The New Intimacy


A "Relationship-of-One"

Many relationships suffer from being what we call a "relationship-of-one." In this case neither person has a solid sense of self. What they do is jostle back and forth in an overt or covert power struggle, each one trying to be the arbiter of reality for both of them. So in one moment one of them is dominant. Then the power balance shifts toward the other person who is dominant for a while. Neither has a center, only the unconscious sense that somehow a center has to be established so their relationship doesn't careen out of control.

Here's a simple example. We did a workshop in Florida a number of years ago. One woman complained about the way her dates were treating her. She felt taken for granted. Unseen. So Jim did a short exercise with her. He said:

"Imagine that a friend invites you to dinner and asks you what you would like to eat. What would you say?"

She had no problem telling us that she liked rotisserie chicken and gave us the name of her favorite place. In other words, she had a sense of herself and announced her preference without any trouble.

The Jim said, "Okay. Now imagine I'm a man you're interested in and we have a date. I call to ask you what you would like to have for dinner. What do you say?"

Without a moment's hesitation she said., "Oh I don't know. Whatever you prefer."

In that exchange she set up a relationship-of-one. She vanished and left it entirely up to her date. She later confessed that she resented men for being bossy and always felt like they had to be in charge. To get back at them, after she'd been dating someone for awhile she would manipulate for control by playing hard-to-get in order to have a sense of power. In other words, she covertly took back control yet unconsciously made it a relationship-of-one now based on her needs and wants rather than the man's..

Because not many of us have truly been encouraged to have a strong self, a self that we trust, enjoy, and are willing to express, many couples endure the very unsatisfying and deeply confusing relationship-of-one. They know something is wrong but are not sure what and end up blaming each other in a futile and desperate attempt to make things right.

In order for a relationship to succeed there have to be two people willing to show up and be who they are. That begins right from the first moment of the first date and carries through the life of two people being together.

For those of you who are dating, please be aware that the way you handle yourself is your way of telling your date how you want to be treated. That is very critical. If you put on a show, then you are a performance. If you are willing to put yourself out to see if you are liked and if you like who you are with, then you are telling your date who you are. That in itself sets up the precedent that you are someone who has a sense of self and you expect to be acknowledged and respected for it. By doing that you are saying right from the beginning that your want a relationship in which there are two people expressing and co-creating what you will have together.

© 2005, The New Intimacy

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Intimacy is spelled "in to me you see". - Stan Dale

I have always made a distinction between my friends and my confidants. I enjoy the conversation of the former; from the latter I hide nothing. - Edith Piaf


Husband and wife psychology team, Judith Sherven and Jim Sniechowski, are the bestselling authors of "The New Intimacy" and "Opening to Love 365 Days a Year." Their latest book is Be Loved for Who You Really Are: How the differences between men and women can be turned into the source of the very best romance you'll ever know. They provide corporate trainings on breaking through resistance to success and relationship workshops about The Magic of Differences--romance based on respect and value for each other's unique ways. As guest experts they've been on over 600 television and radio shows including Oprah, The O'Reilly Factor, 48 Hours, Canada AM, and The View. Visit their website at

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