Understanding Relationships – Need and Fear: The Paradox of Intimacy


By Gary Moore

Dr. David Augsburger, a Christian author and teacher, says that we not only have a deep longing for intimacy, but we also have a deep fear of intimacy. And so, all the intimacy moves in two directions. It paradoxically enriches both separateness and connectedness.

I (being truly myself) can only be intimate with you as you are you (being truly yourself). Our intimacy increases as you are able to become more fully who you are, and I become more freely who I am.

German psychologist Laura Perls said, “In a traditional confluent marriage, the spouse is not a significant other but an insignificant same.” Reflect on that for a while. But more than just a caricature, this description is a portrait of much marriage in which selfhood is lost in merger. Sonia Murch Nevis and Joseph Zinker say that, “Two people can either ‘marry’ or they can ‘join’. When people ‘join,’ the separateness between them is ever present. The impossible relationship is to ‘marry’: to be totally known and know the other, to merge and be as close as possible. To ‘marry’ is like creating a sauce – its various ingredients are so well blended that they are indistinguishable. The opposing image is of two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that join, but the seam is a separateness that cannot be overcome.”

Dr. Augsburger says that, “True intimacy is found by linking not forging. Healthy relationships are not in contact, not continuous. Intimacy, paradoxical as it seems, is increased by our recognition of separateness, not by our denial of it.”

Intimacy has its paradoxical aspects: One, a person needs to be separate in order to be close. Two, the ones we love have the greatest power to hurt us. Three, we must seek comfort and healing form those we hurt and who hurt us. These three paradoxical dimensions are central to intimate marriage. They are the puzzles of closeness, crisis, and reconciliation.

Only healthy separate selves are intimate together. In order to be close to one’s partner, one must become a healthy, separate self. Separation and togetherness are most often expressed as an either/or situation, but that is false; they are best understood as a both/and situation.

We are both becoming more separate selves with a clear sense of identity, and we are both able to come together without fear or reservation.

We are both distinct as centered persons and we are both fulfilled in our blending together in shared emotional experience.

So both distinctness and connectedness, both union and separation, both twoness and oneness, both healthy self-identity and marital unity are central to intimacy.

Carl Whitaker, who has been called by some the dean of family therapists, writes: “As two people live together…then they grow closer together and farther apart at the same rate. This is a weird kind of business, but the closer they get, the more separate they are. If they don’t grow more separate, they can’t grow closer. If they can’t increase their individuality, they can’t increase their oneness.”

To truly be with someone in intimacy, there are no requirements governing appearance, compliance or performance. According to Dr. Augsburger, availability, presence and integrity of covenanting are all that is required. The commitment to be there for the other and with the other is what brings us together while recognizing our covenanting selves as separate responsible agents.

This commitment is not without fears. To let go and simply be together can evoke a whole family of fears. Dr. Augsburger says there are five major fears blocking intimacy: (1) The fear of merger. If we move closer, I will feel engulfed, absorbed, swallowed up, so I must be on guard. (2) The fear of exposure. If we move closer, I will feel undressed and embarrassed, exposed and shamed, so I must be closed when close. (3) The fear of attack. If we move closer, I may be attacked, injured, penetrated, violated. So, I must be cautious. (4) The fear of abandonment. If we move closer, I may open myself only to be left hanging, risk myself only to be ignored or rejected. (5) The fear of one’s own destructive impulses. If we move closer, I may not be able to control the anger I feel, or the disgust, at parts of you that I try not to think about, but I fear is there about to break out.

As I become emotionally healthier and more at peace with myself, my fears of being absorbed, exposed, attacked, abandoned, or explosive go down. My confidence that I can safely and freely be my whole self in your presence rises and grows. I can risk being spontaneous – not knowing what will come out but trusting it all the same.

Let’s face it. There is no way to avoid hurt in a relationship. When two people move into each other’s inner world, there will be misunderstandings, mistakes, and misfortunes that hurt. Hurts are inevitable but not irreparable.

We always hurt the ones we love, yet we also can be healed and helped by those we love and who love us. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can be healed only by the one whom we have hurt.


Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He does a weekly radio program called Life Point Plus on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. Monday mornings at 10 a.m. he does live relationship teaching called MUM Live on his Facebook page Mutual Understanding Method. He may be contacted at [email protected].






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