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Counterfeit Intimacy



Today I read an article that talked about intimacy without responsibility.

Hmmm….

Of course, the title alone was enough to make me curious. You see, in this particular season of life, I’m doing a lot of delving into what makes us tick in relationships and where the foundations of how we relate and engage in intimacy are built. In light of what I’ve been discovering, the idea of ‘intimacy without responsibility’ had me raising an eyebrow in the “I’m skeptical of what you’re proposing” sort of way.

As I read on, my skepticism turned to disappointment in what the article suggested. But more on that in a moment.

First, I want to affirm something about the piece. I appreciate what I believe was the author’s initial intent; to help people understand that we don’t need to take responsibility for another’s emotions and reactions.

While words like ‘codependency’ were never uttered in the article, I think I can say with relative certainty that was exactly what the author was attempting to address. And I think that’s important. After all, people who are successful in their relationships have learned to take responsibility for their own emotional regulation and rational communication in ways that honor the relationship and those with whom they are in relationship.

Additionally, they have experienced that being authentic and genuine builds trust and intimacy. All of which cannot take place within a codependent relationship.

However, the central theme of the article was very “self” focused. In fact, as I read it I just kept thinking about that line in The Emperor’s New Groove (a classic, in my opinion) where the llama-faced, narcissistic Emperor declares, “Me, me, me, blah, blah, me, me, blah”.

Yeah, it was like that.

Though the writer used inviting words; good words; even important words, the tone was still one of “What do I get out of this?”; “How do I make sure I get what I want?”; “How do I make this relationship work for me?”; etc. The problem as I see it with this approach to intimacy is that it’s very one-sided (cue irony).

In other words, the idea of ‘what’s in it for me’ is the antithesis of intimacy.

When our focus is on self, even while we’re thinking of the other person, i.e. “how do I communicate in a way that gets me what I want from this person?”, the pendulum swings from one of codependency to self-centeredness. When taken to extremes, both are equally devastating.

Particularly if intimacy is the goal.

One of the most disturbing things about this article was a portion that read “we are designed to have our own solo journey and find our own way in this world“. Well, yes.

And no.

Because that’s not really how we’re wired.

In fact, whether you subscribe to the belief of a created order or not, science, not merely faith alone, shows us that we in fact work best when in healthy relationship with one another.

It would seem we’re wired for it.

Study after study shows things like addiction, shame, depression and stress are significantly decreased by the presence of true intimacy in our lives. Supportive relationships where we can be authentic and experience reciprocity of our feelings are powerful tools in combating much of what gets labeled mental and emotional problems.

Personally, I feel this is just another reflection of us being created in the image of a relational God (Three-In-One, and all that.)

So, while I’m all for being heard, seen and validated in our relationships, it is important to make sure we are doing this in the context of being responsible for ourselves to say things in honoring ways, even if it might ‘hurt’ another’s feelings. (Sometimes, we need that to grow).

Then, we must take a look at what and whom we are responsible to.

Let me give an example.

Several years ago, my husband and I had a fight over toothpaste. (Don’t judge.)

Not over the kind or price or being out of it. But rather, where he chose to put the toothpaste.

At the time, we shared a bathroom with two sinks and on the counter, situated between them, was a really cool stack of drawers and cabinets. The items we shared, things like toothpaste, went in the middle drawer of the ‘in between’ cabinets where we could both effortlessly reach them.

Yet, time and time again, I would look for the toothpaste in the drawer, only to find he had placed it, instead, aaallll the way on the other side of his vanity in his lower drawer.

After asking him no less than 5,000 times (I’m sure I counted correctly) to put the toothpaste in the middle drawer where it belonged, I finally found the end of the last nerve that was dedicated to asking him to put the toothpaste in the middle drawer.

And I lost it.

Fortunately, in God’s sweet mercy, my precious hubby wasn’t home at the time. And in an even greater act of mercy, he didn’t answer his phone when I called him to tell him of his toothpaste placement failure.

Yep. That’s right. I called him. At work.

With a little time on my hands, and the mild exhaustion I was feeling from my empty-house tirade about said toothpaste placement, I was able to collect myself and do some soul-searching. Take an inventory, if you will.

I was able to assess the truth about what was going on. What I was responsible for and to. In the name of protecting and in search of intimacy.

I could’ve made this into an ‘all about me’ conversation, with flailing hands and razor sharp words. I could’ve made sure he knew how horrible he was for continuing to ignore me and refusing to do as I asked.

I could’ve bought additional tubes of toothpaste and left them in his, mine and our drawers…but that’s a solution for another day.

Instead, what I chose to do was take a look at why this bothered me so much. Ask myself some serious questions about what I believed my husband’s motives were for leaving the toothpaste on his side (it couldn’t possibly be how terribly distracted he was due to his incredibly stressful job, could it? Yes. Yes it could. Or perhaps, something slightly less complicated, like- being a human who makes mistakes. Yeah, maybe it was that.)

I took responsibility for regulating my emotions and in a tone that invited intimacy, explained to him that my frustration was less about the toothpaste and more about how ‘not being heard’ pushed buttons and fears in me that were wired in from childhood. (I also took responsibility for working to disconnect that wiring and build healthier circuitry. But that’s for another blog.)

I was responsible to my husband for speaking to him in a way that was for our relationship and for him. Not against either. I was also responsible for communicating to him how this little thing, like toothpaste placement, believe it or not, would go a long way in helping build intimacy.

Sort of like when I take and pick up his clothes from the dry cleaners without him asking.

Because, as we all know, it’s not about the toothpaste. Or the clothes.

It’s about answering in even small ways, the very big question “Do I matter to you?”

Ultimately, what taking responsibility did was increase our intimacy.

And he never left the toothpaste in his drawer again.

Just kidding.

He did.

But it was far less than before. Or maybe it wasn’t.

Maybe it was just ‘better’ because he heard me. He listened which was a gift and he talked which allowed me to receive. And then, I did the same for him.

It worked because to do less would’ve only felt good to one of us.

What mattered the most was we were both heard. We took responsibility to and for, because we had learned that empathy + vulnerability + responsibility = true intimacy.

So, with all due respect to the author of the above mentioned piece, while I understand what they were hoping to convey, their quest for true intimacy will never happen without responsibility.

Because intimacy without responsibility is counterfeit. And Lord knows we have enough of that going around these days.

How about you?

In what ways are you seeking intimacy in your significant relationships that might actually be hindering it? Have you been experiencing a diet-version of intimacy because some part of the equation is missing?

I pray you find a taste of the real thing today. Once you do, you’ll never settle for the counterfeit again.