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Crisis Intimacy

Why do you think people form closer bonds when they experience a stressful event together? After a storm, neighbors bond, or after a senseless death, the community comes together in a way that rarely happens in everyday life. Of course there are occasions when the opposite occurs and trauma or stress pulls people apart. But sometimes when couples experience an unexpected or negative event they lean on each other more and feel closer to each other. The psychological term for this is crisis intimacy. It is the deep feeling of connection felt when handling a crisis. Dealing with difficult times can be much easier to handle when we're not alone and have another person who can identify with our feelings. Maybe we seek a connection to help us decide on the best solution or strategy and would rather make the decision with a second person's input. We often look for people who can relate to what we're going through or have experienced something similar since they can understand the stress it causes. Have you ever gone through a health crisis or the loss of a relationship and found yourself talking more with others who have had similar experiences? So why do some couples draw closer at times of crisis, while others disengage?

Often our experiences from childhood contribute to our choices related to conflict and crises. Maybe your family never talked about hard times or difficult issues so you learned it was expected for you to suck it up, or grin and bear it. Or maybe you witnessed excessive drama between family members and strong negative emotions expressed with little resolution or closure which contributes to your decision to compartmentalize negative emotions and avoid dealing with the stressful times. On the other hand, you may have seen your family rally around each other at times of crisis and work well together providing support and encouragement. Maybe you saw your parents deal with stressful events as a team and openly express their negative emotions without lashing out at each other. Of course none of us are perfect, and none of us always handle crises the best way, but we can strive to model for our children healthy ways to work through conflict and to lean on each other.

Sometimes it's helpful to have a family meeting and talk openly about the crisis and work on formulating a game plan with everyone involved depending on the ages of the children. The best way to draw closer to each other during stressful times is to be able to talk through conflicts, validate each others' feelings, and offer compassion. When we listen without judgement and accept the other person's feelings, it draws us closer together. We can share ideas and thoughts about ways to respond to the crisis and respect each others' input. Maybe we even attempt to lighten our partner's load by sharing the household burdens. Simply seeking to understand the impact of the crisis and offering emotional support can go a long way. Ultimately, a crisis affects people in different ways with our words and actions often determining whether or not we are drawn together or pulled apart. When the next crisis hits, make a decision to strengthen your connections rather than detaching from the people you love. The ensuing closeness and intimacy will be well worth the effort.

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