Into Me See
A little over a year and a half ago, in mid-July 2022, Barbara and I spent some time in Texas at a “marriage intensive” – a sort of combined retreat / workshop / marriage therapy week that included work as a couple, individuals, and with a larger group. It is kind of hard to describe. I guess you had to be there, although, for the sake of your relationship it is probably better that you weren’t.
The work we engaged in was, in fact, intensive. It felt like we did at least 5 years of work on our marriage in our 5 days.
Like almost all therapy, there were parts that were useful, some parts that weren’t particularly resonant, and still more that were somewhere in the middle. And as with most therapy, it is important to take and expand on the helpful insights and sit with the ones that feel less helpful and then ask yourself if that is because they don’t apply to your life, or do they not resonate because you don’t *want* them to apply?
One of the things that we learned that we found particularly valuable – and something we have talked about probably every week sense – is the notion that, in a relationship, sometimes you have to trade short term instability for longer term intimacy. No one (at least no one you would want to be in relationship with) likes to say things that cause strife, hurt, and discord. Most of us, most of the time, prefer to get along and not rock the boat. While this kindness is understandable, it can also erode the foundations of a relationship. Instead of being honest about how you are feeling about the other person’s choices and actions, you choose to let things go, expecting that it will work itself out. This can build resentment over time and can chip away at the foundations of the relationship.
It is better to be up front and honest with our feelings, even if that means short term instability. The other person may feel hurt or surprised and may even lash out defensively. While that can be unpleasant, it leads to greater understanding and transparency in the relationship. And that’s a good thing. That short term instability, no matter how unpleasant, can lead to greater long-term intimacy.
Brene Brown echoes this understanding when she says “clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Brown goes on to say that:
Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.
Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind.
Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.
I have found over the years that when you are agreeing with Brene Brown you are on solid ground. She has a whole article about this on her website. I strongly recommend it.
One of the other things that stands out to me from our time in Texas was something the leader of the workshop said. We were talking about what our relationships were designed for – all of them. Yes, we were there to talk specifically about marriage and romantic relationships, but many of the dynamics of how we connect with other humans equally apply to friends or family or even colleagues, he said. In all our relationships we are seeking intimacy. Intimacy, from the Latin root intimare meaning “to make known.” We are seeking to know and be known by another.
Intimacy, he said. Into me see.
Intimacy is hard. It requires vulnerability and honesty and courage. It is about forgoing our comfort and being willing to share the truth as we see it with others. Intimacy means letting people see us at our worst – when the tears come and the anger boils over and our patience fails – and trusting that they will love us anyway.
That’s scary as fuck.
I have been in Fallujah and Kandahar. I have been shot at. More than once. I have been arrested multiple times. I have been to jail and the psych ward and jumped out of more than a hundred planes. And none of that touches the fear I feel when I press ‘publish’ on one of these essays, or tell my story publicly, or when I tell my kids I am sorry or tell Barbara that I love her. I lived through all the stuff people think of when they think scary. But for a frozen moment in time, I am not sure I will live through the next moment of intimacy.
Intimacy. Into me see. I am not sure I always like what’s in there. How could someone else possibly see all that mess and love me anyway?
I am gonna let you in on a secret. Everyone has a mess. Everyone. And they are all just as scared as you that someone will see it. And. Everyone you love has a mess. And you love them despite it. Hell, sometimes you can love someone so much you don’t even see the mess. Love does not require that all parties be mess free.
In fact, real relationships happen between people who can say “I see your mess. And I love you no matter what. This is my mess. Into me see.”
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. And whether you celebrate with chocolates, Galantine’s Day, or opt out entirely, I hope you will remember that the true measure of a relationship – any relationship – is the extent to which we are willing to offer up some measure of our true selves. The degree to which we are willing to be honest, be vulnerable, and to open our heart. Yes, it means that sometimes the hurt will be unimaginable. That serves to make our connections stronger, and our intimacy greater.
Into me see.
May it ever be so.