capacity to be aloneWhile the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.

A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.

Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.

What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”

  • Originally coined by the British pediatrician/psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, the “capacity to be alone” refers to the development of individuality that starts with the infant’s ability to be alone in the presence of the mother.
  • It is the child’s ability to move from the sense of the mother’s compassionate, comforting and loving presence, to his/her ability to hold on to her presence, even when alone.
  • This internalized sense of the comforting mother develops into the psychological capacity to regulate anxiety, self-soothe, and experience a true authentic self. In essence, this is the capacity to be alone.

Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?

  • True intimacy starts with a comfort in your own sense of self.  If you like yourself and feel comfortable, you will be able to relate in a real and genuine way with another person.

You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.

  • True intimacy is possible when you have the “capacity to be alone” because it implies choice. You may want to be with someone. You don’t have to be with someone because you fear that being alone leaves you without stability or value.

You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.

  • True intimacy is possible when there is psychological separation or room for partners to come and go from each other physically and psychologically.
  • Couples often report that when they are apart from each other during the course of the day, they think more positively and romantically about each other than at any other time.

Neurochemistry supports this idea with findings that separation actually revs up dopamine and epinephrine, the hormones associated with sexual desire.

Do You Have The Capacity To Be Alone? Does Your Partner?

Most self-growth starts with self-reflection that leads to self-awareness.

The following list is a translation of the “capacity to be alone” into thoughts, feelings and behaviors that occur in the day-to-day lives of partners. They may be worth considering.

If you have the “capacity to be alone”….

  • You can have an intimate relationship with a partner without feeling you have jeopardized your parents’ love.
  • You can tolerate your partner’s relationship with his/her family.
  • You value your independence but you are not threatened by the reality that you and your partner also depend on each other.
  • You enjoy spending time with your partner and others; but you also value your solitude.
  • You are not jealous if your partner enjoys time with his/her friends.
  • You can tolerate your partner’s having a difference of opinion from yours.
  • You can agree to follow your partner’s opinion without fear of being controlled.
  • You can negotiate a mutual solution in a way that balances needs and dreams.
  • You are able to recognize that as separate people you and your partner may be preoccupied with things that have nothing to do with the other—and need not be taken personally.
  • Given that you are individuals as well as partners, you don’t hold the other responsible for knowing what you need without communicating it in some way.
  • Given that you are partners as well as individuals, you take pride in knowing your partner in ways that others don’t—without presuming to know all.
  • You can hold on to the connection with your partner even if you are not physically together.
  • You can make a sexual overture without fearing rejection.
  • You don’t need you or your partner to be perfect in order to have a sense of self-worth.
  • You can say “ No” to your partner without fear of reprisal or rejection.
  • You don’t need the world to love your partner—because you love your partner.
  • You can risk being angry with your partner.
  • You can recover from a fight or argument with your partner without “ winning” or “ blaming.”
  • You can own your part in a problem or your mistake without a blow to your self-esteem.
  • You can tolerate the temporary disconnect that comes from arguing with your partner without fearing that the relationship will be over or the love will be lost.
  • You can apologize.
  • You can forgive.
  • You feel a personal sense of worth although you greatly treasure your partner’s affirmation.
  • You are not afraid that asking for or receiving your partner’s help will compromise your self-esteem.
  • You feel pride and confidence in face of your partner’s plans to achieve personal goals without fear of being overlooked or left behind.
  • You don’t need your partner to want to do whatever you are doing, whenever you are doing it.
  • You can comfortably enjoy the benefits and balance of the You-We-Me in your relationship.
  • You never believe that a partner who is out of sight is out of love with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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    Last reviewed: 2 Apr 2013

APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2013). An Asset to Couple Intimacy: The Capacity “To Be Alone”. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2013/04/an-asset-to-couple-intimacythe-capacity-to-be-alone/

 

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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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