In my previous post to you I discussed how intimacy requires vulnerability, that love is easy, but intimacy is hard. I’ve come to understand that intimacy and vulnerability are so difficult because any human being’s greatest fear is the fear of loss. And, we’ve been trained to equate change with loss. And change is necessary for intimacy.
In my life, I have lost a great amount in relationships. Each one has brought an incredible amount of pain that I was largely unable to deal with all at once. After each loss, I was reminded that relationships are vulnerable, because, by nature, they, like us, must change to survive. And I lost those relationships either because I or they were unwilling to change.
I cannot begin to explain how difficult this change is for most people. It’s not because change is “hard” per se, rather it’s because change hurts, a lot. In order to change, we must confront our mortality and the inevitable end of all things. If we are willing to confront our relationship and say, “Something needs to change,” then we are, by extension, admitting that if it doesn’t change, it will break, end, die.
The truth is that loss is a part of life. It is as important as love, as important as security, as important as holding on to the things we value.
Most of the couples I see find it inexorably difficult to hear and/or admit that their relationship could end. It makes them vulnerable beyond tolerance, fearful beyond logic. It causes incredible pain to consider that I could somehow lose you, particularly if that reason is related to my failings as a partner. It would be horrible to lose you. It would be devastating to lose you because of something I did or did not do. This fear engages a part of our brain that does not care to empathize or understand; it only cares to end the pain, end the fear, prohibit the loss at all costs. Often that cost is intimacy with the person we love the most.
In my experience, this fear of loss is the number one reason people do not come to couples therapy sooner or at all. It is the number one reason partners do not discuss their hurts, pains, and troubles. It is the number one reason that vulnerability is shunned, and thus, the number one reason couples lack intimacy.
The truth is that loss is a part of life. It is as important as love, as important as security, as important as holding on to the things we value. Accepting loss gives us the power to change. If we accept the inevitability of loss, we free ourselves to feel vulnerable. And if we free ourselves to feel vulnerable, to fear losing, then we empower ourselves to examine what must change. And when we examine what must change, we enable the possibility that we can hang on to those we love. When we change, we heal. And when we heal, we love harder and longer and better.
Let me break it down:
Fear of loss ← not engaging ← not changing ← lack of intimacy ← loss of being close
As opposed to:
Fear of loss ← courage to be vulnerable ← engaging skills to be vulnerable ← being vulnerable ← intimacy ← change ← greater skill, greater love, continued connection
I will explain all of this process in future updates, but, for now, understand that, although the fear of loss can keep us from being connected, being open to change in order to be intimate does not necessarily mean you will lose your relationship. It simply means that you have to be willing to lose your relationship, willing to risk in order to succeed, willing to show your true self and possibly change in order to stay connected. If we are willing to lose, then we are open to the risk of connection. And if we are open to the risk of connection, we are open to experiencing the joy of being close. Do not allow your fear of losing each other stop you from experiencing it.
Dr. Kinsey’s new series on relationship health is called the Joy of Being Close. In it he will explore the lessons his clients have taught him about intimacy, love, and romance.
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