The Illusive Demands Of The Committed, Intimate Relationship


The Illusive Demands Of The Committed, Intimate Relationship
Do you know what it takes to create a committed, intimate relationship?

Numerous clients come to see me and present in various ways that they want a selective mirror that doesn't reveal their fears, weakness, insecurity, inadequacy, boredom, or helplessness. I simply tell them that they are in the wrong relationship, and that a committed and intimate relationship is not suitable for them, since any true intimate relationship will leave them feeling all of these challenging emotions at one time or another.

In magnifying their dilemma around the risks of exposure, I humorously express that I can find them a different partner, one who would have no interest in challenging them, and they won't have to be concerned about many of these vulnerable parts of their humanness. Then I share that they can at least feel safe and that their life will have less uncertainty in it.


Real Commitment

Another point that many people fail to realize is that commitment is not just a word. Of course, we all favor that word, but to be able to sustain commitment in the presence of one's fear usually reveals quite a different narrative. I have seen numerous individuals, who are starting relationships, state that they were committed, but as soon as fear shows up, they run for the hills or use many defensive postures to protect themselves from their partners.

One needs to realize that fear is not an option in a committed and intimate relationship; it is a given. It will be there every time there is exposure to anything unknown that presents any uncertainty or insecurity, or any other unacceptable part that is revealed. After all, we have devoted ourselves to protecting against all of this long before we choose to enter a committed relationship.

Yet despite these efforts, our partners are standing in front of us asking us in a variety of ways to be vulnerable and naked. It is at that moment that we are faced with demonstrating our commitment, and many of us say "No." It doesn't matter how we say it, whether it is through avoidance, substances, attacking, or defending. It is still saying that we are not open to a committed and intimate relationship.


A committed and intimate relationship is clearly a long-term involvement, which asks us to address many issues over a life span, such as raising children, economic hardships, learning to deal with an assortment of friends and family, managing the demands of a home, and facing losses including death. It is not designed for hiding.

The partner that has been chosen will be there in the morning, night, and throughout the day. For many people that is too much exposure to bear. Yet short of divorce, it is very difficult to avoid the intensity and the glare. Even if we choose to leave, it will only be a matter of time until we are again facing exposure from a new set of eyes, and finding other ways to hedge the light.

Many Emotional Shifts

A part of a couple's journey is learning to deal with the emotional shifts in the relationship dance. In some periods we may feel extremely close to our partner, only to be followed by episodes of great distance or on other occasions there will be great excitement, followed by periods of powerful boredom. Then there will be times of deep love, interrupted by times of anger. Each experience will leave us longing for constancy, as our cries for just closeness end in extreme frustration. It is essential for each couple to allow room for the entire range of feelings and the realization that over the long-term there will rarely be only one feeling.

Reflection In Selection

It is also important for partners, if they are considering the intimate couple journey, to appreciate two things about who they select.

  1. Your partner is a reflection of who you are and will match your emotional and mental capacity no matter how they look on the surface. They are certainly not an accident. They are a clear match, provided one looks beneath the surface, since one can only create a relationship based on who we are. So on the intimacy continuum, someone who is a three on a 10 scale can only select someone who is also a three. Now, many people find this too humbling because it can certainly put a dent in any inflated sense of who we think we are, especially in a relationship to our partner.
  2. The CIR can be viewed as a series of doors, and each door we go through asks us to expand our love capacity. Can we love our partners when we experience their entire package, including ex's, stepchildren, illness, and job loss? As stated before, despite the variety of appearances and styles, our partner has a similar love and pleasure capacity to be intimate or they wouldn't be on the same path. No one can be with more or less than they are, in my view. This can be tricky since some partners can put on a great act and appear to be a lot more than they are.

Two Feet In

Another difficulty couples run into in desiring a CIR, is that it will ask us to put two feet into the relationship and close the back door or there is no real commitment. Closing the back door and not using leaving as an option when things get tense freaks out many people, as they view this as a trap and the loss of their freedom.

If one needs the divorce threat as an escape from the intensity and demands of the CIR, I would not recommend this kind of relationship. I meet many couples who threaten the relationship every time they have a fight. The result is a relationship with zero safety. So before considering the CIR, ask yourself if you are ready to close the back door. If hesitation is present, it will be best to reevaluate your goal.


Finally, we need to be aware that the CIR brings up a lot of testing activity whenever our partners feel insecure, which is normal for such a lengthy trip. So be prepared when your love, respect, acceptance, and commitment are being doubted by your partners. This is just part of the nature of walking together through the many challenges of life.

The key for any partner in getting ready for the CIR is anticipating difficulty that arises, so that one doesn't get hooked into proving and defending when the personal accusations start flying. Then we can merely listen without getting defensive or emotionally reactive when our partner says, "You aren't very open like other men" and be able to respond, "I hear that you don't think I am equal to other men, so what do we do now?"

Another aspect of deescalating the predictable tests is awareness that most testing among couples are flunk tests. Ultimately, there are no passes in relationship testing, in contrast to our conditioned beliefs stemming from our school backgrounds. An excellent tool to use when our love is doubted is to simply ask our partner, "What needs to happen for me to pass your test once and for all?" In almost every case, the partner will have no real answer, enabling them to see that this was just a maneuver being used to inflate their perspective of themselves.


The more each partner can say "yes" mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually to everything described here on this journey, the more they will be ready to benefit from all the gifts that a committed, intimate relationship has to offer. If we don't have a willingness to accept all these demands, it is best to not go down this path and save yourself a lot of grief.

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Doctor Bruce Derman


Bruce Derman, Ph.D.

The great thing about my books is they provide you with a core understanding of relationship based on my 43 years of being a psychotherapist. They teach you how to move through your impasses without spending countless hours in therapy with the wrong therapist.                         

Location: Woodland Hills, CA
Credentials: PhD
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