Today we face many challenges, but none are bigger than a lack of intimate relationships; I do not mean physical intimacy but relational and emotional intimacy, which is characterized by love and trust. This is the type of intimacy we truly long for and need in all our primary relationships: God, marriage, family, and friends.
In my private practice and in that of those I’ve consulted with, a lack of intimate relationships seems to give rise to numerous problems. These problems take many forms, but they seem to aggregate into four major addictions or disorders: sex, drugs, alcohol, and eating. The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimates that 6-8% of Americans are addicted to sex. Furthermore, in 2008, the National Institute on Drug Abuse approximates that about 25% of Americans, 12 years of age and older, have abused drugs and/or alcohol. Lastly, the National Eating Disorder Association claims that about 11 million Americans battle either anorexia or bulimia; we must realize this doesn’t even compare to the problem of obesity, which is estimated to affect 25% of America (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html). These are staggering statistics, and something needs to be done about them. The prevelance of these problems is obvious, so the question is are they associated with a lack of relational intimacy?
When someone comes to a counselor with a sexual, drug, alcohol, or eating addiction, the issue can almost always be traced to a faltering relationship. Someone at somepoint did not meet their need for true relationship, and the individual themselves often play a part in this process. Most often it can be a parent or spouse, just because we spend the most time with these individuals, and they have the most power and responsibility to either meet our relational needs or deny them.
The abuse of sex, drugs, alcohol, and food is on the rise in many nations around the world and especially in ours. We must start being more attentive to those in our sphere of influence. We cannot any longer deny one another the relational intimacy we need, and we must learn from the recent past that what we have been doing isn’t working. Chasing after the American dream, a promotion, or the next bigger and better thing has not satisfied. If we ever do attain such things, we immediately start looking to the next thing because things can’t satisfy our deepest longings, but relationships can.
Today we often claim it is hard to find the time to build relationships, whether it be our spouse, children, or friends. I understand the restraints on time, but we must learn to prioritize. There is nothing more important than relationships. We should never neglect those who need us most just to spend time and effort on things that pass away (i.e. money, promotions, material things, facebook.) I mention the latter as an example because today many are trying to fill their need for relationships through online interactions. (Read “The New Online Society” for more information.) I for one believe that this will not satisfy.
Addictions are everywhere, but they are also subtle and people may not think of these “subtle addictions” as all that bad. We have workaholics, gamblers, video gamers, sports fanatics, and even parents that focus on their children more than their spouse. We also have spenders and savers, entertainment and adrenaline junkies, work-out fanatics, etc. Some of these things may not be bad in and of themselves, but when they become addictions OR take the place of something better, then they quickly become what they shouldn’t be.
In American we see divorce, single-parent households, suicide, and all kinds of addictions on the rise. What is the cause? I can tell you this: I have never heard of a family breaking apart because they were too close or they spent too much time together or because they were loved too much. Just take a look at your own issues. Was it a faltering relationship or relational dissatisfaction that contributed to your problems?
Finally, I should mention that relational intimacy is not only necessary for a strong family and solid life, but it also has other benefits–it effects your health and wealth. On the contrary, whenever we find broken relationships, we also find higher rates of stress and addictions and lower rates of health and wealth.
So what are we doing about it? What kind of marriage do you want? What kind of family do you want? What kind of community do you want? An intimate one? A close one? A solid one? Don’t let the rise of social media, the god of progress, your “need” to keep up with the Jones family, busyness, or anything else plague the intimacy that each of us needs and wants. If this resonates with you, spread the word, and let’s start making some changes!