
Create a Culture of Open Communication in your partnership. So that, if one of you is feeling like you need more or less separateness in a moment-- You can share that with the other, and open up a mutual conversation.
Another important thing to remember is Caring Conversation tools when you’re communicating with your partner. Particularly, if this topic is heated or sensitive for either one of you. Caring conversation tools help assure that we don’t shut each other down, and that we can both stay present and regulated during the conversation.
If you want a deep and thorough dive into the skills and exercises of Responsible Communication, you can check out Nikki's Ultimate Guide to Rockstar Communication Handbook here.
Safety: Safety comes into play here, and here is why. To some, the request for more space can feel like abandonment, or avoidance. To some, taking personal space for yourself can register as a lack of care for me. Everyone is unique in this so it is important to be knowledgeable about your partners unique triggers and complexes.
Still, what I find is this: Partnerships that have a Culture of Safety instilled in their union, are partnerships that can stand strong during difficult conversations (like the conversation around a need for space). Safety, as a backbone, allows for a greater capacity (of the couple) to come together and talk about the hard stuff.
If there is a lack of safety in your union, it may be challenging to broach this subject without one or both people feeling personally attacked or abandoned.
Creating Physical Space in Nourishing Ways
With safety and communication locked down, now the question remains: What are some healthy ways to create physical space in my partnership?
I don’t have all the answers, but what I do have is years of testing and experimenting what works in my own partnership. I will share with you some of the ways in which we’ve really enjoyed creating space.
A few months into our relationship, my partner & I realized that sometimes, we would do something we really didn’t want to do, in order to connect or spend time with the other. But, was it really creating connection? The uninvested partner would come along to whatever activity, feeling resentful and bored; while the other person would pick up on that boredome. Then, the person who CHOSE the activity would spend all their time worrying about the experience of the other (picking up on them not enjoying themselves). It was a HUGE MESS. Shortly after, my love and I created an agreement that has been mutually held and honored ever since.
You don’t HAVE to come to anything with me. If you don’t actually desire to be there, I completely support you in staying back and doing your own thing. In fact, I encourage it. We have mutually-enjoyable activities that we can do together for ‘us’ time.
This agreement created SPACE for us to BE OURSELVES-- and genuinely share I’d rather not go to that concert tonight, actually without fearing painful repercussions.
It’s worth mentioning, that to make an agreement like this, you actually have to stand behind it in your heart & really mean what you say. An agreement like this doesn’t typically work, if one or both partners is holding onto secret expectations about how the other person should act. This agreement is truly about radical freedom and space between us. Talk about it, open up a deep conversation, and get clear that both partners are whole-heartedly on board with whatever mutual agreement you create.
Creating space at home has been another way in which we’ve implemented separateness and therefore the cultivation of True Intimacy. When we’re at home together, we aren’t always in the same space in the house. We pursue our unique passions and interests which naturally helps create space between us. With intention, we’re not always hanging in the same room- we spread ourselves out. Sometimes, I’m reading in the living room and he’s doing computer work in the kitchen. Or, I’m in my room recording a podcast and he’s in the basement building things. We are always consciously aware of the space, or lack of space that exists between us.
We’ve also done something slightly less-traditional, and that is that my lover and I have our own separate bedrooms. It's been this way from the beginning, as we both entered our shared home WARY of sharing a room (wary from past experiences). When we decided to move in together, we didn't make assumptions about the arrangement. We opened up a conversation and honestly shared our unique preferences, experiences & ideas.
This has been one of our GREATEST BLESSINGS as a couple. To each have our own unique and self-expressed spaces! We’ve never entertained the idea of sharing a room for convenience or financial gain. Sometimes we have sleepovers, and sometimes I soak up ALL the comfy goodness of my Queen Sized bed, alone. It works marvelously for us- and further more, we literally have never had a single fight about dirty clothes on the floor, leaving the toilet seat up or making the bed.
Note: If you are in relationship where you share a bedroom, and now you're considering what it would be like to have your own bedroom-- I want you to know that it's NOT too late! I don't care if you've been sharing a room for 5 years of 50 years. At ANY MOMENT you can CHOOSE to open up a CONVERSATION about this. It may mean that there are some changes and adjustments coming in your future- and that's fine! Change= Growth!
Separate bedrooms may seem like a drastic or taboo idea for some, and that’s perfectly fine. Do WHATEVER works for you. It won’t look the exactly the same as mine & Warren’s blueprint for Space in the Relationship.
The important thing is that you and your partner talk about and identify a plan that works for both of you, in order to EMBRACE the SPACE that is required for True Intimacy to Thrive.
For more JUICE regarding Embracing Space in Partnership, check out Episode 24 of Become a Relationship Badass Podcast here