Maintaining personal relationships

Healthy intimate relationships and stress

Intimate relationships are very important, whether they are with a lover or a best friend or an understanding parent. Humans need many different kinds of close connections because these are the sources of emotional well-being. People who are in intimate relationships - and this does not refer solely to lifelong or sexual relationships - get many benefits from them:

- A sense of calmness and security, confidence in a continuing connection

- Mental and emotional support, ideas and feelings shared

- Affirmation and validation, acceptance and approval of who you are

- Personal growth, a nurturing place to learn about yourself and to develop maturity

Ultimately, intimacy supports making transitions in your professional life. Unless you have stability in your close personal relationships to back you up, you may not feel secure enough to take the risk that might be an opportunity. Instability in intimate relationships may make you unable to focus and be successful in your work, or to share the joy of success.

The closest personal relationships, the ones we call intimate, are necessary for our health and spirit. We need to know we are cared for and we need to care for someone. Not all relationships are or should be intimate, but some have the potential to become immensely satisfying and fulfilling - that warm, comfortable, and loving place we all want to be. Those deserve our care and commitment. And we deserve the intimacy.

Ineffective relationships

The way to transform ineffective relationships into solid, intimate ones is first to identify problem relationships.

Common characteristics of ineffective relationships

1. Lack of communication - feelings and ideas are not exchanged freely.

2. Lack of commitment - indecision and distance prevent intimacy.

3. Unresolved anger - resentment exists from past and present hurts.

4. Conflicting goals - differences appear in what each needs and is willing to give.

5. Conflicting values - disagreement occurs over what is important.

6. Thoughtlessness - disregard emerges for the feelings of the other.

7. Irresponsibility - carelessness causes mishandling of possessions or duties.

8. Self-centeredness - demands or self-satisfaction becomes constant.

Even one or two of these characteristics can block growth and development in a relationship. Granted, there are very few perfect relationships. But a failure to acknowledge and deal with any of these problems can lead to the breakdown of the connection between two people.

Healthy intimate relationships

Healthy relationships can take many forms. Some examples are:

- The way a coach puts a bit of himself into the development of the players on the team

- The way old friends who have not seen each other in years pick right up with conversation and sharing

- The way neighbours can sometimes step in and know what needs to be done in a crisis

Following are some guidelines that will help you identify healthy relationships. You may find that your relationships already have some of these characteristics, but you may not have acknowledged them as signs of the level of closeness you might call intimate.

Characteristics of intimate relationships

1. Respect for each other’s needs - mutual willingness to negotiate some needs for the best interest of the relationship.

2. Acceptance - both feel that weaknesses and strengths are understood.

3. Safety - physical and emotional trust that goes both ways.

4. Affirmation - validation and support that goes beyond tolerance.

5. Listening - value on both sides for what the other has to say.

6. Openness - ability to express guilt, anger, dreams and disappointments, and know they will be handled in a kind way.

7. Closeness - physical closeness with an emotional level of comfort comparable to your favourite childhood toy.

One key word characterises these relationships: reciprocal. The parties involved value and support each other in mutual ways - though perhaps not always at the same level at the same time.

There is a lot of work involved in bullying satisfying intimate relationships because:

- Neds must be shared and met

- Talking must be paired with listening

- Respect must build trust

But nothing keeps us going, keeps us alive, like knowing there is someone who cares for and about us.

Types of intimate exchanges

People relate to others in many different ways and on different levels. These are called intimate exchanges. Four basic types are: intellectual, emotional, sexual and physical. In some relationships, we have all of these types, in others - one or two types.

Intellectual intimacy

Sharing the most private thoughts, needs and desires. A deep level of trust must exist for this type of sharing. In addition, each individual must be personally able to communicate these thoughts, needs and desires.

In professional environments, often a coworker or mentor becomes an intellectually intimate partner. These relationships can be very important, especially when the work you do may not be easily grasped or understood by people outside your field.

Emotional intimacy

Connecting on a level of feelings rather than thoughts. Communications between emotionally intimate people often cover concepts such as love, fear, anger, happiness, loneliness and sadness. Relationships of many years, like those with best friends, marital partners and family members, people with whom you have a history, have longer periods of emotional intimacy.

In emotionally intimate relationships, each feels free to say in an unguarded way what emotion each is experiencing. Even the occasional negative feelings can be expressed and received constructively. Trust exists because the bond of friendship is strong enough to handle such things. People in this kind of relationship are committed to maintaining the emotional closeness and intimacy they share. An important aspect of these relationships is the willingness to persist in preserving the closeness, even when conflict, serious health matters, or dramatic life transitions occur.

Physical intimacy

Physical intimacy does not denote sxual intimacy, although that could be one of the outcomes. We can be physically close to our children, parents and people that we live with. The willingness to provide a hug or touch that is needed or desired supports physical intimacy.

Sexual intimacy

Final area of closeness. As an intimate act, sex wells up as an expression of deep love for the other person. Sexual intimacy is reserved for those people who are consenting adults, willing to share that bodily experience with each other. Any act that is perceived as sexual in nature should be consented to by both parties.

Stress and intimacy

Even if it is an exciting time in our lives, like graduating from college, getting married, buying a new car, getting a new job or having a baby, we still feel stress. The difference between positive and negative stress is that we usually experience the positive stress with a smile on our face and happiness in our hearts.

The body experiences stress from both positive and negative life events much the same way. Stress may make you drowsy, hyper, angry, euphoric or physically ill. It may also cause lack of sleep. When we do not consciously address that stress, we tend to take it out on those loved ones that are around us. If we are to be effective in our relationships, we must be prepared to deal with the stress that these transitions create, so that our loved ones do not have to pay the price for our feelings. What is the most effective way to approach an impending transition? The best answers lie in our ability to:

1. Predict how intensely we will react to transitions.

2. Communicate to our loved ones how we may react and that we will need some support.

3. Approach the transition positively and know the stressful situation is temporary.

4. Ask clearly for what we want from other people.

By doing these things, we are able to weather the rough spots without hurting the loved ones we love. Realising that we are under stress and understanding how we act that stress out with those around us may require a hard look at ourselves. Being able to explain your stress to loved ones will prevent both you and them from misreading your behaviour. In return, knowing what stress looks like in family or others close to you allows you to dismiss some temporary offensive behaviour instead of becoming hurt by it.

Adapted from

McKee, S.L. and Walters, B.L., 2002. Transition management: A practical approach to personal and professional development. Prentice Hall.

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