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Excerpted from The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Goldhor Lerner. Copyright 1989 by Harriet Goldhor Lerner. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"Our goal will be to have relationships with both men and women that do not operate at the expense of the self, and to have a self that does not operate at the expense of the other."

Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Intimacy, Part 3

An intimate relationship is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way.

Of course, there is much more to this business of navigating separateness (the "I") and connectedness (the "we"), but I will avoid spelling it out in dry theory. The subject, in all of its complexity, will come to life in later chapters as we examine turning points in the lives of women who courageously changed their steps in relationship dances that were painful and going badly. In each case, these changes were made in the direction of defining a more whole and separate "I." In each case, this work provided the foundation for a more intimate and gratifying "we." In no case was change easy or comfortable.

In the chapters that follow, we will continue to evolve a new and more complex definition of intimacy, as well as guidelines for change that are based on a solid theory of how relationship patterns operate and why they get into trouble. The courageous acts of change that we will explore in detail are "the differences that make a difference"-the specific moves we can make with key persons in our lives that will most profoundly affect our sense of self and how we navigate closeness with others. Our goal will be to have relationships with both men and women that do not operate at the expense of the self, and to have a self that does not operate at the expense of the other. This is a tall order, or, more accurately, a lifelong challenge. But it is the heart and soul of intimacy.

Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware!)

I believe that women should approach all self-help books, including this one, with a healthy degree of skepticism. We are forever exhorted to change ourselves -- to become better wives, lovers, or mothers -- to attract men more or to need them less, to do. better at balancing work and family, or to lose those ten extra pounds. There are already more than enough books in print for women who love too much, or not enough, or in the wrong way, or with a foolishly chosen partner. Surely, we do not need more of the same. Yet just as surely, on our own behalf, we may need to become more effective agents of change in our primary relationships.

Perhaps we should first take time to contemplate why tending to relationships, like changing diapers, is predominantly women's work. Caring about relationships, working on them, and upgrading our how-to skills have traditionally been women's domain.

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