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On this track, we will discuss teaching communication strategies that relate to couples choosing togetherness over intimacy. We will specifically discuss working definitions of ‘togetherness’ and‘intimacy’ that can be introduced to couples to begin the process of changing the patterns of their relationship.
Not long ago, Christi set up a counseling appointment to discuss her depression. After conducting an intake interview, I asked her to bring her husband Eli to our next session. Eli was happy to come, and stated that he was happy to do anything that would help Christi. Eli was a successful freelance writer with a high annual income. Christi worked for a small garden shop near their apartment. Although she loved her job, her income was relatively low. Eli’s job required him to make frequent business trips, and he also regularly scheduled trips to exotic places ‘just for fun’.
Eli grinned and stated, "but we were having too much fun. Christi has a thing about hedonism." Despite the fact that Eli was smiling, Christi lowered her voice and murmured that although she enjoyed the trips, the frequent time off was putting her job at risk. Eli responded to me, rather than his wife, stating "oh, she knows she can get another job any day. It’s not like they pay her enough to deserve such loyalty anyway."
Clearly, Eli did not see Christi as a separate person, but as an extension of himself. He did not recognize that Christi’s job was very important to her. Instead, Eli dismissed her refusal to continue traveling with him as a strange idea caused by her depression. Christi believed that her marriage depended on her living Eli’s life as he wanted, even if it made her unhappy. Christi had originally planned to enter school to become a landscape architect, but had abandoned her plans to be more available for Eli’s trips.
I have found that many married partners believe in the principle that a married couple should be "as one". As you will see with Eli and Christi, this belief undermined their intimacy.
I stated to Eli and Christi, "Togetherness is when partners cling to each other in emotional dependency, scared to disagree because they fear their differences will break the marriage apart. One example of choosing togetherness might be a husband giving up watching Monday night football because his wife dislikes sports. Couples who choose togetherness are acting as if they are a two-headed unit who should think and feel the same about everything. They are frightened that exposing their differences will cause conflict."
Obviously, it would have been ‘easier’ for Eli to have a wife who was always available to travel with him. By choosing togetherness, both Eli and Christi participated in the deception that Christi wanted Eli’s life, despite the fact that going along made Christi frustrated and depressed. However, Christi’s depression made her less available emotionally to Eli, even though she was more available to him in terms of time.
Christi chose not to take care of her own moods and wishes, which prevented her from experiencing intimacy in her marriage. Likewise, if Eli had been secure in himself, he would not have been threatened by Christi’s desire to attend school, and spend less time on trips with him.
I stated, "It can be quite challenging for couples to confront their conflicting desires. However, doing so generally gives couples a greater insight into their mutual relationship. You may find that addressing your conflicting desires opens the door to greater mutual respect." Although Eli might have less of Christi’s company if she were to pursue her dream of becoming a landscape architect, I feel that the couple would have a closer and more satisfying relationship.
Separate but Intimate Journaling Technique
First, I had both Eli and Christi write separately about an event they found significant. I stated, "Think about an event, interaction, or observation that happened to you as an individual. You could chose a major life event, or even a small aspect of your normal daily routine that is significant to you. Describe the event and the impact it had on you.
Next, write why you feel it is important to remember and record this event." After Eli and Christi had finished writing separately, I asked them to switch journals, and read what their partner had written. I then stated, "After what your partner has written, write your own answers to the following questions:
On this track, we have discussed how choosing togetherness over intimacy can lead to conflict in marriage, and lead couples to seek therapy. We specifically discussed working definitions of ‘togetherness’ and ‘intimacy’ that can be introduced to couples to begin the process of changing the patterns of their relationship.
On the next track, we will discuss three common types of marriages in which the couple has chosen togetherness over intimacy. These three types of marriages are the parent-child marriage, the stormy marriage, and the "perfect" marriage.
- Dym, B., & Glenn, M. (1993) Couples: Exploring and Understanding the Cycles of Intimate Relationships. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
- Greenberg, L., Warwar, S., & Malcolm, W. (January 2010) Emotion-Focused Couples Therapy and the Facilitation of Forgiveness. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 36(1), 28.
- Perissutti, C., & Barraca, J. (Mar 2013) Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy vs. Traditional Behavioral Couple Therapy: A Theoretical Review of the Differential Effectiveness. Clinica y Salud, 24(1), 11-18. doi: 10.5093/c12013a2.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Eatough, V. (2011). Intimacy, transcendence, and psychology.The Humanistic Psychologist, 39(2), 182–185.
Riekkola, J., Rutberg, S., Lilja, M., & Isaksson, G. (2019). Strategies of older couples to sustain togetherness. Journal of Aging Studies, 48, 60–66.
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