Autonomy & Intimacy as "Tender" Needs

Autonomy and intimacy are two needs that can often appear to be in conflict.  One person may seem to be asking for more closeness while the other is asking for more space.  It's not really true that one person values more or less intimacy or more or less autonomy than another.  What's true is that each person relates to these needs differently.

If you are consistently asking for more space and autonomy, it's probably not that you value it more, but rather that you have a more tenuous connection with your ability to make choices freely.  You have likely had formative experiences in which you experienced a lot of pressure to behave in particular ways.  You are likely more susceptible to making choices out of obligation, duty, fear of hurting someone's feelings, or fear of rejection.  Given this, you are more likely to hear requests as demands.  You might hear yourself say things like "People demand so much of me", or "My partner is always so demanding". What works well for you is when someone makes a request of you and is very clear that they are okay if you say no.

On the other hand, if you say you value intimacy more, it's likely that your connection to your own sense of being loved and feeling close is more tenuous.  You might express this to your partner and loved ones in these ways, "It doesn't seem like you really want me to be there."  " I want us to be closer."  "Do you really love me??"  What works well for you are frequent invitations to be included and reassurance that you are loved and wanted.

The edict "Do unto to others as you would like them to do unto you" can create a lot of havoc when you and your partner hold these different positions.  It can be difficult to remember that to one person giving lots of space may seem respectful, but to another it can be perceived as cold indifference.  Just as giving lots of invitations and reassurance is heartwarming to one person, and a pressure cooker to another.

This kind of tenuous relationship to a need is likely to be at the heart of any repetitive conflict.  When you can gain clarity and acceptance regarding that tenderness, you will naturally want to contribute to healing by offering extra attention and consideration regarding that particular need. As you negotiate strategies to meet tender needs, the most important things to remember are to provide frequent reassurance and keep looking for creative strategies. Frequent reassurance means reminding each other that you care about the other’s needs and want to find something that works for both of you. When a dialogue is revolving around two people’s tender needs, several rounds of negotiation are often necessary. This means offering reassurance and staying with it. Looking for creative strategies means expanding your ideas of what could meet your needs and entertaining strategies outside of the situation of focus. For example, if you and your partner are getting stuck negotiating the length and frequency of phone calls as a strategy to meet one person’s need for connection, you could expand to include entirely different ways to meet a need for connection in a given week or month. When caring and respect for each other’s needs is felt, it is much easier for each of you to loosen your grip around preferred and familiar strategies and entertain new ideas.

Take a moment and reflect on a primary relationship in your life.  Do you need more support in your sense of autonomy or your sense of intimacy?  Have you let the other person know what support looks like for you?