Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005
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****The Dance of Intimacy

A Woman's Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships

by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Reviewed October 31, 2005.
Harper Paperbacks, 1990, 272 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#9, Relationships)

The Dance of Intimacy is a book about maintaining connectedness with the important people in your life:  not only husbands, but also parents, children, siblings and friends.

Harriet Lerner says, “Whatever your own definition of intimacy, this book is designed to challenge and enlarge it.  It will not teach you things to do to make him (or her) admire you.  It does not provide guidelines for a love-in.  It is not even about feeling close in the usual and immediate sense of the word.  And certainly it is not about changing the other person, which is not possible.  Instead, it is a book about making responsible and lasting changes that enhance our capacity for genuine closeness over the long haul.

This isn’t a book with seven quick steps to a close relationship.  It looks at the patterns and issues in intimacy, and how we respond when conflict arises.

I like her definition of an intimate relationship:  “one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way.”

She looks at this concept by examining “turning points in the lives of women who courageously changed their steps in relationship dances that were painful and going badly.”

She says, “Our goal will be to have relationships with both men and women that do not operate at the expense of the self, and to have a self that does not operate at the expense of the other.”

She especially focuses on relationships that are stuck, and how we can make the changes to get out of that pattern and restore closeness.  I thought these paragraphs had a lot of insight:  “The initial impact of anxiety on a relationship is always one of increased reactivity.  Reactivity is an automatic, anxiety-driven response.  When we are in reactive gear, we are driven by our feelings, without the ability to think about how we want to express them.  In fact, we cannot think about the self or our relationships with much objectivity at all.  We sincerely want things to be calmer and more intimate, but we keep reflexively doing what we always do, which only leads to more of the same.

“Whatever our style of navigating key relationships under stress—pursuing, distancing, fighting, child-focus, overfunctioning, underfunctioning—we’ll do it harder and with even greater gusto in an anxious emotional field.  That’s just normal.  The important question is, What happens after that?  Reactivity . . . and then what?”

She talks about these different responses to reactivity and how they can obstruct intimacy.  It’s hard to change, but with an act of courage, you can realize that your reactivity is not solving the problem, and get out of the old patterns.

This is a fascinating book, not for quick solutions, but for deep thinking about who you are and how you act in relationships.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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