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Relationships

Why We Need a New GPS for Intimate Relationships

The intimate relationship is in a league of its own.

The intimacy swing—difficult and rewarding
Source: Vika Kirillova/Pexels

In the popular 1992 film A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks's character angrily declares, "There's no crying in baseball!" Maybe not in baseball, but without question, within the rigorous context of our intimate relationships, where the opposite frequently occurs, as upsets, including tears, are a part of the emotional terrain, and for very understandable reasons.

Our most intimate partnerships are complex and difficult, and so, not surprisingly, many fail. Intimacy poses greater challenges than perhaps any other relationship, and for many of us, it is the greatest of life's challenges. The most compelling evidence of intimacy's rigor is the in-your-face, soaring divorce rate—roughly 50 percent. Ironically, even marriage counselors divorce at the same rate! And, to add irony atop irony, according to the research findings of McCoy and Aamodt, many of them do not seek treatment.

Us victims and our beleaguered colleagues

In defense of our beleaguered colleagues and those of us who've suffered separation and divorce, this staggering statistic bears powerful witness to the inherent difficulties of the intimate relationship. It also points strongly to the need for more effective treatment strategies to help distressed couples and the related need to dismantle any remaining stigma associated with the use of couple's therapy and to encourage it instead.

Further evidence of intimacy's intimidations

Increasing numbers of young people are choosing to postpone their commitment to marriage and child-rearing into their late 20s and early 30s, and some are retreating from any form of commitment altogether. These trends have birthed new explanations of the complications which slow the decision to commit and even put commitment itself in question. For example, it takes longer to prepare oneself to successfully enter the increasingly technical or specialized world of work. Equally complicating are the welcomed advances in women's rights that have given women greater economic and political opportunities, including increased sexual freedom. And finally, many are deterred from commitment because of their first-hand experiences with their own parent's struggles and relationship failures.

Intimacy 101

Think of it: The most complicated, difficult, and challenging relationship is the intimate one, and yet there are no formal institutions to help us prepare for it. Partners are left with whatever role-modeling their parents provided and/or a learn-as-you-go, trial-and-error approach. Statistically, neither of these is a fail-safe, and both are bereft of, or, at best, questionable preparation, especially considering the very plausible premise that the intimate relationship is unsurpassed in its inherent challenges.

Moreover, what exactly would prepare us for the rigorous, craggy landscape of the intimate relationship? And importantly, would we expect the priceless fulfillments that intimacy promises us to come without considerable difficulty?

The usual reasons for commitment

So, what are the common or conventional reasons people have for committing to an intimate partnership? More crucially, how robust and resilient are these customary reasons—just how sustainable and efficacious are they? Can our usual reasons be counted upon to successfully navigate us through intimacy's hazards and clear a path to its rewards? What are your reasons for committing to intimacy?

In couple's therapy, it can be clinically useful to ask partners what their reasons are for committing to each other. Most often, their answer is the same, and it shouldn't surprise you: "Well, we love each other." Their answer is conveyed with an attitude of enough said: This is all that is necessary; falling in love alone is sufficient. But is it? And if it were, would they be sitting on the couch in my office?

Clearly, our usual and customary reasons for commitment are sorely inadequate. Again, the dramatic proof is the alarmingly high divorce rate with its accompanying emotional pain and suffering.

So, which reasons measure up to the difficult tasks of intimacy? Which are the most effective, resilient, and sustainable? Whichever they may be, they must surely demand enduring effort and energy. This point is captured in the common expression, "Relationships take a lot of work."

Lo que vale cuesta

That which is of value comes with a price tag—a cost commensurate to what's valued. In other words, the awesome benefits of intimacy are in direct proportion to its difficulties. For me, my relationship with my wife, my adult children, and my rapidly growing grandchildren are what I value most. They are my greatest responsibility but also confer my highest rewards. Again, these fulfillments don't always come easily; in fact, there are times when they've come at huge personal costs.

In his very readable compendium Love and Survival, author Dean Ornish celebrates the across-the-board benefits of a stable, satisfying intimate relationship. Its rewards extend from improved physical health and longevity to greater professional, occupational, and social success. Those of us fortunate couples in happy, long-term relationships actually pay higher taxes—because we earn larger salaries! More good news: Successful partners are more socially active, less isolated, and less likely to suffer addictive disorders. We are simply happier.

How about you? Do you find your intimate partnership complicated, challenging, fulfilling? If so, what seems to work for you—what are your specific "relationship tools?"

References

McCoy, S.P. & Aamodt. M.G. (2010). A Comparison of Law Enforcement Divorce Rates with those of other Occupations, Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 25, 1-16,

Ornish, D. (1998). Love and Survival: The Scientific basis for the healing power of intimacy. New York, NY. Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.

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