By Steven D. Solomon, Ph.D. and Lorie J. Teagno, Ph.D.
In our book and our work with clients we teach specific tools that everyone can use to affair-proof their relationship. We teach that there are Three Intimacies: Self Intimacy, Conflict Intimacy and Affection Intimacy. These are the mortar, building blocks and façade of any relationship. Every long-term loving relationship has each of these.
Self Intimacy is knowing what you feel, think, and want and sharing these with your partner. It is being self-aware. When we are self-aware, we acknowledge what motivates us so that we can make healthier, more mature choices. We use our Emotional Self Awareness (ESA) Exercise as a tool to strengthen Self Intimacy.
Conflict Intimacy is the ability to “do conflict well” in a relationship. This is a key tool that many couples lack. Differences and tension are inevitable in all relationships, and being able to talk about these with one another is essential. The tool (the I-to-I Exercise) we teach in our book, Intimacy after Infidelity, is how to talk about our negative feelings and experiences in an open, honest, non-destructive way. We also teach how to listen to a partner’s negative feelings openly, to be curious and not to take the comments personally. Conflict intimacy is challenging for each of us and therefore takes practice, practice, practice. When couples can discuss their differences with respect and calm, they can begin the process of working through the negative while simultaneously remaining in touch with the positive, loving aspects of their relationship.
Affection Intimacy is the “gravy” in the relationship; it is the loving, sweet, sensual, and sexual aspects of the relationship. It reminds us of what got us into the relationship and fed the love that grew early in the courtship.
When a couple is good at Self Intimacy and Conflict Intimacy, their Affection Intimacy grows and expands. Their relationship is resilient and can handle differences and, most importantly, it has a way of constructively dealing with challenges. In this context, they can discuss personal integrity and risks to integrity. They can present fears in a way that does not create secrets or view secrets as acceptable
Steven D. Solomon, Ph.D. and Lorie J. Teagno, Ph.D. are clinical psychologists in private practice in La Jolla, California, specializing in couples therapy. They are the co-authors of Intimacy after Infidelity: How to Rebuild & Affair-Proof Your Marriage.