Today I would like to discuss one of the finer points of intimacy. There is a mis-conception I’d like to take a swing at clearing up, about what intimacy actually is and how to do it well. In particular, I’d like to talk today about how sometimes intimacy hurts.
When I ask folks about intimacy and what they think it is, and whether they have it in their marriage, most of the time they talk about sexuality or other physical intimacy such as kissing or holding hands. Sometimes I hear about emotional intimacy, like long talks or the willingness to share secrets with one another. The belief is invariably that intimacy is about warm fuzzy feelings, and that intimacy is never painful.
What comes to mind when I think about this is the process that comes with working with the partners of those who struggle with sexual addiction. This is a perfect example of a time when intimacy can be really painful. So, say we have a man who is struggling with sexual addiction, and he is in recovery and working diligently on overcoming it. The recovery process for addiction takes time; much longer, in my opinion, than just a month at rehab or going to meetings, etc.
Science would tell us that creating new habits, or building new neuro-pathways that are stronger than the old ones, takes at least 6 months. That is 6 months at hard labor…meetings, studying and reading, intentionally focusing on the new thoughts, whatever works for each individual. What happens to the partner of the sex addict during those 6+ months of struggle? It is difficult for them, too. One of the most difficult things is understanding what addiction and recovery is like for their partner, and listening to their partner tell them.
What if their partner tells them something like, “ I’m having a very hard time resisting the temptation to stray today.”? Whoa. A statement like that is exceedingly scary and painful for them, of course. It scrapes on insecurities and old wounds like nails on a blackboard. But if we look at that objectively, their partner is actually being vulnerable and intimate, sharing a struggle and a fear of their own. Accountability partners or sponsors can be the ear and shoulder of someone in recovery in many ways; but if their spouse can tolerate the deep intimacy of struggles and fears, intimacy can also be created and trust rebuilt by the ability to listen and understand the struggles that go along with addiction recovery without judgment and reactivity. (It takes awhile to get here, but it can be done.)
Not easy, I know. On the contrary, it’s ridiculously difficult. That doesn’t make it impossible, it just means it’s going to be harder than you thought. If you are willing to put in the hard work, you will get a payoff for it, no matter what the outcome of your marriage, relationship, or partner’s sobriety is. The payoff is in peace….the peace on the inside that everyone is looking for. It is attainable, though many choose not to strive for it. Are you willing?
Healing Hearts of Indy provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. E-Counseling is available for residents of Indiana. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038