A spread of Valentine's Day gift

On Valentine’s Day, we are taking a look at what love means from the perspective of Transactional Analysis. We have ECPT student Hayley Johnson to tell us more about how TA would analyse love and intimacy.

Let’s talk about love

Yes. I’m talking intimacy!

Only not the raunchy, strawberries and cream type!

I’m talking emotional intimacy.

While all attachment types may be squirming in their seats at the very sight and thought of emotional Intimacy. It’s a great subject to raise on such a romantic day such as Valentine’s Day!

Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis and life-time devotee to the search for intimacy, theorized there is a certain way in which we structure our time in order to attain or reject intimacy.

Berne’s (1966) Time Structure Theory is well worth reading up on. Here I’m merely summarizing to get to the nitty gritty of intimacy!

Essentially there are 6 categories:

Withdrawal – when a person chooses to spend time out of relationship with another or others. They spend their time alone.

Rituals – these are the social niceties that keep us connected yet offer very little emotional value. For example “Hi! How are you doing?” “Yeah good thanks, yourself?” “yep all good here” “great stuff!”

Past Times – we are now in the realms of actual conversation with people. Albeit, only on subjects that are socially accepted and understood and won’t become too emotionally intense. For example, small talk around the weather, the tardiness of buses, never being able to get through to the doctors – those kind of common complaints we socially bond on!

Activity – this is the intended time we spend with others. This may be working together, playing a sport together or watching a film to name a few. Its where we’re busy doing something rather than simply being together.

Now until this point, although we are making contact and spending time with others, we aren’t really getting deep. Nothing is stirring any emotional reactions.

Well, wait now more! Let me introduce you to GAMES!! Here is a colossal space for spending time in such a way that appears intimate but because of hidden agendas and ulterior motives – mostly out of our awareness, we avoid true intimacy.

Games are ideal to avoid the risk of emotional rejection, ridicule and abandonment – yet they also have a wicked way of landing us straight bang in the middle of all those unwanted feelings too. Those playing the game come away from verbal exchanges with a major lack of communication and connection. Again, worth reading up on!

For now, I want to bring your attention to  the ultimate structuring of time, that of Intimacy. Here all parties involved are prepared to take the risk of being vulnerable, hurt and rejected in a bid to build a stronger connection with each other. Through openness, trust and honesty we can encounter each other in a much more authentic way. I can already see the tension leaving your shoulders as you imagine being accepted for who you are, what you think and how you behave!

Great right?!

So with Time Structuring outlined, what are some practical conversational go-to’s to bring about Intimacy between you and your romantic partner? I put the question to seasoned psychotherapists and here are some of their examples:

  • “Oh wow. When you say ‘that’ I have a real reaction to it. I feel angry/sad/happy/ashamed/scared that you think/do that.”
  • “I can see that this is stressing me out. I’m going to leave the room to cool off for a bit. Can I come back to you tonight once I have dealt with the part that’s stressing me out?”
  • “Its okay, I can see you are upset/frustrated. What do you need from me right now?”
  • “I can really hear how much this bothers you. Is there something we need to do differently?”
  • “I’ve got to tell you this really triggers me. I need you to know that I am doing my best to meet your expectations and genuinely can’t do any more than I already am.”

These are just a few of so many conversation starters that open up a space to be heard and validated.

At which point Intimacy is achieved, and you should by all intents and purposes ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after! (don’t quote me on that part!!)

This Blog was written by Hayley Johnson, trainee psychotherapist at Ellesmere Counselling and Psychotherapy Training

Referencing: The Games People Play by Eric Berne, 1964