Extracts from Lerner's 'The Dance of Intimacy'

Here are some extracts from 'The Dance of Intimacy' by Harrier Lerner, which I found an extraordinarily helpful read:

'An intimate relationship is (defined as) one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability in a balanced way.'

'Why change? Only by working to develop and redefine the self in key relationships can we really increase our capacity for intimacy.'

'Substantive change in important relationships rarely comes about through intense confrontation. Rather, it more frequently results from careful thinking and from planning for small, manageable moves based on a solid understanding of the problem, including our own part in it.'

'When intensity is high, we react (rather than observe and think), we overfocus on the other (rather than on the self), and we find ourselves in polarised positions where we are unable to see more than one side of an issue and find new ways to move differently.'

'Often... We are banging heads in one relationship, but the source of the problem is something we are not paying attention to, or do not want to pay attention to.'

'Changing any relationship problem rests directly on our ability to work on bringing more of a self to that relationship.'

'Overfunctioning, underfunctioning, fighting, pursuing, distancing, and child-focus (or other-focus) are normal, patterned ways to manage anxiety. One way is not better or more virtuous than another.'

'From the moment we are (born), family members encourage us to be our authentic selves, while they also unconsciously encourage us to express certain traits, qualities or behaviours and to deny or inhibit others. People need us to be a certain way for their own sake, and for the most complex variety of unconscious reasons... We learn that the survival of our relationships, and the very integrity of our family, depend on our being this way or that.'

'Tom, who had grown up in an unpredictable family, saw in June the stability and reliability he yearned for. June, once a quiet, overresponsible child, saw Tom as someone who would teach her to loosen up and have fun. But as it happens, the differences that attracted them to each other became very quickly the focus of angry attention.'

'A bottom line position evolves from a focus on the self, from a deeply felt awareness of one's own needs and the limits of one's tolerance. One clarifies a bottom line not to change or control the other person, but rather to preserve the dignity, integrity, and well-being of the self.'

'It is a very difficult challenge for any of us to be able to set limits, rules and boundaries in a solid fashion if our own parents were not able to do this with each other, with us, and with other family members.'

'Every person, without exception, has strengths and competencies as well as weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but most of us have difficulty expressing both sides. This is particularly the case when an overfunctioning-underfunctioning polarity gets set in motion...'

'What do overfunctioners do when they get angry, frustrated and exhausted? They typically move into a position of reactive distance.'

'Whenever adults are not actively working to identify and solve their own problems, then the focus on children may be especially intense or children may volunteer to deflect, detour, and act out adult issues in the most imaginative ways. Indeed children tend to inherit whatever psychological business we choose not to attend to.' (see also Larkin!)

'Intimacy requires a clear self, relentless self-focus, open communication, and a profound respect for differences. It requires the capacity to stay emotionally connected to significant others during anxious times, while taking a clear position for self, based on one's values, beliefs and principles.'

'As we become more self-focused, we define a responsible position in a relationship, based on our own values, beliefs and principles rather than in reaction to how the other person chooses to define the relationship... This self-focus requires lower reactivity and a high degree of emotional 'separateness' from the other.'