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The You-Turn: How Autonomy Can Foster Deeper Intimacy

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Which parts of you show up in your relationships? What are their hopes and fears? What drives them? What kinds of beliefs and values shape their perception of connection, love, intimacy?

Connection is one of our most basic needs and most natural desires. Without relationships our wellbeing suffers on multiple levels. So it makes sense that sometimes, maybe even often, it is the most wounded and isolated parts of us that reach for others.

Relationships are healing. But how we hold our expectations around that matters. Or, in this case, how the emotional parts of us hold those expectations matter. Are they held tenderly? Or are they desperately squeezed?

The fairytales we’re fed about love portray romance as a rescue mission. Someone needs saving; someone is capable of doing the saving, eager to, even. And while this might foster a semblance of intimacy initially, that rapid intimacy likely lacks depth because it’s based on the fantasies of our wounded parts.

Deep intimacy cannot rely on a dynamic wherein we are expecting to be saved or intent on saving; sustainable intimacy roots best in a soil rich with authenticity and compassionate boundaries.


Showing up authentically in relationships means that we have an existing and working connection to ourselves.

This can be complicated for those of us living with the impacts of intergenerational, systemic, and interpersonal trauma, particularly because when we lack positive relationships or cultural identity, for instance, it is often harder to conceptualize just who you are. That is to say, we often discover things about ourselves through relationships and community.

At the same time, there is a level of differentiation that has to occur in order to discern what in those relationships truly resonates with us or feels integrated with our perception of who we are. This requires that while we have deep intimacy with others, we also have deep intimacy with ourselves so that we can listen in to our deeper emotions and motivations rather than being led by our most aggressive impulses. Through this level of communication, we can build a sense of Self-trust.

Compassionate Boundaries

“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” - Prentis Hemphill

Boundaries uphold intimacy. Embedded in Prentis’ quote here is this idea that in a relationship we both/all deserve love. And that, by nature, the ways we give and receive love may be different and sometimes incongruent. We might need to take turns being in relationship with each other and being in relationship with ourSelves. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fairytale love paints a picture of love on demand. And it’s beautiful when that happens. But intimacy is inconvenient a lot of the time. It takes effort, negotiation, and trust. And while it’s easy to look to our partners to meet our needs, there is tremendous value in listening in to the parts of us who worry about what will or won’t happen if those needs aren’t met in a particular way.

Boundaries recognize that while we are intertwined, we are also separate and autonomous people. While we can root deeply in relationship and community, we can also respect our natural human curiosity to explore and evolve.

The You-Turn

The thread here is valuing our Self-reflection and autonomy as much as we value connection and interdependence. One of my favorite activities to facilitate in couples and relationship therapy is called the You-Turn (Thank you, Keith Miller).

When we take a You-Turn, we choose to suspend focusing on our partner and mindfully create a compassionate listening space to explore the exiled parts of us underneath the powerful protector parts who generally show up when we’re overwhelmed, angry, or anxious about our relationships. With this Self-reflection clients often gain clarity about their experience and feel more capable of articulating their position.

In my experience, the depth and directness of these communications make it easier for partners to understand one another. And with this understanding comes a level of security in the relationship and in both/all partners where autonomy, authenticity, and boundaries can be honored rather than questioned. By sharing how our parts experience our relationships, we unburden our partners from the responsibility of saving our wounded parts and create space to simply be in relationship with one another on a Self-energy level.

Intimacy and Autonomy

Two of my dear friends shared this poem at their wedding a couple of years ago and it’s stuck with me. I think it beautifully illustrates the intimacy-autonomy dance. I want to leave it with you to consider and notice what - or rather who - comes up for you. Which parts of you read and interpret the poem? Or, if you share it with your partner, how does your internal system receive your partner's interpretation of the poem?

To Love Is Not To Possess by James Kavanaugh

To love is not to possess,

To own or imprison,

Nor to lose one's self in another.

Love is to join and separate,

To walk alone and together,

To find a laughing freedom

That lonely isolation does not permit.

It is finally to be able

To be who we really are

No longer clinging in childish dependency

Nor docilely living separate lives in silence,

It is to be perfectly one's self

And perfectly joined in permanent commitment

To another--and to one's inner self.

Love only endures when it moves like waves,

Receding and returning gently or passionately,

Or moving lovingly like the tide

In the moon's own predictable harmony,

Because finally, despite a child's scars

Or an adult's deepest wounds,

They are openly free to be

Who they really are--and always secretly were,

In the very core of their being

Where true and lasting love can alone abide.


Do you and your partner want support nailing the You-Turn? I work with interracial couples and couples navigating other issues around identity and belonging.

Photo by Jim Wilson on Unsplash

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