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Intimacy and Deep Emotional Healing

Even in the best of relationships, couples sometimes struggle with emotional connection. They want to feel close, but it seems like there’s a wedge between them.

If this has ever happened to you, I want to help you successfully overcome this hurdle. Consider the following situation.

Imagine that your partner wants to tell you about his anger, or hurt or displeasure.

Now imagine your automatic reaction. What do you feel? What happens in your body?

Do you want to lean toward your partner and listen? Or do you feel on edge?

Many of us would say, “I think I’d rather not hear this story.” Our quick computer-like mind calculates how we can get physical or psychological distance so we won’t have to feel uncomfortable. Even if we stay physically close, our mind and our heart might not be very open.

The following behaviors prevent the exploration of emotional material that would help us understand our partner on a deeper level. In most cases, these behaviors occur innocently and unknowingly.

1. Give advice: “Listen to my suggestions and you’ll feel much better.”
2. Rescue: “Here, let me make it all better for you.”
3. Praise: “I know you’re a strong enough person to handle it.”
4. Criticize: “That’s a ridiculous way to feel. That’s stupid.”
5. Intellectualize: “You have no reason to feel that way. Think about it my way.”
6. Defend: “Yeah but, you never listen to me either. You hurt me, too.”
7. Convince, dominate: “My way is better than your way. Do what I tell you to do, pleeeease!”
8. Exit: “Oh, I just remembered that I have to call Sylvia back.”

Our partner won’t feel that we deeply connect with them.

When we distance, we often do so nonverbally as well. We break eye contact when we start to feel uncomfortable. We may turn away or walk out of the room.

Sometimes, we want to strike out with words or behavior.

Our instinctual brains go into protection mode. We call it the fight or flight phenomenon.

Sometimes intense emotions scare us. That’s why we want to get away from feelings in the first place. We might be afraid that we will go out of control and hurt ourselves or hurt someone else.

When we learn to contain our emotions
we don’t go out of control.

Why being intellectual does not work.

Our society prizes smart productive people. There is a certain amount of intimacy that occurs on an intellectual level, and thats great. But more often than not, we feel deeply loved when our partner meets us on a heart level.  

We hurt when we have unmet emotional needs. We want our feelings to be understood by our partner.

We need to learn how to stop intellectualizing and start feeling our suppressed and repressed emotions. We need to find an effective way to stay emotionally present with each other. We must learn to do this in a responsible way. We shouldnt dump our reactive anger all over our partner.

When we feel distant from our partner, we can remind our selves that we want an intimate relationship. We can tell our partner that. Thats a good first step.  

As we look for ways to create emotional intimacy, it helps to ask ourselves if our ideas will generate true closeness. Do we use sex or embraces or flowers or conversations or vacations? All of these can be absolutely wonderful, but do they generate enduring repairs for a troubled relationship?

Have you ever felt close for a little while, but the intimacy fades away all too quickly? Do you say to yourself, Theres something wrong with this relationship. I keep trying to get close, but the moments are too fleeting. Is this all that I can expect from an intimate relationship?”

Maybe you focus on the flaws in your partner. Maybe you try to get him to change. You think, Hes the one with the problem. If he would just change it would all be OK.”

Or maybe you decide that you are the one with the problem. You spend hours psychoanalyzing yourself, reading books and talking to friends. You understand your pattern better, but the same old feelings haunt you.  

The antidote is to develop the ability to feel our vulnerable emotions and stay 100% present.

We can develop the ability to unconditionally love ourselves. We can invite the unconditional love of God. Then we can experience our Authentic Self as larger than the emotional experience of the moment.

We can experience our emotions, but they no longer have power over us.

Then we feel centered.

Then our partner can experience emotions, and we can stay emotionally intimate with ourselves and with our partner. We dont get reactive. We can listen well.

We can handle all the ups and downs of a conflict like navigating the rapids of a river.

We can come through the experience together as partners rather than as adversaries. 

 

The Remedy: Empathy for Self and Our Partner

We all want to be understood and cared about. Empathy is one of our most powerful tools.

When we empathize with our partner, we feel their emotions to some degree and see things through their eyes.

That does not mean that we need to agree with our partner. And it does not mean that we lose our selves in the process.

Empathy means

that we let our partner know

that we feel what they feel and

that it makes sense to us.

Empathy pulls for empathy from our partner.

To empathize effectively, we must stop distancing from our own uncomfortable feelings that arise in the presence of our partner.

We must go deep inside of our own caves and caverns where we have not yet ventured to visit our uncomfortable emotions. We must find a way to make peace with our challenging emotions. Sometimes it is really dark in the cave and we might be frightened to venture in alone. We might want to ask for help from a therapist.

The deeper we are willing to go inside of our own emotions and explore our internal world, the more self-aware we will become. There may be all kinds of feelings that we have shied away from … hurt, anger, pain, sadness, fear, insecurity, guilt, or shame. These feelings may have been formidable enemies for us.

If we are not willing to make friends with these so-called enemies, these emotions will always have power over us. They will rise up in the most unexpected and unacceptable moments. They will be uninvited disruptive guests.

We may try to get rid of uncomfortable emotions, but they will cycle back around again.

So we try harder to make them go away.

We eat too much or sleep too much. We might drink too much alcohol or take drugs. We might talk with friends. We work too much. We shop for things that make us feel good temporarily. Or maybe we run into the arms of another person to try to feel good … or at least not feel so lonely.

We have all kinds of ways of running away from intimacy with our selves.  

When we dont stay 100% present with ourselves, it is impossible to be close to our partner when he is experiencing difficult emotions.

 

How to Make Peace with Our Uncomfortable Emotions

Imagine there is a part inside of you who feels the uncomfortable emotions. I often imagine this to be a child part of myself. Notice how old your inner child seems to be.

Now imagine that you also have a wise nurturing adult part of you. The nurturing wise adult is compassionate and wants to understand the child. She is willing to be fully present. She is a caring witness. She says, Tell me all about it. Im here for you. Tell me what you need and Ill do my best to help meet your needs.”  They explore the situation together. They build their relationship.

The child and the wise adult interact like a scene in a movie. As the wise adult tunes into the child, the child will eventually feel safe enough to open up. When the adult loves the child and tries to meet her needs, the child will receive the healing instead of being closed off.

It helps to journal this story as it unfolds in your mind so you can stay focused. Most people need to do a series of writings before their inner child feels safe and healed. You may require a skilled therapist to help you with this process.

When we feel safe to disclose our deepest pain in the presence of a compassionate other,” we feel better simply because we have a caring friend. This friend” can be our inner wise adult self, a spiritual being, our partner, or another friend.

We no longer feel alone or lonely.

Feeling supported, we can more easily accept ourselves. We can open to receive healing from our spiritual source. We can think more clearly and receive wisdom.

We can always sit down with our inner child, our spiritual source, and our wise adult and do this process. The inner dialogue helps us feel whole and remain patient and grounded until our partner can be emotionally available.

Hopefully, our partner will choose to engage in this process as well.

As we do more healing with our inner family, we feel more inner peace. Then we have more ability to be emotionally intimate with our partner. We can help him feel understood. We can express compassion and empathy. We are both healed by Gods love that flows through us.

 

Conclusion

This article only scratches the surface of how to develop emotional intimacy when you experience conflict. I hope you have gained a few good insights.

If you are serious about developing your ability to maintain emotional intimacy, look for a therapist who has done his or her own healing work … someone who has ventured into their own dark caves and made peace with the emotions they have found there.

Some people complain about spending years in therapy and not getting the results they want. They intellectually explore their patterns, but their lives dont significantly change. Thats why we need to do deep emotional healing work.

Transformation occurs on the emotional level.

Intimate relationships are possible.

It takes a dedicated commitment and desire to cultivate intimacy within yourself and with your partner.

It requires handling conflicts and emotions as they arise and not running from yourself.

It requires realizing that you and your partner are mirrors for each other. What you see in your partner is often a reflection of yourself. If you dont like what you see in your partner, it is probably because there is a counterpart that you havent made peace with inside of yourself.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. But just like any labor of love, it is worthwhile for those who have a burning desire for the riches of genuine emotional intimacy.

 

About the Author

Benita A. Esposito, MA is a licensed professional counselor in Georgia with four of decades experience. She is also a spiritual counselor available by video conference to people worldwide. Click here to read her credentials.

If you would like to see if you are a good fit for Benitas services, please click here to complete the contact form and request a complimentary 10-minute phone session.

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9 Tips to Reduce Family Conflicts During the Holidays

I’m reaching out to all of you who have troubled family relationships during the holidays.

Maybe family members act more like frozen icicles than warm comforting blankets. Perhaps cutting words feel like daggers that pierce your soul. Maybe your mother still treats you like a 12-year-old. That hurts all the time, but especially during the holidays. Read more

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23 Tips for Turning Conflict into Peace

I hope your holidays are filled with love and laughter. I bless you with inner peace that glows from your heart. Unfortunately, holidays are not merry and bright for everyone. I’ve written this article to help people who struggle at this time of the year. However, you can apply these skills 365 days a year. Read more

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Why We Think We Shouldn’t Be Needy

by Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor

“In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” ―Sue Johnson, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships

 

Do you judge yourself for being needy? Well, I did for the longest time. Read more

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Tired of Conflict?

Whether it’s with your spouse or your mother, if you don’t already experience an emotionally secure connection, even little conflicts can damage the relationship. Read more

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Deep Emotional Healing Retreat

This Semi-Private Retreat has a maximum of six people.

Unresolved emotional wounds decrease your self-esteem, self-confidence, and ability to create healthy personal and professional relationships. Even though you are successful on the outside, you may feel empty inside … a lack of wholeness … little inner peace.

You may have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse. You may have experienced the anguish that comes from having an emotionally distant parent.

You may yearn for intimacy, but be afraid of it at the same time. You may attract emotionally unavailable people. You may not know how to effectively communicate to resolve conflicts so that your personal and professional relationships flourish. Your intimate relationship may suffer because you cannot be as emotionally close or as sexually open as you would like.

The part of your brain that tries to protect you might have become stuck in survival mode: fight, flight or freeze. This can generate a number of symptoms including anxiety, depression, chronic worry, self-sabotage, pessimism, procrastination, OCD, substance abuse, and emotional eating.

LkChtg 7Apr12

Lake Chatuge. Photo by Benita Esposito

The Promise of the Retreat:  You’ll experience rigorous yet gentle leadership tailored to your unique learning style to ensure your success. You’ll receive insights so compelling that you will naturally flow into effective action instead of getting bogged down in self-defeating patterns. You’ll be in a safe place so you can allow Love to flood you, heal you and release wave after wave of creativity. Bask in the sweetness of spiritual intimacy, drawing ever closer to the Divine, the source of all healing. Your transformational journey will be accelerated in this beautiful Nature setting: the Blue Ridge Mountains overlooking Lake Chatuge.

When: View the retreat schedule for current dates.

Where: Young Harris, GA. Enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains overlooking Lake Chatuge.

Breathwork is the primary activity of the day. It helps you access memory, emotion and spirituality in a profound way.

Click on the following links to learn more about what happens in breathwork:

Breathwork Q&A.wisdom-of-crowds-control

Breathwork Testimonials: Relationships, self-esteem, physical healings, career success.

2 Client Stories about their Breathwork experiences in our Annual Florida Beach Retreat

Healing Abuse. In Susan’s Breathwork, God showed her where the abuse pattern started: at conception.

Healing Trauma of an abortion and open-heart surgery.

Healing an Eating Disorder. This client was not focusing on healing her eating disorder. It occurred as a side-benefit.

Reserve your seat now. This small intimate retreat consists of 6 people.  A minimum of 3 private sessions are required before attending this retreat. Participation is by invitation only. Complete the Contact Form for a complementary 10-minute interview.

NOTE: If you are allergic to cats, please let me know. I have one cat who will not be in our meeting space if it is a problem for you.

Cupids Falls, Young Harris, GA

Cupids Falls, Young Harris, GAReserve your seat now.

Retreat FAQs

TESTIMONIALS

“I had never really even entertained the idea of doing a retreat. Scared me to death. Once my spirit decided it was the place to be, then it was so powerful that I had to surrender. So far it’s been one life changing experience after another. Right now I am flying. Can you tell? I mean high! I feel like running up this path barefooted if I have to.” – V.S., Psychotherapist

Last night while soaking in the hot tub, I had a mental slideshow of past retreats and how transformative they’ve been for me.  For many years there’s been a deep ache inside of me because my father didn’t affirm me. This unresolved pain caused great difficulty with my romantic relationships. During the breathwork session at the last retreat, while I was in a dreamy state, I appeared as a radiant bride and my Dad finally gave me the adoration I have wanted all my life. Now six months later, I still feel the love that was planted in me during that retreat. What a priceless journey, worth more than gold!  – T.H, Realtor, Health Coach

“By working with Benita Esposito over the last eight years in one-on-one and in group settings, I have deeply explored the outer reaches of consciousness, and the inner depths of my body-mind-soul-emotions. Via strong empathetic connection with me, Benita has intuitively coached me through issues so I can create healthy personal and business relationships. I benefit most from group retreats where there is a mixture of people’s energies. The extended time to work on things is crucial to digging deep and making major changes, while the beautiful Nature settings give me the soothing arena I need to process the experiences. Jump at the chance to be involved in a retreat as often as possible. It is an honor and a privilege to have Benita as the co-creator of my true destiny and my journey towards my Authentic Self.”  ~ L.S., Software Engineer

Lodging:  click here for a list of hotels.

Facilitator: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor

To inquire about counseling services or intensive retreats, click the Contact Us form. Enter your question and comments. If that does not work, enter your contact information in the “comment box” on this site.

Refund Policy
*There will be no refunds within 30 days of the event. Cancellation must be writing. Fax to 706.896.0031 or email to Benita@EspositoInstitute.com.
* 31-45 days before the retreat, there will be a 50% refund, minus a $35 processing fee.
* 46 or more days before an event, there will be a full refund minus a $35 processing fee.

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12 Keys to Conflict Management

My first mentor told me, “Conflict is a necessary part of intimacy.”

I didn’t want to hear that. I hated conflict, but his words rang true. I knew I wasn’t good at conflict management, and because of that, many of my relationships did not thrive. That was 30 years ago and since then, I have spent zillions of hours learning how to handle conflict productively. Read more

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How Husbands Help Their Wives Heal: Jenny’s Story

bhThe Rewards of Effective Conflict Management.

Jenny’s heart was racing. An MRI revealed no heart dysfunction, so her doctor diagnosed it as a panic attack. She wanted to discover the underlying cause so she could heal the condition without drugs. Read more

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Healing the Heart: Emily’s Story

square04Body-Mind-Spirit Healing

Research published by the American Medical Association indicates 90% of all disease is stress-related. The mind, body, emotions and spirit intricately affect each other. When we heal the emotional or spiritual root of dis-ease, pain and other physical symptoms can ease up, and sometimes they vanish completely. That is a really exciting part of my work!  I’ll show you what I mean in the following story. You’ll understand how psychotherapy can accelerate healing, and is an adjunct to traditional medicine.

Emily suffered from constant chest pain that was so severe she had difficulty breathing.
The pain persisted for weeks and was getting worse, even with prescribed medication. Her doctor suspected an emotional root to the pain, and referred Emily to me. Read more

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Healing the Heart: Emily’s Story

yellow daisyResearch published by the American Medical Association indicates 90% of all disease is stress-related.

The mind, body, emotions and spirit intricately affect each other. When we heal the emotional or spiritual root of dis-ease, pain and other physical symptoms can ease up, and sometimes they vanish completely.  I’ll show you what I mean in the following story. You’ll understand how psychotherapy can accelerate healing, and is an adjunct to traditional medicine.

Emily suffered from constant chest pain that was so severe she had difficulty breathing. The pain persisted for weeks and was getting worse, even with prescribed medication. Her doctor suspected an emotional root to the pain, and referred Emily to me.

When I asked Emily to tell me about her life, she talked about the impact of the church on her childhood conditioning, and about the angst in her marriage.  She was raised in a strict Catholic family and attended Catholic schools.  Being a good girl had become her greatest concern because that’s how she received love from her family. She was sure something awful would happen if she did or said anything that opposed her mother, her father, God or her husband.  She stuffed many of her thoughts and feelings.

Emily was good at suppressing her real self, and after years of that, she felt like she was dying inside.  She wanted to cry and laugh. She wanted to share what she really thought, but she was afraid she would be rejected by those she loved most. She asked, “How can I possibly show up as my real self? I’m afraid my husband won’t love me any more.”

Emily’s emotional and spiritual heart ached from this internal conflict.  I suspected this was the root of her physical heart pain as well. When I shared this hypothesis with her, she began to consider that the pain in her chest was related to the way she suppressed her emotions. The only way she felt loved was by putting on the mask of the good girl, and that did not allow any authentic expression or any fulfilling connection with her husband. Thus began our journey to find productive ways for her to manage her conflicts.

In the beginning of our counseling, Emily could feel her emotions only a little. She was afraid of telling the whole truth and feeling the whole truth. When she resisted feeling her emotions, the chest pain grew stronger. As the counseling progressed, Emily gained the skills and courage to feel her emotions instead of hiding behind the mask of the good girl. She allowed herself to feel the longing to be her Authentic Self. She felt the pain of missing emotional intimacy with her husband. She realized that her lack of authentic communication prevented her from connecting with him in a deep way.  I helped her face her fear that he might leave if he really knew her. She was sure God and her parents wouldn’t love her if she didn’t match the standards of the church.  She confronted her childhood decision to not love herself just the way she was.

What gave Emily the courage to tell the truth and fully show up?  She committed fully to her healing process. She shifted her perspective of a condemning God to a compassionate, unconditionally loving God. She opened to receive this deep love, and strengthened her faith in a way that worked for her. She chose to stop judging herself harshly, and as we built a trusting relationship, she received the unconditional love that flowed through me as well. With deep breathing processes and other psychotherapy methods, Emily’s emotional and physical body began to relax and unwind. Every time we did the emotional healing processes, her pain totally subsided.

After a while, Emily mustered the courage to invite her husband to our counseling sessions.  Feeling stronger and safer now, she told him about the emotional and spiritual anguish that caused her physical pain. He wanted to learn about her journey. He examined his judgments of her, and realized that he judged himself harshly at times, too. He realized that he was afraid to feel his own emotions, just like Emily had been. He wanted to be fully present also, connect with his Authentic Self, and support Emily to heal.  He wanted to know and love Emily more completely than ever before.

It only took a few more sessions for them to fly on their own. I taught them communication skills and conflict management skills so they could share intimacy on every single level: emotional, mental, spiritual and physical.  With every meeting Emily felt safer to fully show up, especially now that her husband eagerly embraced the skills to cultivate a nurturing garden for her to grow, and for their marriage to flourish. Emily’s heart pain never returned.

“You would do well to spend quality time with those whose generosity of spirit waters your emotional garden. Remember that you deserve to receive this kind of nourishment.” ~unknown

(The client’s name was changed to protect her confidentiality.)
* * *

Copyright. The Esposito Institute, Inc.  2011
Original writing: 1991.

For permission to reprint, please use the “Contact Form” on this site.

Contact Author: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor

The Esposito Institute / Counseling and Life Coaching
2 Offices: Atlanta and Blairsville, GA
Psychotherapy Websites: www.Flourishing-Lives.com & www. EspositoInstitute.com
Life Coaching Blog: www.YourAuthenticLife.com

Specialties: Marriage counseling, individual psychotherapy. Divorce, emotional roots of disease, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, bipolar and success skills. Combining intuition and evidence-based practices, Benita gets to the bottom line quickly to help clients create flourishing personal and professional lives. Psychotherapy is available in Blairsville and Atlanta. Life coaching for high achievers is available worldwide via telephone and skype.

“When you have the courage to reveal who you are, wherever you are, that is true freedom.” ~Benita A. Esposito, MA

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