When I look back over my own life, there's a very consistent principle that's taken me from the isolation I used to live in to the intimacy in my marriage and in my friendships that deepens every year.
Every year - every month, heck sometimes every day - my wife and I are blown away by the depth of intimacy and joy we share in our relationship. We thought it was pretty amazing last year, and the year before, but it just keeps on growing. The same technique that I use to deepen in that relationship also works with my friendships, and with my birth family. Are you ready to know what it is?
First I should mention a couple of wonderful secrets that it's not. It's not about being giving. Most people I know are happy to give, and actually long to give love and support in relationships. Even where they're blocked in their giving, perhaps because of feelings of isolation or resentment, there's another issue that gets in the way first. It's not about listening, or sensitivity, or empathy - these are all wonderful skills, and it's absolutely worth the time to develop them further, but they're not where I see people getting stuck.
The #1 secret to opening my life to more love, and the secret that I see making a huge difference in the lives of my clients is... Vulnerability. It's one kind of skill to show up in loving support to your partner, but it's a very different skill to actually bare your soul before your partner and let them see all of you. It's what we crave in our relationships - to really know what's going on inside each other, whether it's silly or scary or angry or loving; to deeply know each other. It's what inspires the deepest forms of trust.
Why this is really important - our guardedness sets a limit on how intimate our relationships can be. To the extent that you're hiding, to the extent that in any situation you choose to hold back instead of sharing your thoughts and feelings, you set a limit on how deep the relationship can go. And that depth of connection is what leads to the most profound satisfaction, the greatest happiness.
But how do we become more vulnerable? While it helps simply to set it as an intention, an aspiration for how we show up with our loved ones, it usually doesn't take too long before we realize there's a fear inside that's holding us back. We can work with this fear in several ways.
We can use our mind to investigate the fear. Run through a quick check of the ways you might not be safe. Am I safe physically in this connection, or is it possible I could be in physical danger from sharing my heart? Am I safe emotionally, or do I fear some kind of verbal attack designed to make me feel bad? Do I feel safety in the confidentiality of my relationship with this person, or do I worry that what I'm saying could be shared with others, misinterpreted, and misconstrued? These are all valid concerns, and if we get a clear "no" to an "Am I safe?" question, it's both healthy and wise to honor that no.
But often, especially in our intimate relationships, we find that we are safe, and we're still scared to share. I get a very clear "yes" to all my "Am I safe" questions with my wife, and yet there are still thoughts or feelings that I can fear sharing, simply because of the habit of fear that accompanies them. I'm afraid to tell her that I was upset by her, because I fear isolation. I'm afraid to tell her about my insecurities, because I'm worried she'll be disappointed in me. These aren't rational fears - when I check in, I really am safe - but they remain with me.
So what can I do when I find myself afraid, and holding back, even though I know I'm safe?
- I can choose to share anyway. Often we let our "state" determine our behavior - I'm scared, so I'm not going to share. It's liberating on many levels to let our deepest wisdom determine our behavior, even when our current emotional state makes us want to do something else. This is where faith comes in - I have faith in the relationship, I have faith in my practice of being vulnerable, so even though it's hard, I choose to have faith that sharing my heart right now is the richest path forward in this relationship.
- I can share about the fear. "Something's up for me right now, and I'm having trouble sharing it with you because I'm afraid." Even that much vulnerability opens our hearts to each other - and it also invites your partner into a sympathetic curiosity about what's troubling you.
- I can ask my partner for more safety. There are numerous communication practices, such as the communication bubble, NVC (nonviolent communication), and simple reflection, that can help give me the emotional sense of safety that makes it easier to continue. (And it's extremely helpful to develop and refine these practices when you're both feeling safe and connected, so that you'll have them available when you need them!)
Ultimately, whoever you're with, the power to open your heart into deeper intimacy rests with you. Choose to open; again and again, wherever it seems safe, and even sometimes when it seems risky, choose to open.
"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." - Rumi
"I trust, because what else can I do but trust? What else can we do but trust? This is bigger than all of us, so we may as well just lay down and trust." - The Legendary Pink Dots
If you're in the St. Paul area on March 1-3, I'd love to invite you to come to the Authentic Intimacy Weekend. This is an amazing opportunity to learn and practice relationship skills (including those communication practices!) that will bring you more love every year. It's also a chance to have fun with human connection in a safe, nurturing container of people who believe in the possibility and practice of greater love. More information and registration available online: AwakeningAuthenticIntimacy.com/weekend.