Most of us want to be close to others, to share deep connections built on trust and love and affection. We want relationships in which we can open our heart fully, knowing that another person will not stomp all over it when we do. We want to be vulnerable, knowing that intimacy requires it, yet we do not want to get hurt. We want two things really, intimacy and safety. Luckily, these goals are not mutually exclusive. We can, indeed, have both, once we answer the question, “How can I protect myself and build intimacy at the same time?”
You might wonder how the art of giving permission relates to parenting, especially towards young children. After all, are you expected to give permission for your son to play with a set of steak knives or for your daughter to jump on top of a friend’s dining room table while you’re stopping by for a visit? Are you really expected to give permission to everything?
Trust is a major issue that commonly comes up in couples counseling, especially in cases where one or both partners have experienced infidelity in the past. If we want others to trust us, then we decide to trust them, trust them enough to hide nothing from them. In particular, we trust that they will not react emotionally to discovering a certain piece of information related to us. Because we want extraordinary relationships, we choose to remain transparent. Because we want extraordinary relationships, we forego privacy, certain that we prefer being discovered over remaining hidden, certain that we prefer being known over remaining unknown.
Imagine that you have this great idea for a party. You plan the most resplendent décor and exquisite cuisine, lavish flower arrangements, and only the best in lighting and live music. You’ve diligently prepared every detail. Unfortunately, your party isn’t going to be much fun if you skip one essential step: sending out your invitations.
Most people believe that an apology is a kind and considerate way to take responsibility for one’s past actions. It is common practice for individuals to seek apologies from those by whom they feel wronged, or to apologize when others feel wronged by them. This stems from the notion that apologies have a certain reparative effect, that they have the power to heal emotional wounds.
When people tell me that they no longer have a relationship with someone, I know this is untrue. No matter how great the gap that divides two people, no matter how vitriolic or rare their interactions, even if these interactions are basically non-existent, the truth is that the relationship persists. It may not be a great relationship or be particularly rewarding for either member, but it continues to be there, if only barely, nonetheless.
When you go to the grocery store, you generally have a successful relationship with the cashier who rings you up. It’s not much of a relationship, but it is a successful one. This success occurs simply because you and the cashier share a certain mutuality. You care equally about one another, maybe not much, but equally. Since your feelings are mutual, it is easy enough for you both to share a brief and cordial exchange. Why?