It's been said in many ways:
Human beings are political animals.
One of the keys to happiness is being connected with others.
People who are lonely and isolated are more at risk for heart disease and cancer.
The bottom line is that most of us want to be involved in close, intimate relationships with other people. But how do we do that without losing ourselves? How do we connect with others and still maintain our individuality, our integrity and our ability to live the way we want to live?
There are some things we can do:
We can learn to manage our boundaries well. Our boundary is the barrier between ourselves and others. Some people become enmeshed in relationships. They lose themselves and find it difficult to maintain their individuality. Others have such an impenetrable barrier that nobody can get in. The trick is to be able to adjust our boundaries to the situation we're in and to the people we're involved with. We need to find the middle ground between losing ourselves in others and locking ourselves in a fortress. So, for example, we can be open to how other people react to our behavior but not allow others' reactions to keep us from doing what we think it is right for us to do.
We can learn to fight fairly with the people we're close to. There's no way to avoid conflict with our intimate others. In fact, the more alive, active, creative and vigorous partners are, the more conflict there is going to be. Fighting fairly means addressing grievances quickly, not letting them build up until we explode; focusing on the issue at hand and not bringing in grievances and resentments from the past, and; stating our case and standing our ground without trying to hurt the other person. It's something we can all learn to do.
We can learn to use intimate relationships as a "proving ground" in which we can become more genuine and open, less defensive, more assertive and more truly independent.
Al Galves is a psychologist who can help you do this work. Through reading his book Lighten Up: Dance With Your Dark Side (in press - to be published in January, 2007) and attending his workshops you can learn how to be intimate without being a dishrag or an ogre.