Voice Dialogue in Relationships

When one or both partners are triggered or alienated, there's a useful path for responding to the situation rather than arguing or shutting each other out -- even after an argument has already started.  Becoming aware of the character of the energetic linkage between them, they can restore their linkage with compassion.  They can see their beloved in this way:  "Oh, fascinating!  Look who's come for a visit (and look how a part of me is feeling vulnerable).  Let me get to know this voice that stepped forward and learn its secrets -- possibly even seeing the vulnerability crouching behind it." 

When we acknowledge our own vulnerability in the interaction and adopt a curiosity about the other's vulnerability, our emotional ears are open again. When we hold an intention of extending our compassion to the other, it usually results in a much more fulfilling exchange than arguing defensively in a way that just reinforces a negative bonding pattern, damaging trust and understanding.

Voice Dialogue facilitation skill enables us to realize that our partner is presently "possessed" by a wound-protecting self.  We can avoid taking their behavior as a personal attack.  And we can see through their self-deceptions.  Instead, we can see their behavior for what it really is -- a cry for help from a position of isolation.  Taking the facilitator's point of view enables us to become curious and compassionate rather than being triggered and reactive in response to a triggered partner. 

One of the primary benefits from Voice Dialogue is to practice holding our own vulnerability in an accepting way.  In doing so, we neither project that responsibility onto our partner nor push our vulnerability out of our awareness.  By holding the presence of our vulnerability, we create a safer space for our partner.  We enable more compassionate, less defensive responses from them, too.

The experience of falling in love is built in part on the unconscious agreement between the partners that they will always take care of each other's vulnerable inner-child selves.  Since nobody can consistently fulfill this responsibility for another, the result is usually bitter disappointment without fully understanding the dynamic.  Many couples (most couples?) never overcome such a fall from grace. 

Voice Dialogue enables us to take 100% responsibility for attending to the needs of our own inner child as a conscious, compassionate, skillful listener and protector.  It also enables us to provide the strong and nurturing parenting that enables our inner child to come out safely at the right times and the right places to play with others.  So we don't need to project that responsibility onto hapless (if unconsciously willing) partners, one after another ... after another.

Voice Dialogue offers a process that frees the individual from the snares of ego identification. We're enabled to reclaim our own self-responsibility in a playful, supportive, empowering way. 

For more, visit The Voice Dialogue Institute.

And there's a social network for people interested in Voice Dialogue at http://VoiceDialogue.ning.com.

© 2005 Dan Webb.  All rights reserved.


The Hindu Goddess, Kali -- a Not-so-Gentle
Transformer of Ego Identification


The Energetics of Voice Dialogue

Drs Hal & Sidra Stone

There have been a great many periods of excitement in our adventures together as we've developed this body of work. Certainly one of the most profound and most gratifying has been the energetics of Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of Selves. Hal was first introduced to the world of energy by the work of William Brugh Joy in 1974 when he made his first public appearance at the Center for the Healing Arts summer conference. It was a truly seminal moment in the world of consciousness because large numbers of students flocked to Brugh and were introduced to the body's energy fields and shown how to work with them.
At that time the energy had to do with healing. Hal was not interested in becoming a healer per se, but the world of energy was opened to him by Brugh and, over the next few years, he developed his own style of energy work that he called field clearing. It has always been a significant part of our lives and our work and has helped us move through difficult physical challenges in the course of our lives and travels.
It was only after we met that we began to consider the world of healing as it applies to personal relationship. Early on in our explorations together, we began to notice that different selves actually felt different from other selves. Being with a vulnerable child or a loving parent felt like being in the room with an energy machine that gave off a warm glow that could be sensed and that made a palpable connection. We called that "personal energy". Facilitating the mind was totally different. The mind generally gave off no energy and we did not feel a connection. We called that "impersonal energy". One was warm and connected, the other cool with clear, crisp boundaries. These are two very different ways of meeting the world.
We paid more and more attention to what we began to call "the energetics" of Voice Dialogue. Other selves had other energies connected to them. If we were facilitating sensual energy (which we then called Aphrodite energy), we could sense a tingling in the skin of our whole body. If we were facilitating the higher self, we could feel a powerful sensation in the top of our head, the crown energy. Though Hal had learned about energetic reality through the work at the Center, Sidra seemed to have a totally natural connection to it. We began to see that some of the difficulties of our interactions were based on energetic realities we hadn't previously known. Sidra's primary self was personal in those early years and Hal's primary self was impersonal.
We began to recognize that some of our most impassioned judgments towards each other were based on this difference. When we first starting teaching together this was a real problem. Sidra said of Hal that if someone in the front row of the audience fainted and fell to the floor, Hal wouldn't notice it. Hal said of Sidra that if someone in the last row of the audience got up to go to the bathroom, Sidra would be upset because she felt abandoned or judged.
One time we were teaching, and at the end of the first hour at the break, Sidra asked Hal if he had seen the couple in the front row right in front of him. Hal didn't know what she was talking about. She then pointed them out to him and it was a couple that was apparently involved in S&M practices. The girl was wearing a very large metal collar around her neck and metal bands around her ankles embedded with metal rings for bondage. Hal was quite sure that he was the only one in the room that had missed seeing that.
Another time Sidra and Hal were walking on the beach near Santa Barbara and Hal was very immersed in the ideas they were addressing in full impersonal energy. Sidra stopped walking and asked Hal to stop and said to him: “Hal, would you mind looking around and seeing where you are?” To his great astonishment he discovered that they were in the middle of a nude beach and that all around him there were naked sun worshippers. It was not only impersonal energy that creates this diminished perception, but impersonal was certainly a good part of it. His basic primary selves were impersonal and he did not make an energetic connection with the world around him.
In more recent years, we have begun to use the word "linkage" or "energetic linkage" when talking about this energetic connection. When we got into negative bonding patterns, when judgments took over, we lost our linkage. Things felt hopeless between us. Then we did our work with each other. Maybe Hal discovered he had been holding back his reactions. Maybe Sidra discovered she was pushing too hard. Whatever the case, by doing our work with each other we got back our linkage. We felt energetically connected again. We felt like newlyweds. This happened over and over again. We were beginning to see with absolute clarity that it wasn't marriage that destroyed love and intimacy. It was the development of negative bonding patterns (See the article below.) and the ensuing loss of linkage.
This happened over and over again. Hal's feelings would get hurt. Maybe he was jealous of Sidra at a party when she was energetically connecting with other men. If he didn't share his jealousy, his vulnerability -- whatever forms that sharing took -- his inner child disappeared from view. He used to joke about it disappearing into the universe about a hundred light years away when this happened. What we realized was that linkage ended at that moment. Linkage is real. When it is lacking it is very lonely and the relationship feels terrible. And unless you know about what you have just lost, it is not so easy to get it back.
We began to examine the nature of people's linkage. You can be linked to your dog or cat. You can be linked to a child. You can be linked to your work, or your computer, or your book, or your television set, or your secretary, or to money. Or to worry, or to your "to do" list. Or to alcohol, or to drugs, or to food, or to exercise. You can even be linked to your spiritual practices or to your consciousness process.
In relationship work we began to see that if the primary linkage wasn't between the two people in the relationship, then there were problems. The primary linkage might go to one of the children, creating a kind of psychological marriage between the parent and that child. This happens with great frequency, and then, if the marriage breaks up and the mother meets someone she loves, there is as wrenching disconnect between her and the son or daughter who had carried the primary linkage before she met her new partner. This awareness of energetic linkage introduced a new dimension to our considerations of family relationships and led us to a deeper understanding of the intense pain involved in step parenting and the introduction of a new partner into a family system.
Our work with energetics was in two basic areas. First, there was the fact that every self could be experienced energetically and that the awareness of this was of utmost importance. We saw clearly that the effectiveness of the facilitator was dependent upon the recognition of the energy and the ability to hold this. We realized that the best facilitators worked at an energetic, rather than verbal, level. They paid more attention to maintaining the energetic integrity of a self than to asking it the "proper" questions.
There is another aspect to the facilitator's sensitivity to energetics. If the facilitator was able to use energetics, then he or she could often help a self to emerge by a process of energetic induction. This works like a tuning fork - you strike the tuning fork and set it down on a sounding board. The sounding board then vibrates at the same frequency, giving off the same note. The facilitator operates like a tuning fork, calling up a specific energy within himself or herself, and the subject responds with the same. In this way, and when appropriate, the facilitator can help to induct a sought-after energy. This is particularly helpful when helping people to learn how to utilize personal and impersonal energies.
This was a whole new world to explore. We also began to teach the Aware Ego how to bring into itself, or channel, the different energies, and, here again, it was the awakening of a whole new world. We literally taught people how to "play their own instruments" --how to affect their own energy fields. This work was particularly important because it was a way of strengthening the Aware Ego Process and empowering the individual.
The second area of work with energetics was our exploration and experimentation with linkage. We looked at energetic linkage as it related to bonding patterns and saw how it led to an increased understanding of the dynamics of family systems.
Hal has one strong memory here of an experience with Sidra that catapulted him to a new understanding and appreciation of linkage. A good many of the negative bonding patterns he got into with Sidra had to do with feeling left out when she was with her children. Since her basic energies were personal, the linkage with her daughters was very strong. One day they were alone in their home in Southern California; it was the first day that all of the children were away. They were sitting on the two ends of the couch, and there was a very strong energetic linkage -- they could feel a buzz between their hearts. Hal was a very happy man. This process went on for five minutes or so and suddenly stopped completely.
Hal asked Sidra what had happened. Sidra then said something that was truly remarkable for Hal. She said that she was doing an experiment. She wanted to see what would happen if she visualized her daughter in the next room. When she did that, the linkage between them ended totally, and her energies automatically (or unconsciously) went to her daughter.
Hal had been working on his judgments about Sidra's mothering for a long time. Suddenly he understood at a very deep level how this process works. If a mother has children, and if one or more of those children is near her, then her primary linkage is going to shift to the child. We don't mean every time, but we do mean most of the time. What Hal saw is that the mother is hard-wired to link with her child. This is not a conscious choice, so if we want to be very clear, we call it "unconscious linkage."
If Hal wanted quality time with Sidra away from the children, he had to learn how to go to her with his own intimacy needs and make them clear to her without sounding either like a whiny victim child or a killer judgmental father. (He had an advanced black belt in both, but they were not very useful.) She then was able to become aware of where her energies were and was able to handle them in a more conscious way. She could reinstate her linkage with Hal, and she could even maintain her connection to a child at the same time. We call that "conscious linkage."
This was a turning point in Hal's life, and interestingly enough, as we might well expect in this kind of process relationship, Sidra was able to more effectively look at her own linkage issues with her children. Because she now knew what was happening, she finally had some choice and she was able to begin to control where her energies went.
Everything changed in the work and in the theory with these kinds of experiences.  For the newer person, Voice Dialogue may well look like a simple technique -- just ask the right questions and you'll get to the self. For anyone who senses into the underlying energetics of the work, it becomes something quite different. Experienced facilitators are able to work at deeper and deeper levels as they become more at home with the energetic realities that are in us and that determine so much of what happens in our lives and in our relationships.
And so it was that we began the practice of helping people to develop mastery in the world of energy. Sidra describes this process as teaching people how to play their own instruments so as to be able to meet the world within and the world outside with ever increasing levels of subtlety and imagination. And, as we age, we find this ability to dance with the energies is truly one of the loveliest gifts imaginable.
Recently Sidra had a dream in which three women in their mid 90s came to our home to teach us about aging. What they basically taught is that as we get older, our relationship to energetics becomes more and more important. We had to learn at ever deepening levels how to run our own energies --how to call up the necessary energies to do whatever it is that we needed to do.
Thus it is that learning to play our energetic instrument becomes an integral part of Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of Selves.



The Theory of Bonding Patterns
The Selves and Relationship

Drs Hal & Sidra Stone
We are giving a very short version of our theoretical structure. This material is available in detailed form in our books, CDs and Video Series. In this article we are attempting to give you a more sweeping view of where we have come from. Someone who worked with us in the late 1970's or 1980's cannot help but have a very limited idea of what we are doing today. We do not enjoy stagnation and neither does our unconscious. When some new idea emerged or methodology changed then we let it change. Sometimes we weren't even aware of a change, it evolved so naturally. It is confusing to many people to watch this happen. For us, it is very exciting to see the work evolve and to bring everyone along as a part of this process.

We met in 1972 and we were married in 1977. This article is not about our personal life. We raised five children between us and the personal work we were doing with each other helped us enormously in understanding our parental role. These were also the years when Sidra was the Executive Director of Hamburger Home, a residential treatment center for adolescent girls and Hal was the Director of the Center for the Healing Arts. Our professional lives were completely separate, but our work together and the evolution of our thinking were central aspects of our lives.

Those five years of work clarified our relationship and made marriage possible. We were using Voice Dialogue in our respective practices and Hal had started to do some teaching of the process at the Center. It was becoming increasingly clear to us that in relationship the selves were constantly interacting with the selves of the other person.

With our marriage, however, some of the interactions between us were turning quite sour. Old patterns suddenly emerged but with a new partner - a partner who was totally different from the previous one. We called one another by the names of our former spouses . We found ourselves judging each other - often for the same qualities that had attracted us to one another in the first place. We literally became other people - judgmental, closed, and humorless. Underneath it all there was a vague feeling of betrayal, helplessness and desperation.

What was happening? Was marriage necessarily the end of love? There had to be a way of understanding these painfully divisive interactions, of bringing them under some kind of control. We wanted our relationship back. We knew that the selves we had worked with over the previous years had something to do with this. It was obvious to us that a set of selves had taken charge of our relationship. There was no more "us", there was no more connection, and the vulnerable children that were a part of our relationship from the very beginning were nowhere to be found.

This was the start of a remarkable three months of a new kind of exploration. We looked at the selves that had taken over our relationship and tried to figure out what was really going on. We wrote down and diagrammed out every negative interaction that we had. We did this over and over and over again until a pattern began to emerge. We began to see how these negative interactions followed a basically simple pattern that repeated itself.

Hal would get angry with Sidra and suddenly he was no longer Hal, he was a cold judgmental father talking to her. She became a victim/defensive daughter and argued back. Then, in the blink of an eye, she became a judgmental mother - withdrawn, critical and cold - and although Hal became a hurt and vulnerable son to this cruel mother, still his judgmental father attacked. There were always four selves (or sets of selves) involved. We replayed this scenario over and over again but now we were beginning to see the pattern. We looked for all the selves involved in these interactions. Some were more apparent than others. But they were always all there.

We named this pattern a "bonding pattern" in recognition that it was basically a set of parent/child interactions. We also felt that this was a way to honor it as a normal way of relating as contrasted to a pathological one. In those years, we looked at these patterns as basically an interaction between power selves and disempowered selves. As time went on, our views of this have clarified and the parent/child nature of the interaction has become ever more apparent and we have come to see the bonding pattern as the basic default pattern in all relationships.

We discovered other constants in these interactions. All bonding patterns grew out of the negation or disowning of vulnerability. This took many forms, but it was always present. When our interactions became negative we could always trace back to a time when we lost contact with our core vulnerability (or what we called our Inner Child). Something had happened to hurt it, to frighten it off and we had ignored this, instead we had reacted in a more seemingly adult fashion. We had basically disowned our vulnerable child. If we could hold on to the child, (or to our vulnerability) and took care of this directly, these negative patterns lost their power; they didn't need to play themselves out.

The other constant we discovered was a truism that we had recognized from our early dealings with selves. Whatever you judge is a disowned self of your own. In these negative interactions, or bonding patterns, our judgments would flare up and assume center stage. We looked carefully at this. Gradually it became clear to us that as we reacted to each other negatively we were, in fact, being given pictures of our own disowned selves. If we recognized this, we could use it as a teaching in our own relationship - and we could help others see this in theirs.

This was almost painful to realize. We had hoped we were beyond this. Besides, our judgments were so much fun. It was such a wonderful feeling to pin the other up against the wall with brilliant and self-righteous criticisms. It was so wonderful to be unquestionably right.

If, however, our judgments are reflections of our disowned selves, then where's the fun? How can one feel righteous in the middle of a "righteous dance" in full knowledge of the fact that you are basically attacking your own disowned self or selves?

We had some wild and (in retrospect) funny interchanges as we closed in on the bonding pattern theory. One evening we were still arguing over a particular bonding pattern at 11:00 PM and Sidra finally said that she was exhausted and going to bed. Hal continued to work on the pattern, simmering in the heat of his judgments and furious at Sidra's comment that he wasn't in his Aware Ego. After about 10 minutes Hal stormed into the bedroom and with great grace and dignity yelled at her: "I am too in an Aware Ego." We both laughed and that was the end of that one. Such is the snake-like path of the co-exploration of consciousness.

Our excitement at this time was enormous. What was emerging was something quite new. It was something that worked for us in everyday life. It was a simple, precise and elegant way of looking at relationships that had a sense of a mathematical certainty and balance. Later we came to think of it as a kind of technology of relationship.

Our excitement about all of this was magnified as we realized that the theory of bonding patterns gave us a very creative (and non-pathologizing) way to look at the transference. The same principles were operating. The only difference is that we refer to it as transference if we get paid and bonding patterns if we don't. We've come to call this "The Psychology of the Transference".

There was immediate gratification from our discovery of bonding patterns. We felt better. Feelings of love and intimacy returned. Of course, we had to accustom ourselves to the loss of self-righteousness (that deliciously seductive feeling) but we were a lot happier with each other.

There's something wonderfully freeing about escaping from a negative bonding pattern. And it totally changed the nature of working with couples, making it a joy rather than a nightmare. Teaching people about the bonding patterns and then working with the selves created a wonderful path to change and we used it ourselves with increasing effectiveness.

It was much later that we began to attend to the positive bonding patterns and to realize how often these set the stage for the appearance of negative ones.

Voice Dialogue Tips Archive

Issue 22 SEPARATING FROM PRIMARY SELVES - One Secret of Graceful Aging
Issue 23 IT WAS ONLY A DREAM - Learning To Honour The Creative Imagination in Children
Issue 25 CONSCIOUS BODY - Healing with Inner Selves
Issue 26


Part 1 - Hal's Earliest Influences and Experiences

Issue 27 Part 2 - Sidra's Earliest Influences and Experiences
Issue 28 Part 3 - Voice Dialogue as a Methodology: The Beginning of a Joint Adventure
Issue 29 Part 4 - The Psychology Of Selves: The Beginning of Theory
Issue 30 Part 5 - The Consciousness Model: A New Definition of Consciousness
Issue 31 Part 6 -  The Theory of Bonding Patterns: The Selves & Relationship
Issue 32 Part 7 - The Psychology Of The Aware Ego
Issue 33 Part 8 - The Energetics of Voice Dialogue
Issue 34 Part 9 - Partnering in Relationship
Issue 35 Part 10 - Dreams, Daydreams and The Intelligence Of The Unconscious Coming
Issue 36 What is the Aware Ego's role
Issue 37 Partnering: A New Kind Of Relationship
Issue 38 The Language Of The Body
Issue 39 Sustainable Intimacy in Relationships
Issue 40 Meditation and Voice Dialogue
Issue 41 The Top Ten Challenges to Relationship: Keeping Your Love Alive Amid Life's Routines
Challenge 1 - Television
Issue 42 Challenge 2 - Work
Issue 43 Challenge 3 - Other Relationships in Fact & Fantasy
Issue 44 Challenge 4 - Friends
Issue 45 Challenge 5 - Children
Issue 46 Challenge 6 - Doing Rather Than Being
Issue 47 Challenge 7 - Computers - The New Mystical Lover
Issue 48 Challenge 8 - Alcohol and Drugs
Issue 49 Challenge 9 - Becoming A Psychological Know-It-All
Issue 50 Challenge 10 - Maintaining A "Perfect" Relationship


Challenge 10: Maintaining a “Perfect” Relationship

(an excerpt from Dr Hal & Sidra Stone's book titled "Partnering")

Sometimes we work too hard to keep everything in our relationships perfect. We try to see eye-to-eye with our partners on all matters, we are impeccably empathic and understanding of one another, there are no problems, everything is wonderful, we are always linked energetically, we are indeed blessed, and we do everything together all the time. We put all of our energies into keeping the partnership trouble free and do our best to ignore any feelings of discomfort. The rule we hold in our minds is something like “in a really good relationship, everything runs smoothly, both partners always agree with each other, and they never separate but always do everything together.” Unfortunately, when we try to keep the relationship perfect in this way, we actually break the connection between our partners and ourselves because anything that does not work smoothly is ignored and too much gets left out.

Since relationships naturally ebb and flow and life is not always wonderful, perfection is not exactly an attainable objective. As a matter of fact, if this goal is attained and there is never any friction, we might suspect that something is being overlooked. This does not mean that relationships are always a mass of difficulties. What it does mean is (1) people are different and have different needs, (2) two partners invariably experience some areas of disconnection, disagreement, or misunderstanding, and (3) there is always a need for some separation as well as a need for togetherness.

This is why it is so important to be able to include in the partnering relationship some space for the consideration of what is not working either in the relationship or in your life. If you were running a business and you never looked at what did not work, you might find yourself in deep trouble. For instance, you run a freight service. Everybody knows that you only like good news, so no one tells you that there is a small knocking sound in the refrigerated truck that does your long distance runs. If you knew about it, you could have the problem fixed. But you do not find out about it because nobody wants to bring you the bad news and they tell themselves that since it is only a small knocking sound, it is probably not very important. So the truck breaks down in the middle of the desert with a full load of perishable lettuce.

It is the “small knocking sounds” that tell us what could be improved upon, what could grow into a problem, or what needs fixing. We all need time — and permission — to look at what is not working in our lives and in the relationship. In the partnering model of relationship, it is accepted that each partner can, and will, bring to the conference table “reports” of what is not currently working. This is not a gripe session any more than a business meeting to review the workings of a business is a gripe session.

What might you bring to the table? You would bring your dissatisfactions with your partner or your life. This might include talking about your attractions to others, attractions that pull you away from the relationship. You might include your fantasies, such as opening a new business, or having another baby, or running away to Fiji. You might talk of your fears about money, work, health, or even about the relationship. You might talk about your discomfort with always being together and express your need for time alone, or for a space in the house that is just yours. All these issues keep us from becoming too complacent or stuck in old patterns that no longer suit us, they all open doors into new thoughts and new possibilities.

We feel that it is important to have time set aside to look at these matters. It is not necessary to be formal about this, after all you are not running a business, but it is important to keep current. Keeping current with dissatisfactions or negative feelings (1) helps us to keep the connection with our partners alive, even if the connection is not pleasant at that very moment, (2) prevents a backlog of complaints from building up, and (3) helps us to deal with matters creatively and quickly. We fix the truck before it breaks down. That is what partners are for.

Each partner notices something different and contributes something unique to the partnership. You may become irritated when your partner gets too preoccupied with work and ignores you. Your partner may become irritated with you because you did not follow up on the business opportunity that presented itself last week. You may be great at noticing when the car needs repairing and your partner may be great at noticing when the bank accounts are getting too low. You can see how partnering as a model for relationship brings us the possibilities of using our full human potential as a powerful team.

Meeting the Challenges

The basic theme in all ten challenges is the underlying challenge to maintain the connection in your primary relationship. Most of the time this connection will be pleasant, but there are times, when you are dealing with unpleasant matters, when it will be a bit uncomfortable.

What must you do on a day-to-day basis to maintain the connection to your partner? First, you must make your relationship — and this connection — a priority. All the challenges mentioned in this chapter have a single common element. Each of them threatens to replace your relationship as a priority.

Second, when you feel uncomfortable with your partner or the relationship, or when you sense your connection weakening, don't ignore your feelings. This is a warning, it is like a fire alarm going off. You may be tempted to think that the alarm is faulty and you may wish to turn if off because you can't bear the sound, you don't see any smoke, and you're too busy to go looking for trouble. But pay attention. There is a gift of disowned energy somewhere in this discomfort.

The third, and perhaps the most important, ingredient in the recipe for a healthy, intimate, and loving relationship is time. The best way to meet all the challenges to relationship is to take time for one another and for your partnership. You cannot run a business without giving it proper time and attention, and you cannot expect to have a successful relationship without doing likewise. Take time for meetings, for work, for play, and for passion. Take time to be happy with each other and time to be irritated with each other. Take time to look at what works and makes you feel just great and time to listen to the small knocking sounds in your relationship and your lives that will tell you what doesn't work. Take time to enjoy today and time to plan and to dream about tomorrow. Take time to hang out, just to be and not to do anything at all.

Most of all, take time away from the daily distractions and challenges we've been talking about to establish and to keep the delicious energetic linkage between you and your partner. It's a good idea to make regular plans to break your daily routine and get re-acquainted. These breaks can take any form, so be creative.

If partners can keep their linkage, they will keep their relationship. Anything that breaks this linkage can damage the relationship. No matter how sensible, worthwhile, or absolutely necessary the distraction seems to be, it should be handled with great care and not allowed to break the essential connection between partners. It is very easy to ruin even a good relationship. It is also very easy, once we know about linkage, to preserve a good relationship and to make it even better. So go for the linkage, and good luck!

Sustainable Intimacy in Relationships

Alison Poulsen, Ph.D.


What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.”
George Levinger

Beware of fusion

Many people confuse intimacy with closeness. They think relationships will improve if we communicate with more validation and acceptance. Intimacy, however, does not thrive where there is too much all–accepting, all-validating closeness with another person.

Too much unconditional positive agreement results in fusion between each partner's inner parent and the other partner's inner child. With the dissolution of boundaries between partners, anxiety becomes extremely infectious, and the ensuing bonding patterns will smother intimacy, vitality and passion within the relationship.

Squeezing validation out of your partner

    It's a myth that people lack intimacy because they don't communicate. The problem is that many couples use communication to squeeze validation out of each other, through manipulation, whining or complaints.

“Don't you love me?”

“You're always taking his side!”

“Don't you think that's unfair!”

A subtle look of disapproval is often enough to cause your partner to agree with you. Silence and withdrawal work wonders to pressure a person into certain behavior.

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying validation from others, we end up paying for it when we pressure or manipulate someone to provide it for us. The expectation of having to provide for someone's well-being ironically increases anxiety, disappointment, and resentment—all contrary to well-being.

Take care of my inner child

Validation, in contrast to sincere compassion or appreciation, is an attempt to soothe the other person's anxiety in order to soothe our own. Many partners have an unspoken agreement to validate each other. Each partner becomes the parent to the other partner's inner child.

Everyone has an “inner child” (or several) that wants to be taken care of in some way, for example, through admiration, appreciation, affection, acceptance, or financial security. Rather than learning to parent one's own child, one makes an implicit compact with one's partner:

“I'll admire you, if you will accept me.”

“I'll take care of you financially, if you make me feel wanted.”

The Good Child  
Each partner identifies with their inner “good boy” or “good girl,” doing and saying what's wanted by the partner's parent self, while repressing parts of him or herself that would provoke the partner.
Implicit in handing over the care of your inner child to another person is the threat of withholding reciprocity: “Take care of my child or else I won't take care of yours.”

This pattern of obligatory reciprocity creates a stifling dependence on the other person for validation. Mutual dependence and fear then run the show, rather than independent choice, honest appreciation, and affection.


    A person who is dependent on validation or “parenting” from others often screens his or her behavior, showing only those selves that will generate the desired validation. People then stop challenging themselves and their partners to explore and develop new parts of themselves.

“I'd better laugh at her joke or she'll be hurt.”

“I'd better not disagree with his ridiculous political view, or he'll get upset.”

“I'd better not leave her side at this party, or she'll feel insecure.”

“I'd better not wear this stunning dress, or he'll be upset if other men start looking at me.”

 Selective disclosure of selves is antithetical to intimacy. We hesitate to develop selves that are powerful, romantic, silly, smart, or passionate, for example, to prevent our partners from feeling threatened. We hide or stop developing parts of ourselves that enable us to become more whole and multifaceted individuals.


As more and more aspects of ourselves remain unexpressed, fear of rejection increases. When we stifle our selves, we stagnate. We shrivel up and resent our partner for lack of courage, intimacy and vitality.

"I'd better not talk about quantum mechanics, or he'll feel inadequate.” By continuing to hide parts of yourself, your relationship starts to feel flat and dead. This positive bonding pattern no longer feels so positive. It loses feeling all together.

What happens to the repressed parts?

Sickness and depression

Repressed feelings and thoughts don't go away; they go underground. Repressed parts of the personality may gather energy in the unconscious, and ultimately seep out in the form of depression, sickness, or a secret affair.

The Rebellious Child    
Over time, the good-child self may become rebellious, retaliating for feeling oppressed or for not being taking care of adequately. A negative bonding pattern ensues. Each inner-child self demands, complains, or punishes the other for what it's no longer receiving.    
Anger and control

Repressed feelings and thoughts manifest themselves in different ways. Sometimes, they erupt unexpectedly in anger. If your sense of well-being depends on how your partner reacts, it becomes important to control your partner. Someone who can't tolerate disagreement or disapproval becomes controlling, angry, and sometimes violent, choking any spontaneity, freshness, and life out of the relationship.

“Don't disagree or I'll be angry!” permeates the atmosphere.

Tolerating intimacy

    People say they want more intimacy, yet often they can't tolerate much of it. True intimacy requires the ability to take care of one's own vulnerabilities when developing new aspects of oneself.

    For instance, a woman with low tolerance for intimacy will first ascertain her partner's probable response before expressing a novel part of herself, e.g., being more sensuous, trying a new sport, or going back to school. If she thinks he won't validate her, she might limit her expression to what's tried and true between them.

    In order to develop greater intimacy, then, we need to stop limiting ourselves due to fear of our partner's reactions. Once we can tolerate the discomfort of their reactions, we no longer need to feign agreement, laugh at a poor joke, wear the ugly dress, or dumb down our conversation to avoid upsetting our partner.

Emotional separation

Parenting your inner child

Emotional separation allows you to be intimately caring without needing to control the other person's reactions. You become emotionally separate by learning to parent and take care of your own inner child and its vulnerabilities.

For example, when you crave admiration, resist the temptation to pressure your partner to admire you. Admire yourself if possible.

If you're the type who works like crazy in the hope of receiving some appreciation, but never asks for it, parenting your inner child might involve asking for appreciation in a positive way:

“I made this fabulous dinner. How do you like it?”

Implicit in this request is the existence of the very appreciation sought after. Ironically, one needs to appreciate (or accept, admire, etc.) oneself before one can expect appreciation (acceptance, admiration, etc.) from others. On the other hand, in desperately seeking appreciation from others, and clearly not providing it for oneself, we repel others, sending the message that we are not worthy of their appreciation.

If you've counted on others to provide for you financially, developing a financially-capable self by learning job and financial skills will powerfully enhance your ability to have adult relationships based on equality, mutual choice and affection.

Expressing disagreement

Emotional separation allows you to accept the fact that your partner is disappointed or disagrees with you. You can also express disagreement or make requests without being angry or scared. Uncomfortable, yes; but angry, no.  
Fused Couple: Paul states he does not want Sally to visit her sister. Sally doesn't go, but is angry for days. Or Sally says she's going anyway, and Paul stays angry for days.

Emotionally-separate Couple: Paul says he wishes he could go on a trip with her and is sad that she'll be going without him. Sally says she'll miss him, she's sorry he'll be lonely, but it's really important for her to spend some time alone with her sister. Or Sally says that he's welcome to join her if he can get away.

Growth and development

When we are not excessively worried about another's reactions, because we are taking care of our own vulnerabilities, we can be truly intimate, that is, we can express our thoughts, emotions and new parts of ourselves more freely and deeply. When we are less hindered by our partner's anxiety, we can grow emotionally, sexually, intellectually, and spiritually, bringing vitality into our lives and often enticing our partners to do the same.

Existential aloneness

Underlying emotional fusion is a fear of being separate and alone in the world. When we recognize that we can never be fully united in thought and feeling with another person, we can relinquish impossible expectations that our partners will save us from our basic humanity, separateness and mortality. We can then more fully enjoy connection with others, without insisting on controlling it, or resisting it to avoid the pain of its eventual loss.