Friday, August 12, 2011

Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner

Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner is her follow-up to the previously published Dance of Anger and although many of the ideas and teachings she suggests overlap between the two texts, the two work so well together that it is hard not say one ought to read both.

Lerner writes from a clearly feminist perspective and her books are aimed primarily at the woman reader, although men would and could benefit from what she has to say.  The issues of relationships falling into underachiever/overachiever dynamics is not primarily gender specific.  A woman is capable of being one or the other or even somewhere along the spectrum of both; men, too, will swing between one extreme or another when interacting with others.  There simply isn’t one simple way of being.

Repeatedly, Lerner reminds the reader that the stories she shares of how relationships become triangulated and how one person within the relationship can move towards change are simplified.  In a few pages or even a few paragraphs she can easily show a successful experience but the reality is that these examples evolved over time, gradually, and often in conjunction with months or even years of therapy.

Relationships are hard work and intimacy is not something that once it is achieved one need do nothing else.  Instead, Lerner cautions that the work is ongoing, endless, and never really gets any easier.  Easy or not, she shows that it is necessary. 

The appendix is especially interesting as she shows the reader how to create a family tree that goes beyond the simple X married Y and gave birth to A, B, and C.  In her charts, one records births, deaths, marriage, divorces, crises and other significant milestones.  It is these changes that often have ripple effects from one generation to another.  A woman who lost an infant son may become the obsessive grandmother to her first and only grandson while seeming to be unconcerned with her own daughter and granddaughters.  A man whose father died when he was twelve may slip into an affair when his own child is twelve, repeating the distancing he himself experienced in his core family.  The woman whose parents divorced when they were nearly married twenty years may find her anxiety about her marriage increasing as she approaches her own twentieth wedding anniversary.  Until one looks at the possible sources for such familial patterns one cannot see how they manifest from generation to generation.

I am eager to begin her book Dance of Deception but I want to sit and think a bit longer about what I’ve just finished reading before reading more.  I would definitely recommend her books to anyone who is struggling in a relationship with a parent, spouse, sibling, child, or even a very close friend.  If you find one book, either Dance of Anger or Dance of Intimacy interesting and/or beneficial, you’ll probably want to read both.  I’m glad I did even if the information is almost redundant.  Almost but not fully.

This book is part of my Fifteen in 2011 book list and, as such, is also a part of the Books I Should Have Read by Now Challenge


  1. I knew that childhood and family dynamics affect one's adults relationships but the examples you mentioned are ones I haven't thought about before.

  2. Stephanie, So much in codependency talks about repeated relationship patterns, how we try to fix what went wrong as a child by marrying someone like the absent or addict parent. However, what Lerner suggests goes deeper and doesn't make it as simple as "Your father was an alcoholic so you married an alcoholic because you're a codependent trying to fix your past by repeating it in your present relationships." Far from it. And she suggests that it takes a lot of courage to recognize where change is perhaps called for and further suggests that sometimes choosing not to change takes as much courage as changing would demand.

    You'll find lots of quotes from this and her other book The Dance of Anger in my other blog. There's a link at the top of this blog and I try to post quotations every Friday. I tag/label the posts by the author's names so if you search for an author by tag, you should find her easily.


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