This past Friday night, I hosted a Facebook Live event to discuss the Intimate Conversations, the first in a series titled Communication Dysfunction. In case you missed it, the following is the transcript of the talk.
You read the invitation titled “Intimate Conversations” and perhaps hesitated to join me. For those of you here, I am glad your curiosity led you to join me. So, with our favorite beverages in hand, let’s dive in.
When we think of intimacy, we often think of sexual or romantic intimacy. While these are both true and important, intimacy is really about the depth and degree to which a person can share and relate with another. This includes feelings, thoughts, concerns, joys; all that life has to throw at us. My dear friend and former Pastor (with whom I have been blessed to have many deep, intimate conversations) describes intimacy in this way: ‘Into me, I let you see!’ I’ll repeat that: Into me, I let you see! How perfect is this?!
The Communication Dysfunction
Friends, I believe we are in a state of communication dysfunction. We are more connected than ever via computer, phones, tablets, etc., but I believe many of us feel more alone. How do we fix this? It begins with communication. Deep, meaningful, from the heart conversations. Whether it’s a friendship or romantic relationship, open & honest communication is the key that allows us to flourish and contribute to our growth both individually and as a society.
We begin by being drawn toward one another primarily because of chemistry and/or a physical attraction. A successful relationship continues because we make a choice. We choose to put in the work it takes to keep the connection alive.
One of my favorite words is vulnerability. When we allow ourselves to embrace our own vulnerability, we achieve a comfort level in being able to share with others.
Vulnerability is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed either physically or emotionally”. So yes, in being vulnerable and entering into an intimate conversation, we are opening ourselves to the potential of hurts (more so emotional). But, if we don’t take the risks of exposing our true selves, we may lose out on something wonderful. Sharing this intimate part of ourselves can truly be an amazing thing.
Okay, okay…I can almost see some of your expressions—intimacy, vulnerability—I just can’t expose myself in this way. Don’t panic! I don’t mean to cut your yourself open and dump your entire heart, mind and soul out on the floor. Baby steps are okay here. As you begin to share, it gets easier, I promise! I know a few of you watching have experienced this with me and I with you, so you can trust me when I say it’s possible.
Other Components of Intimacy
We know that intimacy requires vulnerability. It also must include respect, honesty, laughter and a lot of liking each other (if not also loving), and a sense of safety. We may not always be comfortable, because in reality, it’s when we step out of our comfort zones that we often experience the greatest success. We must have a sense of safety though. In this space, we can share those parts of us that we would not necessarily share with anyone else.
There must be commitment to work together to foster the relationship. As a reminder, these relationships range from friendship to partners or spouses. And, intimacy, on some level, can and should be present in most connections. We foster our relationships by nurturing and nourishing. By nourishment, I refer to that which feeds our souls. We make an intentional choice to build upon the foundation created at the beginning of the relationship. Nothing should be forced or manipulated to the advantage of one over the other.
Let’s face it, this might be awkward at first. When the uncomfortable feelings creep in, transport yourself back to the “wooing” stage. At that time, we wanted to talk constantly and learn all about each other. Suddenly, we are a few years in and things settle into routine. How many of our conversations are simply “How was your day?” “What should we eat?” And, “Hey, can you get me a drink?” Come, on, we can certainly do better than this, even when the conversations are difficult. No ruts, no settling for mediocrity and no avoidance of that which is difficult!
Intimate conversations allow us to put our feelings into words and on the table. We can take off the masks and reveal our true selves. Don’t be afraid to borrow a lyric, quote or meme. Sometimes they can express what we are thinking better; it’s okay to steal some inspiration!
1. Let’s choose the safe space. This could be your favorite dive restaurant, a cozy sofa by the fireplace, taking a walk along your favorite trail—you get the idea.
2. Schedule time. In this crazy, non-stop world in which we live, we might need to schedule time for conversation just as we would a date night or sex. There is nothing wrong with using a schedule; is shows that having a focused conversation is just as important as the dentist appointment and the soccer games.
3. Be Curious! We will never know everything about each other. If you think you do, you are sorely mistaken. Carrying a little healthy mystery with us is good; it drives the interesting, intriguing and thought-provoking questions your partner can ask. Failure to ask anything but yes/no questions means we personally have become a bit dull and uninteresting. Don’t let this happen.
4. So what are those open-ended questions?
- What was the best/worst part of your day?
- What do you love about us?
- What’s something I don’t know about you?
- What’s something you are afraid to share?
- What habit of mine do you find endearing? Which is annoying?
- What excites you most about our future?
- About what are you most passionate?
- What is something you would like to know about me from my childhood?
The options are endless. The one thing we should try to avoid is “We need to talk.” That’s a sure way of putting someone on the defensive and rarely leads to anything productive. Try “What’s your understanding of the situation?”or “Tell me a story about that.”
5. It’s okay to give each other a reassuring touch (a pat on the arm, a hug, or holding hands). This works in friendships and partnerships. Often it gives the reassurance and courage to continue. Of course, do not do this if the other person pulls away or says “No.”
6. If you are having a difficult conversation, do not go in with the expectation that all of life’s problems will be solved in this moment. If they are, that’s wonderful. This may just be the beginning: as long as the door is open and both are willing to step inside, that should be the only concern. There may be multiple conversations need to correct an issue or solve a problem. Another plus, is that you may have just started a new ritual or tradition. Let’s call it “Communication Time”! The only expectation we should have is to learn something.
7. Our conversations must be intentional but not aggressive or defensive. Understanding is key and always the goal. Through the mutual understanding of how each other perceives the situation, the stage will be set for either solutions or ongoing meaningful conversation.
8. Learn empathy. When you are practicing empathy, you show that the other’s thoughts, feelings and needs make sense to you. Being empathetic doesn’t mean you agree with the other, but that you have an understanding and validation of his/her experiences.
9. Be transparent, honest and open. Not much more to say here. If you can’t be these three things, forget everything else I have said and move on from the relationship. (We will discuss these things as a separate topic in a further post.)
10. Be attentive. Turn off the electronics, focus on each other. Do you even remember what color eyes he or she has? ??
11. Interests. Develop a common interest such as taking cooking classes, or learn something about the things that ignite the fire in the other’s soul. These interests will always lead to some fun conversations.
12. Avoid the distractions or interruption. Do not try forcing the other to agree with you. The point is to be heard and understood; not to be right. Do NOT bring up nor dwell on the past. Whether it’s been 5 minutes or 5 years ago, the past is over and can’t be changed. Focusing on it simply places blame rather than focusing on the steps necessary to move forward. Don’t agitate or nitpick. The conversation is meant to achieve closeness not distance.
12. Develop a signal when the conversation has run the course. This may be a hug, a peck on the cheek or a full on passionate kiss. Regardless of how you end the conversation, do so gently, sweetly and with respect and kindness.
Did you ever wonder about people who carry on long distance friendships or relationships? Those are really hard work but are often more emotionally solid that those where the people see each other frequently. In these relationships, conversations are all they have so it forces the participants to enhance the conversation process. My mom can’t understand this. I have tried to explain it, but all she sees are risks and people being less than truthful. That can happen for sure, but I have extensive proof that they can work. While I have some amazing personal relationships; I have a few equally awesome long distance friendships (and if you can believe it, there are a few people I have never met in person, but have a deeper connection because of the amount of time we spend in engaging, intimate conversation).
Brad Browning, break-up and divorce coach, describes intimate conversations as “Love Talk”. Connections are developed on a deeply personal level by sharing our hopes, dreams, fears, faults, and hurts. It also includes when we mess up (not just those tiny, little errors, but also those gigantic, royal screw-ups)!
Having a love-talk also means that each partner comes to the table on equal footing. Healthy emotional intimacy does not permit one partner to have more power than the other. When equalized, the partnership flourishes because the individuals are in a safe, loving environment to grow themselves.
Pick your space, schedule your conversation, have 1 or 2 open-ended questions prepared, and just talk. As you communicate more frequently, have a check-in with each other:
- Do we accept each other just as we are?
- Can we openly, honestly and safely share the deepest parts of ourselves?
- Are we willing to keep talking to help this relationship grow?
- Do we regularly ask each other if we understand and affirm each other’s thoughts and feelings?
- Do we each routinely take turns initiating the conversation?
- Do we routinely tell each other how much love we have for the other?
All of these things contribute to our emotional well-being and to achieving a deep level of intimacy in the relationship; which in turn are huge strides in healing and eradicating the Communication Dysfunction!