Essential Intimacy Skills

Over the course of my career, I have come across thousands of stories about intimate relationships that have gone wrong. About a parent who drops out of a child’s life, about children rejecting their parents, about spouses or lovers who turn mean—or who reject or betray each other—about siblings having a falling out and never speaking to each other again, about the closest of friends who now speak poorly about the other, about people who were close and intimate who no longer have anything to do with each other.

Sometimes people get estranged from each other for very good reasons—some avoidable, some not: incest, betrayal, dishonesty, violation of trust, boredom, resentment, rage, one person feeling used by the other, name-calling, poor fighting skills, inability to disagree or to have a difference of opinion and work the differences out, not feeling respected, feeling rejected, criticized or put down too frequently, not feeling liked, not feeling loved or valued, too much anger—the list could go on for awhile.

But sometimes, people close to each other have a falling out because they fail to understand that an intimate relationship (lovers, parent-child, family, friends) requires very specific skills. As a culture, we value high IQ, good grades for our kids, strong SAT scores, higher degrees, professional skills, advancing in one’s career, making good money and having nice things. But the skills associated with happiness, with life contentment, with close intimate relationships and with getting along with other people have nothing to do with having a high IQ, good grades or money.

In order to get along with others, in order to have and to keep close people over time, in order to sustain love, and in order to keep a relationship romantic, your EQ (emotional intelligence) and your RQ (romantic intelligence) far surpasses your IQ (intellectual intelligence) in importance. Good EQ and RQ is most commonly associated with feeling happy and contented in life, getting along with others and keeping love relationships strong and happy. Here are some of the skills that EQ and RQ require of us:

  • Connecting and staying connected with others. We all know this isn’t simple to do on a consistent basis. But one thing will help you immensely: Make important to you that which is important to the other person. That means you take an interest in volleyball, World War II or making friends if your child is into those things or wants your assistance with them. That means you value being on time, personal hygiene, managing your anger and being more polite to other people if your spouse or lover tells you that’s what s/he wants or needs. You communicate that you value someone else through words, through your deeds, by taking an active interest in someone else and how they feel, and through affectionate touch.
  • Empathy. The ability to feel what someone else is feeling. To step into their emotions and have compassion for their triumphs, disappointments, yearnings, wounds and goals. To see things from their angle (you cannot effectively guide someone unless you can see what they see, while also being able to be more objective at the same time), and to value their feelings as much as you value your own. That doesn’t mean that their feelings trump yours, but rather that both parties feelings have to be taken into strong consideration.
  • Communication. Many people talk about their feelings, wishes, hurts, disappointments, experiences and dreams. But good communication requires more than talking. It requires you to take an interest in somebody else, to inquire about them, to take notice of them and to carefully listen to them. Most people are very good talkers and extremely poor listeners. When they tell you that they are going through hard times, don’t be tempted to tell them about your hard times, because they won’t feel heard or valued by you if you do. There is no such thing as good communication unless you can also become a superb listener.

I will continue these skills in next week’s column.

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