Intimacy and self-protection are mutually exclusive
It has occurred to me recently how often my clients and parishioners are living in a defensive mode, trying to protect themselves from perceived attack/abuse by a loved one. This is a natural instinct, of course, but ironic, since self-protection kills intimacy. Intimacy comes from vulnerability, willingness to open one’s self up and share one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In defensive mode, one person is intentionally keeping themselves from being vulnerable to the other. Oftentimes both partners are doing it.
Empower your partner to ruin you!
I tell clients that if you’re not sharing enough with your partner that they could completely screw you over and ruin your life if they chose to, you’re not being vulnerable enough. It’s a paradox. We often argue because we are not connected. As we argue we hurt each other and as we hurt each other we take defensive and isolated postures against one another. This may effectively keep the other partner’s grenades from landing and doing further damage, but it also prevents each partner from the very behaviors, attitudes, and emotions that create the intimacy they lack, which may be leading to arguments to begin with.
Why therapy is hard
That is why therapy is so often difficult and painful. A person who is hurting in a relationship and wants to not hurt anymore will often be dismayed to find that they may have to let down their guard in order to have any hope at all of moving towards intimacy. No doubt there are situations where this is not advisable (all cases of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and most cases of addiction), but anytime it is not contraindicated (strongly advised against), it will have to be done. Laying down one’s shield is difficult when one knows the other is still flinging arrows one’s direction. But a person of good will will not continue fighting for long once their partner lays down their shield.
Self-protection kills intimacy. If you’re hurting so bad in your relationship that you cannot imagine that you could stop protecting yourself, get help as soon as possible. As long as you keep fighting, your probably will too.