A non-expert’s view of intimacy

A Hebrew-language translation of a best-selling English book explains that genuine closeness requires that we allow others to see us as we really are.

Couple 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Couple 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Even though he is an experienced sexologist and the chief psychiatrist and head of the sexual health service at Kupat Holim Leumit who makes regular “standup” appearances about male-female relationships, Dr. Itzhak Ben-Zion says even he learned something from Matthew Kelly’s best-selling book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy.
Although Kelly published the original version in English in 2007, it was translated not long ago into Hebrew for the Israeli audience and published by Focus Books as 7 Ramot Shel Intimiut.
Born in Sydney, Australia in 1973, Kelly is not a psychiatrist, psychologist or sexologist, but a management consultant who has traveled to over 50 countries, written 12 books that have been published in 25 languages, and “spoken to” four million people. His titles include: The Rhythm of Life, The Dream Manager and Building Better Families, in addition to The Seven Levels of Intimacy.
And his main message – that people must become the best version of themselves for them to become close to others – has struck a chord as much in Israel as abroad.
Ben-Zion, a former director-general of Soroka University Medical Center, comments in the Hebrew translation’s introduction, that he “was surprised. As a professional, I don’t usually read books [by authors] are not professional experts. But it seems that the ability of a person who is not an expert in relationships or sexology but is in fact an expert in information, organization and creating motivation in the hearts of those who hear him can be a learning experience – even for me, a professional.”
Ben-Zion explained that Kelly’s book impressed him because “many times I feel in my appearances like a preacher, like a voice in the wilderness.
I was glad to discover that there is someone who is willing to be a bridge between a professional frustrated by the lack of awareness of the need to work on relationships and love – and his potential customer.”
Kelly, Ben-Zion continues, is not a professional in sexology or psychiatry, but is able to make his readers understand that they have problems in their relationships and that they can solve many of them by changing their ways.
Kelly’s book begins with the story of a Boston businessman named David Anderson who has a wife named Sarah and three children.
He is financially secure and has a second home in Martha’s Vineyard – where his family spend the summer.
But David has no time for them except for weekends, because he’s busy making money – until a friend gave him a taped lecture with the message that “Love is a choice. It is something done intentionally.
We can choose to love!” At that moment, David understood that he had been selfish, interested only in himself and inaccessible to his wife and children.
Driving to his summer home, he was determined to change. He complimented her on her clothing and asked what his kids had done that day.
David took his wife by the hand and they walked behind the kids as they flew kites.
The next morning, he brought her breakfast in bed. He turned his cellphone off and let his family choose what to do on their vacation. Incredulous, they thought he was in a good mood because he had won a lottery ticket.
The author notes that people can’t be happy without intimacy – and this is not necessarily (only) a sexual connection.
“Intimacy is one of our legitimate needs and is necessary for happiness.
One can survive without intimacy, but one can’t have a happy and satisfactory life.” Intimacy, he continues, requires that we allow others to see us for who we really are. People need to show their true selves to others – both their best and worst sides – and share every part of themselves with someone.
When an individual, married or with a partner or not, lacks intimacy, addictions to food, alcohol, drugs and non-intimate sexual relationships may appear instead, Kelly notes.
He divides the book into three parts – a broad definition of intimacy; seven levels of intimacy; and 10 reasons why people do not have a good relationship and how to create one.
“Although our hearts crave intimacy, though our minds understand our deep need for it, the self-revelation it requires is often too daunting a task. Complete and unrestrained sharing of self exposes the deepest human fear of being rejected for being ourselves,” he continues.
Every relationship is built upon a pattern of interaction. In the beginning stages, “we rely on casual interactions, gaining familiarity by focusing on superficialities and facts. We grow closer and begin to share our opinions, learning to accept each other and embrace the growing relationship despite the difference in our experiences and viewpoints. Once our differences and opinions are shared and accepted, we feel safe enough to reveal our hopes, dreams and feelings, developing trust. With this trust, we open ourselves and are able to share our legitimate needs, becoming liberated from carrying the burden of our real needs alone.”
Finally, Kelly says, “We are deeply intimate and both willing and able to reveal our deepest fears. We are beyond judgment and feel trust and acceptance. By moving through and building upon each level of intimacy, we find comfort and gain trust in our partners and o u r s e l v e s until, by developing and deepening our intimacy within each level, we are able to fully open ourselves, finally opening to the possibility of truly being loved. It is through mastering the seven levels of intimacy that we will b r e a k through to fully experiencing love, commitment, trust and happiness.”
When one asks a newly minted couple about to marry to tell their story, how and when they met, how and where the proposal was made and the like, the story you will hear will be full of excitement and enthusiasm, Kelly states. But after a few years, it’s likely that the same question of how they met will be explained in a word or two: At the library, in a plane, or in a pub.
“This is a classical example of the fact that with time, we forget our story or develop immunity to the power within it... if they don’t manage to renew the end of the string of their story, to remember it and value it, their connection will probably end with separation. If they decide to remain together, they face a life of quiet and frustrating despair.”
In the 20th century, mankind searched for independence while the 21st will probably be characterized by mutual dependence or great human suffering. “The deep recognition that we must all internalize is that we are bound to each other on a personal, national and international level... Independence is only one example of the illusions that prevent us from crating deep personal ties,” writes Kelly. People fear that if others really knew them, they wouldn’t love them – this is the deepest fear among humankind, he continues. But “we are all defective; all of us have shortcomings; nobody is perfect. Nevertheless, we all try to present ourselves to the world in the most positive way, to hide our defects.” But people fear exposing these faults at a job interview or on a first date – or even to one’s spouse. We avoid intimacy, the author continues, because having intimacy means exposing the secrets of our hearts, mind and souls with another imperfect human being. Intimacy, says Kelly, requires that we allow another person to discover what moves us, what inspires us, what drives us, what consumes us and what we dream.
THE VOLUME is full of Kelly’s universal statements, as if they were Benjamin Franklin’s aphorisms. A sample: “Love is the wanting, and the having, and the choosing, and the becoming. Love is the desire to see the person we love be and become all he or she is capable of being and becoming. Love is a willingness to lay down our own personal plans, desires and agenda for the good of the relationship. Love is delayed gratification, pleasure, and pain. Love is being able to live and thrive apart, but choosing to be together.”
“Life is about love. It’s about whom you love and whom you hurt. Life’s about how you love yourself and how you hurt yourself.
Life’s about how you love and hurt the people close to you. Life is about how you love and hurt the people who just cross your path for a moment. Life is about love.”
“We can never get enough of what we don’t really need.”
“Freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want. Freedom is the strength of character to do what is good, true, noble, and right.”
“Withholding love is a bit like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
“The problem is that without an understanding for their meaning and purpose, most relationships quickly become little more than vehicles for the pursuit of selfish and individual goals. Disagreements then become a battle between conflicting interests, rather than a search for a mutually satisfying resolution.”
“Sex is not intimacy. Sex doesn’t equal intimacy. Sex isn’t absolutely necessary for intimacy. Intimacy is the one thing that a person cannot live without.”
“Relationships keep us honest.
They provide the mirrors necessary to see and know ourselves.”
“Addictions are among the most powerful self-delusions we experience.
So, why do we gravitate toward the objects of our addictions? Because they change the way that we think about ourselves. Our addictions pull us further and further into our self-centered imaginary worlds, while intimacy draws us out of our self-absorption and into a real experience of others, the world and ourselves.”
“You need not have identical points of view on all issues to sustain a vibrant relationship... Keeping an open mind is an important part of intellectual intimacy.”
“We become comfortable with ourselves only when we acknowledge that we have strengths and weaknesses.... We learn to be comfortable with ourselves... only by spending time alone.”
“Commit to complimenting your significant other for something you appreciate about him or her at least once a week. Make gratitude one of the roots that allow your relationship to grow strong.”
“Joy doesn’t come from having, but from appreciating what we have.”
“Discipline is a gift we give ourselves....
We do not happen accidentally upon the activities that help us to become the best version of ourselves.
We must choose them, and that choosing requires discipline.”
“Freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want. Freedom is the strength of character to do what is good, true, noble, and right. Freedom is the ability to choose and celebrate the best version of yourself in every moment. Freedom without discipline is impossible.”
“Love is a choice, not a feeling....Love is a verb, not a noun. Love is something we do, not something that happens to us.”
“If we truly love people, we also want them to change. If you love your wife, you should love and accept her for who she is today, but you should also want her to change and grow, and become the best version of herself.”
“One of the real and tangible ways for us to let people know that we care, that we are interested in trying to know them, is to give them our time.”
“Speech is one of the most powerful gifts the human person possesses, and like most of our gifts it can be used positively, to raise people up, or negatively, to pull people down. Words are either positively or negatively charged.”
“The most devastating form of loneliness is not to be without friends; rather, it is to be surrounded by friends and never to be truly known.”
“Agreeing with people is easy if you are willing to set all of your own personal preferences and ideas aside, but nothing is gained through such agreement.”
“It isn’t your job to fix the relationship. It is the relationship’s job to fix you... Relationship is about teamwork, not about getting what you want.”
“Sometimes it is very healthy just to accept our feelings for what they are, rather than analyzing them endlessly. Feelings don’t always need a reason.”
“There is no place in intimacy for judgment. We should remember that whatever a person’s past, our role is to help him or her build a future.”
“It is awe-inspiring to see a couple, or a family, working together to identify and fulfill each other’s legitimate needs.”
Modern culture is full of sexual humor – just as it is too occupied with sex, says Kelly. “I don’t respect comics who use sexual humor to make people laugh. In most cases, using this type of humor testifies to a lack of talent. Quality humor gives us a new perspective on things that were in front of us all the time.” Sarcasm, however, while common, is liable to destroy personal connections. We must be careful not to use humor to say things that we should say in regular conversion with the people you love, he warns.
He ends the book with the scene at an airport arrivals hall in San Francisco of a husband an father returning from a trip – picking up his six-year-old son and saying how much he missed him; looking into the eyes of his older child and telling him how much he loves him; handing the younger to the older to hug and kiss his wife, whom he married 12 years before. “I love you so much,” he tells her. A bystander asks how long he had been away.
“Two whole days,” the man replies with a smile.
“You won’t enjoy good relationships if you only hope. There is no value to hope if it isn’t accompanied by real and honest action. A good relationship belongs to those who decide to invest energy in it and give it high priority. Don’t hope. Decide!” Kitsch? Persuasive? Let the reader decide.