Learning to Have Intimacy in Conversations
© 1997 Michele Toomey, PhD

In our society, we tend to argue, explain, interrogate, accuse, defend, complain or praise far more than we ever converse. We argue to persuade, explain to inform, and interrogate to get the facts. We accuse to express anger, defend to protect, complain to indicate something is wrong, and praise to indicate something is right. Almost always the purpose of the exchange is something practical. We want something to change, either an opinion or a behavior, or we want to reinforce. We want to know so that we can do, not necessarily so that we can just know. Yet, knowing is what intimacy is all about, and knowing does not imply doing anything.

Conversations are exchanges of information for their own sake. Intimate conversations are the exchange of personal information, and they allow us to know something about each other. In them, when we share how we think, or what we feel, we are sharing information that can't be known unless we tell it. How we feel and think about what we've experienced is our personal experience of life. It is our story. If we are not to go through life experiencing it alone, we must learn how to tell our story and how to respond to another's. We must learn how to have personal conversations. We can then touch and be touched by others, which is what intimacy is all about.

To be able to have a personal conversation we must learn:

  1. To tell how we think and how we feel about what we are sharing, not just tell the events or sequence of events. For example, the fact that we might have failed a test says very little about us. How we feel about failing it and what we think was going on for us at that time, before, during and after the test says a lot about us. The failure is a fact. Our response to it would be sharing a life experience and the beginning of a personal conversation.
  2. To respond in kind when someone shares personally. A conversation is not to solve or resolve anything. It is to share something. To touch each other's spirit through our words. We need to respond by touching what was said, by saying how we felt or what we thought when we heard it, by asking questions to know more fully the depth of the experience. Our response to personal sharing needs to be personal as well.
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