Many of us fear intimacy, for it often summons the unknown — and the unknown can be scary. Still, intimacy is what we crave the most.
We’d rather take the risk than not, in order to find that deep connection with others in which we feel that we’re seen, heard and cared for.
Fear of being hurt often prevents us from “being” with others the way we long to be treated. Here’s a good approach toward achieving this: Go first. Lead with what you wish for in a relationship.
Leading-first validation during an awkward or unnerving experience can offer an unexpected perspective that softens fears and opens the possibility of connection.
The tendency when faced with an unexpected situation is to be critical, which is a defense. Unintentionally, we produce the opposite of what we really want.
People often step into the unknown, and then lead with a criticism rather than praise or validation.
Think about a child who comes in from the backyard covered in mud after playing with the dog. The kid’s parents lead with, “Oh Joey, look at how dirty you are. Come here, let’s get those clothes changed into something clean.”
The intention is not to criticize the child, really, but what does the child hear? Most likely parental criticism, as if he’d done something wrong by getting dirty.
What if the leading edge is validation such as: “Oh Joey, sure looks like you were having a great time in the backyard — did you? Tell you what, let’s get those clothes changed into something clean.”
Now what does the child hear? Having fun and getting dirty are all part of being a kid, and that’s OK.
The result is the same. The clothes still get washed but now the child has been validated for being a child. Sounds like a win-win.
Consider this example of the leading edge with validation for adults.
Sarah agrees to meet her husband at a restaurant. Matt is running late. Sarah is checking her watch … and 15 minutes has gone by. Feelings of frustration and hurt begin to creep in as she sits there alone, telling the waiter her “date” will arrive any minute. Suddenly she gets a call: Matt. It’s the traffic — he’s stressed — he will be there as soon as he can.
In that instant Sarah has two choices: She can take the leading edge and validate his effort to get there, have compassion for the stress in his voice, and reassure him she looks forward to seeing him. Or she can take the critical route and blame him for not leaving the office sooner.
Which approach is more likely to preserve the intimacy and the connection and make for a pleasurable evening? The prompt validation wins out every time.
Using the leading edge with validation — and not criticism — brings small but consistent rewards in the realm of intimacy.
By focusing on the validation of who we are and what we are attempting to create in our lives — both within our relationships and in the world — we are likely to strengthen our connections and grow in maturity — leading to greater peace of mind.
Photo: Jeff Hallam