5Q INTERVIEW: Int. Relationship expert on embracing intimacy, engaging partner

CAIRO – 13 February 2019: “Well, here is the deal, you will feel weak sometimes loving, you will feel vulnerable. When you share your deeper self, you will have to pass through a ring of fire where you might feel ashamed, you might feel weak, you might feel very fragile, you might feel ready to get angry if the person does not meet your needs. This is vulnerability; it is human, it is real. But if you have a partner who accepts you in a basic way, then you have gold,” explains Ken Page, LCSW, psychotherapist, author of “Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy” and host of “The Deeper Dating” podcast, when asked about love and fear of intimacy.
Individuals in their 20s are increasingly citing fear of intimacy, defined by Carol J. Descutner and Mark H. Thelen in 1991 as “the inhibited capacity of an individual, because of anxiety to exchange thoughts and feelings of personal significance with another individual who is highly valued,” as the primary reason to why they are not in a relationship. Studies suggest that individuals who have been in troubled relationships or know someone who was in an abusive relationship are less likely to be intimate first; this is especially the case for individuals whose parents had a divorce before they reached adolescent.
However, Page suggests that we all have fear of intimacy. In our interview with the internationally renowned writer and psychotherapist, he advanced the idea it is normal for us to be scared of intimacy. Love makes one vulnerable, but what couples should be thinking about is building bridges to overcome their fears and grow together to become better people, Page points out.
Ken Page
Ken Page LCSW
ET: Those who have been single for quite some time often have fear of intimacy; they are not able to give in to their desire to love their partner to the fullest. How would you advice them to embrace their fears and become intimate?
Ken Page: This is a deep and important process, it is a process of learning to honour your vulnerability and learn to share it. This is difficult to do but if you have chosen a partner who is kind, caring, stable and consistent, then you should celebrate because you have found gold. Your job over the years will be to learn to trust that person and to lean into that person and deepen your bond. Do not worry about it being done right away. It is a moment-to-moment process, where you learn to give more but also ask for more.
It is a scary thing to learn to ask for more; ask to be held, ask to be listened to; ask for some fun time; ask for physical closeness; ask for cuddling; ask for deeper listening. So, it is a process.
If you were with someone who is not kind and understanding and generous, then you have harder work. Then the two of you are going to need to work hard and to get help, but it is worth it.
So, there is a process where you learn to share who you really are and every time that you do that and your partner listens to you and likes the part that you shared, you loosen up more and you trust them more. This is a living process; this happens in the present.
Every time you share more of your vulnerability and your partner listens, cares and understands, your heart opens up a little bit more. It is a constant battle between the part of you who wants to retreat and become an island, and the part of you who wants to experience the richness and the beauty of real deep love and giving. And every time that you take the risk of intimacy and your partner meets you, you increase your skill to trust. Every time that you take the risk of intimacy and your partner doesn’t meet you, and you find a kind way to speak to them, your relationship grows even stronger, more powerful and more resilient. It is the moments of trust, vulnerability and deep listening, that is how you will learn to shed the fear of intimacy.
ET: You talk extensively about embracing one’s fear of intimacy, how can do this in a relationship that has its conflicts and not be scared?
Ken Page: We all get taught that fear of intimacy is a bad thing, and we get taught that a good relationship is meant to be good but the liberating truth is this: Your relationship is meant to have failure, it is meant to have ruptures. This is not the issue; the issue is whether you and your partner take the time to fix those ruptures. We all get taught about fear of intimacy like it is pathology but that is wrong; if you are breathing, then you have fear of intimacy. Love demands incredible vulnerability and incredible sacrifice and it touches our places of deepest need, and there is no way that a human would not be afraid of that. So, the issue is not whether you have fear of intimacy—assume you have fear of intimacy, assume your partner has fear of intimacy, the question is: Are you both building bridges to get past of your fear of intimacy and meet each other?
That is the only question, not whether there is conflict—there will be conflict, whether there is rupture—there will be rupture, whether there will be fear of intimacy—there is fear of intimacy. The question is: Are you and your partner practicing the skills of bridge building? When you do, your relationship becomes stronger than ever before.
Harville Hendrix said something really beautiful and really important, he said, there comes a point in every intimate relationship where the thing that you most need from your partner is the thing that your partner is least able to give you and that is when couples feel that it is the beginning of the end of their relationship, but it is not: It is the beginning of an adult relationship.
You are meant to hit this point. You have the honeymoon phase and then after that, you have to do the work. So, you will reach a point when the thing that you want most from your partner is the hardest thing for him or her to give you, and that is where you are supposed to be, and then if the two of you care enough to do the work, to learn how to give your partner what they need, which will ultimately make you into a better person—into the person that you are meant to be, then you are entering the phase of a real, healthy adult relationship.
Unfortunately, without that knowledge and without that work, then that is when you move towards divorce, if you do not do that work.
ET: In a digital age, where people can date across borders, what advice would you give long-distance couples when taking decisions and solving conflict?
Ken Page: Two thoughts for people who are dating across borders: Be creative and be inventive; and, practice honesty.
Have dinners together on Skype or Zoom, give each other tours of your home; sit on the bed together—each of you on your individual beds—and see each other and have long conversations; introduce each other to each other’s friends. Really use technology to your advantage. You can spend a whole afternoon together, seeing each other on video. Use technology with inventiveness and creativity.
The other thing is that you need to practice honesty. What can happen in long-distance relationships is that you only share the good things about yourself and then when you go back to living together or when you spend a big chunk of time together, you start to see all of issues and problems. So, bring in honesty early on and let your partner see that you are someone who speaks the truth—even when it is hard—about your own self and your own stuff.
ET: How can I help my disengaged partner come to me with problems?
Ken Page: When you have a partner who is disengaged and you want them to come to you with their problems, you have to ask yourself, “Are you doing that with them? Are you sharing your problems? Are you asking them for advice? Are you sharing your vulnerabilities and your needs and the places that you do not feel perfect?” Do that first to model the behaviour.
Second, notice when they come to you with their problems, do you really do this deep, deep listening that we talk about or do you try to give them solutions—immediate solutions, instead of doing the deeper listening.
Let’s assume that your partner has grown detached from you and they do not share much, when they share something little, try really listening, try validating their feelings, acknowledging their feelings, asking questions out of curiosity, celebrating their small successes, telling them why you appreciate them, and doing the same back to them, that is how partners can learn to re-engage.
ET: Tell us about your experience when it comes to conflict, intimacy and relationships. What are the issues that you see couples suffering from most?
Ken Page: I would say that there are certain issues that are again and again are the absolute keys and those are: A lack of honesty, a lack of listening and a lack of kindness and understanding. When those things are present, couples can be almost like superheroes in terms of the things they can get through.
Most marriages tend to degrade in terms of the quality of loving, kindness, intimate physical connection and romance; they just tend to degrade it. It is a downward scope for most couples because they do not have the skillset to do what needs to be done to heal the problems that always come up. What they say is that a good relationship, a healthy relationship, needs to be continuously going through the process of intimacy. The process of intimacy is a process of rupture and repair. Big ruptures, small ruptures; big repairs, small repairs. As you go along, there are little misunderstandings that happen, and those need to be acknowledged and dealt with. Ruptures come naturally, repair takes work, and we have not been taught how to do the repair work and if you do not know how to do that, you can assume that your relationship will only get worse and that it will begin to degrade.