The Paradox of Intimacy

Understanding Self and Relational Needs
The Paradox of Intimacy

Within ourselves we have two sets of needs; self needs and relational needs. In relationships, it sometimes seems that our two sets of needs directly oppose each other. The feeling that our needs are being challenged, often leads to difficulties experiencing true intimacy.

On one side we have RELATIONAL NEEDS of:

  • Union: To unite with other people and feel a part of a larger group or existence.
  • Connection: To find ways that we are similar to other people and join together over this common ground.
  • Intimacy: Being able to be and share our true selves with others. To be cared for and loved.

On the other side we have SELF NEEDS of:

  • Assertiveness: To assert our knowledge and abilities and to have control over our surroundings or people.
  • Autonomy: To be and function separately and independently.
  • Selfhood: To be unique and to excel at accomplishments in order to prove our worth.

Although these needs appear to directly conflict, they could both exist harmoniously together if we recognize the equal importance of all six needs. When needs are off balance we can feel unhappy, frustrated and disappointed with our lives or selves. When there is too much weight on one need it takes away from another need. For example, if you spend all your time working in order to fulfill your need for self-hood, you may find yourself feeling lonely due to missing intimacy needs. Then, when you try to enter a relationship, you feel that the attention needed is taking away from your ability to focus on your work. Your partner complains that you don’t spend enough time together. So you end the relationship. However, a more balanced approach would be creating a system where both needs. Also, understanding why you are more strongly motivated to work than to be cared for. Perhaps you have difficulty trusting intimacy but achievements are easier to control and less-risk free in getting satisfaction? Or perhaps you were raised in an environment where success was encouraged but outward expressions of emotions were discouraged? Perhaps you always felt that no matter what you did, unless you worked hard and were the best at it, you would never be good enough to live up to your parents expectations? I encourage you to reflect on instances when one need challenges another and then decide if it is actually being challenged by others today or if you are repeating patterns of the past.

Needs left unexamined will lead to a “come here/go away” pattern in relationships where you want to be intimately close to your partner but either your self needs or relational needs feel threatened. Once you can better understand how your views developed, you will be in a better position to catch when they are interfering with experiencing true intimacy in your life.

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View all posts by Cassandra Petrella, MA