The relationship continuum: From “It to Us”: Part 5 of 5 – It’s you and me kid!

On the relationship continuum from “It to Us”, “Us” is the final stage. I jokingly say “It’s you and me kid!” in the title of this blog because this is the point in the continuum where we are as close as we get to each other while still remaining separate entities. “Us”. To move from “Friend” to “Us” we need to add an important element to the mix that changes everything – but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Firstly, if you’ve not read any of the other parts of this series, what follows will not make a great deal of sense. Please go have a look at the other blogs before going further so you can see how the “It to Us continuum” works and how what follows fits into the whole equation. In brief however, the “It to Us continuum” is my own little method for evaluating any given relationship and for determining how much personal commitment those involved have to each other, what brings them (and keeps) them together, and most importantly: the level of intimacy they share. This is part 5 of a 5-part series, and in it I’ll describe the forth level the “It to Us continuum”. Specifically, I’m going to talk about “Us” relationships, and the importance of the concept of “intimacy” within them.

Intimacy. It’s a powerful word that evokes a great many emotions, and almost as many definitions! In the context of the “It to Us continuum”, I use the word intimacy in a very specific way. In this context, I look at the word intimacy pretty much as a sentence within itself. For me, when I see and feel the word “intimacy”, I hear “into me see”. Into me see is an offering. It is a sharing. Contrary to most popular definitions of the word, my view on intimacy (into me see) has nothing whatsoever to do with sex (though those who are intimate with each other often also share a sexual relationship). Intimacy is an opening up of some specific portion of my inner being that I then freely give to you, and only to you. Intimacy is a fleeting, moment to moment offering but it can also potentially be given continuously. At any given point I can choose to show you myself – to let you see me, while at the same time I can also choose to shut you out. It is this that makes a level 4 “Us” relationship quantifiably different from a “Friend”. Importantly, in an “Us” relationship, while I am being open and “intimate” with you, you in turn are also being open and intimate with me. It’s personal, it’s mutual, it’s consensual, and it is incredibly powerful.

Most people only have one or two true “Us” relationships in a lifetime. Certainly, it is rare to have more than one intimate “Us” relationship with a member of the opposite sex at any one time. When I work with couples, probably the most common presenting issue is that one or other has created a separate relationship with another individual of the opposite sex – most commonly referred to as “an affair”. Sometimes these separate relationships are sexual, and sometimes they’re not. It has been my experience over the years that people often have extremely different ideas as to what constitutes cheating, and when a separate relationship can be labeled “an affair”, and this difference in thinking just adds to the pain of it when it happens.

It is almost cliché to hear sentences like: “We never had sex”, or at the other end: “it was only sex”. Other times the justification is: “it was just texting”, or a multitude of other variations on the same basic theme that says “I never crossed the threshold of behavior that I, personally considered too much or too far”. When presented with these differing belief systems, sometimes it is pretty clear to all that the statement is just good old self-rationalisation, whilst at other times people genuinely feel and believe that they are being unjustly accused. This is where the importance of the word intimacy as it is used in the context of this blog comes in.

Those who say “it was only texting” or “it was only sex, they meant nothing to me!”, seem to believe the activity in question was something that you might engage in as part of a level 2, situational relationship. It is not uncommon to hear statements that effectively add up to being “Sure, we had two sweaty hours in a Travelodge, but there was no intimacy!”, or “Just because we exchanged 500 texts, there was nothing personal in it!”. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are not many partners/spouses who accept these ideas.

By the time we get to an “Us” relationship, we have really opened ourselves up, and we have come to rely upon the mutual nature of that openness with the other. We feel we have a contract with the other person that says “these bits of ourselves that we have agreed to share with each other, we have agreed to share ONLY with each other”. This usually applies just as much to pieces of personal information as it does to various forms of behavior. In other words, texting June (our imaginary new receptionist from part 3 of this series) about all my inner feelings late at night (or while hiding in the bathroom) and sharing cutesy little jokes with her is usually experienced by our partners as just as much of a betrayal as taking June to a Travelodge for a couple of hours.

“Us” relationships are the epitome of togetherness. They are the end of the rainbow for this journey along our relationship continuum. They are the subject of 90% of all pop songs, and most of the literature that fills our libraries. They are, to most of us, the whole point of being alive.