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Definition of Relationships...

And the ongoing dance of
Enmeshment, Abandonment

© 2000 and 2001 by J R Compton and James Dolan. All Rights Reserved.

Many of these concepts were originated by my friend and psychotherapist James Dolan (Visit his Lotus Eaters Dot Net site.) I have organized and integrated them for my own understanding — and yours. - J R C

This is an ongoing project. It was updated June 17, 2001, after I used some of the high points in this essay as a toast at my brother Dale's wedding rehearsal dinner. My wish for them was the slightly redundant "Intimacy and Communication.”  And it is updated for the nth time on April 28, 2005.


True Intimacy  

Almost all relationships end. More than half of marriages fail.

One of the most common, yet least understood, reasons our relationships' fail to survive or thrive is our inability to share true intimacy.

Intimacy is not sex.

At its most basic level,
intimacy is me telling you about me.


Our sweet nothings and I Love Yous are easy to share — especially near the beginnings of relationships. But that's not what intimacy is about.

Intimacy is not the stuff we tell others to get them to like us. It is also not our personal philosophies or experienced understandings. It's not our wisdom or our rules.

It's not about facts.
Intimacy is sharing feelings


Our culture teaches us never to tell the negative, fear-based stuff that gets in our minds and rattles around in there — those gut-level, negative impulses — the fearful, angry-making feelings that desperately need a place to go, to be expressed.

Instead of expressing our negative sensations, we bury them. We push them down, deep inside ourselves, where they smolder, burn and eventually explode.

A long-term, committed, monogamous relationship is one of the scariest things two humans can attempt.

Even couples who have been together for many years often fear the committment to share these deep-down, negative, fear-based angers and resentments.

True intimacy is honest and open dialog. It is a new way of sharing that often terrifies us. Most of us would rather do anything to protect ourselves from it.

When we feel defensive, hostile or sad, it's an opportunity to learn.

Unless we express our deep-down fear statements in a safe, secure environment, they destroy us.

When feelings come up, deal with them. Use words.

Set up a meeting, then share. Some couples meet monthly. Some every couple of months. Others meet only when the need arises. Weekly is probably too often. Yearly is llikely too rare.

Instead of letting those feelings build, then lashing out, we should bring the emotional reaction to our brain and admit, "I'm terrified."

We need to put the turmoil into words. It is exactly this kind of dialog that we owe each other in intimacy.

At the meeting, Person A says to person B:
"It scares me when ___ ___ ___" or
" I'm really frightened when ___ ____ ___."

( fill in the blanks. )

Person B's best response may be a monosylabic "hmmm." Or an accepting "Oh."

Hugs are in order.

When fear is expressed forthrightly to a listener who accepts rather than arguing, it dissipates. The feelings lose their negative energy.

Feedback in reciprocated feelings is beneficial. In each case, however, the benefits accrue primarily to the person sharing.

Intimacy is something we have to allow ourselves to experience, if we're going to continue to grow. Intimacy — the real animal — is unpleasant and difficult to deal with.

Being in recovery means being honest with ourselves about who we really are and acceptiing that.

We learn who we really are by acknowledging and expressing our true feelings. If we attempt to hide them or fail to express them fully, we hide our identity and rob ourselves of our human-ness. We do much the same damage when we do not allow ourselves to feel grief and our other emotions.


Two, opposing fears dance together in every relationship —

enmeshment and abandonment.

Sometimes one party owns one while the other owns the other. Often, we trade partners as the dance continues.

Expressing and sharing our joys comes much more naturally. To be truly intimate, however, we must also voice our fears and resentments.

We have to share our inner turmoil.

More than anything, what we have to learn how to do is to talk about being afraid.

When something scares us,
we should confront it directly.

Unfortunately, fear is something we often deny or keep out of our awareness.

We need to know more about it and to speak it — to say it.

Unfortunately, if the model works out, the first person we establish this level of intimacy with will, when we share our fear statements, try to fix it, try to fix us.

Relationships are all about
solving the problems of that relationship.

Every relationship will have problems. The continued connection is about the problems that occur as two people go about the business of trying to figure out how to proceed together.

People tend to remain in emotional deprivation, and we often see our romantic/sexual relationships as the only place to fulfill our emotional needs.

It's not the other person, and it's not the relationship, it is the fact that we have created a vessel in which all our difficulties don't have anywhere to go.

They don't have any way to be dissapated or sent back into the dark. Our fears and resentments are real. They're there. They're present.

Worse, they're magnified, and they are brought home.

We have to deal with them. We have to confront them.

We have to figure out how to proceed with going on with life.


The Fallacy of Definition

Another concept that often gets in the way of intimacy is our tendency to define our relationships.

Instead of worrying about exactly what our relationships are, we should let them be.

Let them be soulful and uncategorized — especially if they are unusual, unweildy or hard to manage.

That's what it is all about.

Instead of creating patterns we are familiar with — and trying to make our relationships fit those preconceived patterns, we should allow our inter-dependencies to be strange and undefined.

What we tend to do instead, is to resolve our anxiety and uncertainly with what's going on with another person by making that relationship be something we're more familiar with.

Many of us have a compelling need to see who we are in terms of our relationships with other persons.

Real intimacy involves saying things like:

"Let's talk about that."


"I don't feel comfortable about that."


"That bothers me."

 And, especially,

"Let's keep talking."


Meanwhile, we need to

avoid categorizations,

acknowledge our fears,


tell our own truths.

James Dolan's
Lotus Eaters dot Net

See also Amalgamated Trust, a plan for the Intimate sharing of inner turmoil.