In the first year of my relationship with my boyfriend (now husband) I remember thinking, with more than a good dose of smugness, that we had not fought once.  In my naivety I thought this was a sign of a great relationship.  After twenty years of working with couples I have come to realise we were in the ‘honeymoon’ phase.  It was a charade, a time during which couples dance around each other, masking their real selves in an attempt to avoid rejection.

During the early stages of coupledom (1-10 years) the focus is on commonalities.  You feel validated and secure as long as you and your partner agree.  But inevitably in committed relationships, you start revealing your true self (10-20 years).  You eventually disclose sides of yourself that don’t agree or fit with your partner.  And this is when the disagreements start.  Many couples freak out at this point, thinking there is something wrong.  Marriage myths tell us that good couples don’t fight or disagree.  Our anxiety rises.  We feel pressure to accommodate and bend to suit the other.  We pride ourselves on our ability to compromise and be considerate.

Around the 20 year mark, we get tired of the pretense.  We’re done with accommodating and bending.  We want to be honest.    We become less and less willing to violate our own sense of self and integrity.  We start showing our real self.  And this is when the seeds of intimacy have the best chance of germination.

Intimacy is letting someone know you as you know yourself to be.  It is the difference between presenting a false self and your true self – can I be ‘me’ in front of you – even if I think you won’t like it?  Before we can do this we have to have a degree of stable identity or a solid sense of self.  The better we know ourselves the more intimate we can be.

Twenty years into the relationship, people tend to fight more than they use to.   They are braver and more honest.  They are less willing to pretend.   They are more likely to say what they think without expecting acceptance or reciprocity from the other.  There is more tolerance for difference.  There is more awareness that the other was not put on earth to validate and reinforce me.  I want to be truly loved but they can’t really do that without knowing the true me.  I don’t want your rejection but I must face that possibility if I am ever to feel accepted or secure with you.  It is time to show myself to you – I want you to know me.

So don’t be frightened of the conflict.  Disagreements are inevitable in committed relationships.  It’s a sign that you may be starting to develop real intimacy.   Work through it, be brave.  With real intimacy comes the promise of passion, deep emotional satisfaction and joy.

If working through things on your own is not working, feel free to contact us at Psychology Associates for professional help.

Tara Clark, Clinical Psychologist, Psychology Associates

With thanks to David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage- Keeping Love & Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships

( Scribe, 1997)