#050 - Mistaking intensity for intimacy


Love relationships, for some people, can feel confusing and overwhelming. We’re inundated with pop culture messages on what love looks like, feels like, and a common formula for how the progression of relationships should go.  A few familiar troupes are the “I just knew the moment I saw them!” story or the “This is so intense there must be something amazing here!” story, and in more new age communities “This person is triggering the crap out of me so I will stay with them till I work through my family of origin issues” story. Not to say a really wonderful relationship can’t grow out of these intense experiences, but to consider that intensity, in and of itself, is not an indicator of intimacy or compatibility.  

For some folks the family of origin issues that get reenacted in love relationship have to do with intense swings of mood, emotion, and withdrawal of interest. If you grew up in a family with one caregiver (or both caregivers) exhibiting rage, strong mood swings, or patterns of dissociation then you may chose partners that remind you of those powerful feelings. You may experience intense highs with your love interest then intense lows of disconnection, with short periods of boredom thrown in there. There may be physical or emotional abuse or neglect, but not always. The general feeling in the relationship is of a tenuous bond potentially broken at any time for any reason, often defying logic.

While your rational mind may know something is not quite right you are deeply draw to the intensity of the relationship.  In very simple terms this pattern of interacting, and the feelings/body sensations that arise, equate with love and attachment because of your early experiences. But in adulthood these partners you chose, who help create these experiences, may be setting you up for more heartache that you realize.    

One way to experiment with these patterns is to try something different! Often folks in these situations like to try harder as in be more loving, present, open, accepting, and forgiving or on the other end be more demanding, vengeful, controlling, or persistent. But a wiser tack could be to do less, go slower, and actually turn away from situations and people that get your engine running hot. In a very basic sense see what happens when you withdraw from intensity. Do you go into withdrawals? Do you crave a person or experience? Do you feel lost, hopeless, desperately alone, or suicidal? When intensity is a pattern in relationships the doing something different tack is often destabilizing, and the familiarity of intensity is all the more alluring.

There is no magic solution or answer to the complexity of romantic relationships, even the healthiest of people will have to navigate confusing, overwhelming, and disappointing experiences.  But if your strategy resonates with some of what I’ve described above it could be worth it to slow down, take a backwards step, and see what happens when you try less and chose a deeper connection with yourself rather than the intensity of the relationship.