The following two selections are from Terrence Real’s important book, How Can I Get Through to You? Closing the intimacy gap between men and women (2003). Relational therapist, lecturer and author Real looks at the “thousand cuts” that contribute to the death of a marriage and the “intimacy skill set” that is essential for reconnection.
Part 1: How to kill a marriage
So go love’s small murders, tiny, every-day escalations of injury reacted to by disconnection, causing more injury, until one fast-forwards to a couple whose initial passion has become so “encrusted” with disappointment that they barely function as a couple any longer….
As Dan talks about work, Judy turns her back. Instead of telling her to turn back around, he stops talking. A few years later, without much notice, Dan has stopped sharing his work life at all.
Or this: Angry at his perceived lack of participation in the family, Judy finds herself less and less interested in sex. The whole thing starts to feel more like more of a bother than pleasure. Judy hears from her girlfriends that at her age, women just lose interest, and so she writes it off to menopause. But she’s playing a shell game with her self.
Deep down, Judy doesn’t really want to give Dan pleasure, or, if she were honest, give him the satisfaction of giving her pleasure. She doesn’t want to give in to him at all; she’s too angry.
With the couples I see there are always obvious issues to be dealt with. Yet, while these must be taken seriously in their own right, they are also the media through which the couples unique downward spiral plays itself out.
The grim degeneration of connection that spans years is made up of thousands of tiny incidents of disconnection that span mere moments. In the absence of closeness, other feelings rush to fill up the vacated space — anger, bitterness, despair. Metaphors of choking come to mind, unruly growths — weeds, rust, cancer. It’s not that anything dreadfully bad happens to people like Judy and Dan so much as that there comes to be less and less good….
Intimacy is a skill set. Not a static capacity so much as a daily practice. Not something one has, but rather something one does. After the woman opens her mouth and feels empowered to speak, after the man open his heart and feels empowered to listen and change, after they have both opened their eyes, it is time to bring artfulness to their hands…
Part 2: The Art of Reconnecting