What the Velveteen Rabbit teaches us about relationship intimacy.
The Velveteen Rabbit is a children’s story written by Margery Williams and published in 1922. If you haven’t already read it (or it’s been a while since last time), I highly recommend that you grab yourself a copy and read it whilst thinking about the lessons we can learn from this book as adults. It’s a story of a stuffed velveteen rabbit who becomes real through the love of a little boy.
As many of my clients already know, I love the use of analogies when discussing a new concept and this book is such a wonderful example. Many of us want to feel emotionally more connected to our loved ones but are not sure how to build this intimacy within our relationships. What is emotional intimacy and what can we do to help bring this into our relationships?
Emotional intimacy can be described as the degree of how connected we feel to our partners. This deep connection requires trust in our partner, a willingness to be vulnerable, and the investment of time and open communication to achieve. It is a process that happens within our hearts and minds, and is different to sexual intimacy which requires the involvement of our bodies. Emotional intimacy is the mutual sharing, respect, understanding, and validation of thoughts and feelings between two people. Building close emotional intimacy in a relationship often occurs through the course of becoming Real. This is where we refer back to The Velveteen Rabbit to help teach us how to do that. The following is a conversation between the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit that discusses the process…
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don’t matter at all because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”
So, what does this teach us about the process of becoming Real and building relationship intimacy?
1. Intimacy isn’t something that relationships start with, it’s something that becomes. Whilst we all look for a new partner whom we are attracted to romantically, the chemistry and sparks that happen early in the relationship are not to be confused with deep emotional intimacy – hopefully that will come later!
2. It takes time. Emotional intimacy is not something that only happens to older couples, but it does require a serious commitment of quality time spent together. The key words here are quality and time – not simply being in the same room together checking Facebook on your smart phone. It takes time talking together – really talking! This involves more than just talking about the weather or house administration topics like social plans, checking if a bill has been paid or discussing errands that need doing. It’s the time spent together sharing thoughts and feelings and getting to know who your partner truly is and what makes them tick. Try discussing your hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities. Move beyond the facts and discuss why these are significant and important to you.
3. Your partner is not just something to play with, but someone to REALLY love. Long after the excitement and novelty of a new relationship has worn off (and you have gotten to know who your partner truly is), real love and intimacy develops. It’s knowing all of who they are and loving them regardless of their faults – we’re all human after all.
4. It doesn’t happen to those who have to be carefully kept. I’m not saying that being sensitive is a bad thing in a relationship, but being too fragile can be. If your partner is too scared to get close to you for fears of you breaking easily, then it might be time to consider working on some resilience. Likewise, if you have such sharp edges that it prevents them getting close, it’s time to start working on ways to become softer and warmer towards them.
5. It can sometimes hurt, but you won’t mind. This can be a difficult one to explain because no-one wants to get hurt. However, letting your partner into your heart comes with allowing yourself to be vulnerable. And yes, sometimes you might get hurt, but the emotional intimacy that you will achieve by doing this will be worth it in the long run.
6. You might start looking shabby but you will never be ugly. Because developing close relationship intimacy takes time, this is likely to reflect in your appearance and is a consequence of the hurdles overcome together.
On this last point I would like to reflect on my own relationship. My husband and I certainly have a few more grey hairs and wrinkles than when we first met but I love each and every one of them. They were earnt through the trials of our relationship; raising two beautiful but sometimes challenging children; and the laughter and time we shared talking together. If continuing to build relationship intimacy together means that our hair will be loved off, that our eyes drop out, we get loose in the joints and very shabby, then I am not afraid. I say “bring it on!”