“We all have a ‘saturation point” for intimacy,” says Cheryl Lazarus, Relationship Expert. This means your ability to stay connected before needing to break away or becoming fearful of too much intimacy. We connect – we move apart. We come back together – we move apart again.
Each person has a different level to which they can stay connected or be intimate. This is based on their family history, relationship history, prior experiences, traumas, and support that they have had or not had in their lives. In Gestalt Therapy we refer to this as the “contact and withdrawal” cycle.
For some people, it’s 3 seconds of eye contact or a short hug. For others, it can be a longer period of affection, eye contact or time spent together.
In an ideal relationship world, there is a natural flow … a rhythm. However, in many relationships, this concept is not understood and when one partner needs to withdraw and have time alone, it can become a source of confusion, hurt, feelings of rejection or anger for the other.
Needing Time Alone
For example: One of my clients, Janet is in a long term relationship with Bill. She’s into togetherness, and wants to spend most of her time with Bill. She prefers that they do all their activities together and feels hurt and upset when Bill wants time by himself.
On the weekends they’re together Friday night, all day Saturday and on Saturday night. On Sunday he like to spend time by himself. She laments, “Why doesn’t he want to be with me on Sunday? He has the whole day off and we can be together. Instead he just wants to be alone!”
This sets off her rejection barometer and she then acts angry toward Bill. This causes a rift and then they are both withdrawing, except not in a healthy loving way.
Out of the Blue
Another example of what can happen when one partner needs a break and cannot express it, is that they may start an argument or withdraw into themselves. It can seem to come “out of the blue, with no warning.” One minute everything seems fine and then … it’s not. The other partner is left feeling confused, hurt or angry.
This happened a lot in my previous marriage, as I hadn’t discovered this concept all those years ago. When my ex and I needed “space ‘or felt vulnerable from too much contact, one of us would do something that “triggered” the other. For example, he’d start criticizing me or blaming me unnecessarily and that set off a reaction in me.
The result…..we both became angry and upset. He could then rationalize puling away and that unconsciously created the space that he needed.
How much better it would have been had we understood that one of us was at our “Saturation Point” for intimacy and been able to express that.
Feeling Overwhelmed – I need to get out of here now!
Meredith is an attractive single gal in her 30’s who met a really cool guy at a party. She and the guy immediately connected. They talked for hours and she was having a fabulous time!
She had also worked that day and had several drinks at the party. All of a sudden she felt exhausted. Not having recognized the signs of the oncoming overwhelm, it seemed to take her by surprise.
She liked the guy, needed to sleep badly and didn’t know how to break away. All she knew was that she need to “get out of there now.”
In her overwhelmed stated she couldn’t think clearly. So she got up expectedly and said, “I need to go home now.” She forgot to give the guy her number or ask for his. She only knew his first name, and was upset that never saw him again.
Understanding differences in your “Saturation Points”
When you’re with a dating partner or your long term relationship partner there may be differences in your saturation point. If you understand this than you can have compassion when you or your partner needs a “connection break” rather than feeling rejected when they need their space, pull away or want time alone. If you can recognize the signs in yourself or them, you can then suggest a break before getting to the “point of no return.”
3 – Step “Intimacy Saturation Reliever”
1. Be open to changing your intimacy patterns so that you can create more intimacy.
2. Recognize the signs of “Saturation Overload”
a. Tune into your body
Are you getting tired?
Does your brain feel overloaded. Have you listened to “too much information?”
Is your heart racing?
b. Connect with your emotions
Are you feeling overwhelmed?
Do you feel like you’re “losing” yourself?
Are you getting anxious, nervous or scared?
c. Check in with your energy
Are you feeling drained?
Do you feel scattered, antsy or uncentered?
d. Listen to your “inner voice”
Ask yourself, “Do I need time alone right now?”
These are all signs that you need to take a connection break.
3. Express it to your partner
The ideal situation is that you explain these concepts, or even show them this blog post. Then you’re both on the same page and can understand what each other is talking about.
Here are some examples of how you can express it to your partner. You can use this as a model and/or create any variation that seems right to you and expresses the way you naturally talk.
“I’m having a great time and realize that I’m getting tired. I love you and need some alone time. How about if we reconnect in 3 hours”
Note: When you give a time frame then it will help your partner to feel cared about and can lessen an “abandonment trigger.
“I’m really enjoying being with you and I’m realizing that I’ve reached my “Saturation Point” for connection. I really need to take a break right now and would like to reconnect at 7. Would that work for you?”
I’ve enjoyed talking with you and want to spend some time reading before I go to sleep. How about if we talk on the phone again tomorrow?
Creating deeper intimacy
By following these strategies you can create the space that you need while still staying connected with your dating partner or loved one. You’ll understand each other better, appreciate your “Saturation Point” for intimacy and create a deeper intimacy in the process!
I’d love to here your comments, thoughts or questions and I’ll reply right back!
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To your relationship success!
This post was written by Cheryl Lazarus