What is Intimacy? Is it tender and emotional sex each and every time? Is it sharing everything with one another? Is it constant closeness and togetherness? Popular belief says that those things make up intimacy, but that’s misleading AND unrealistic in a long-term partnership. For how could we possibly be together with our partner all the time? Quit work, neglect the kids, and abandon our responsibilities? Of course not. And sharing absolutely everything isn’t the ideal either. We know that too much familiarity dampens eroticism.
Couples therapy promotes intimacy but it certainly needs defining first. Yet, before I do that, I’m going to say more about what intimacy is NOT. Here are three pretty obvious ways to know when you are not in intimate connection with your partner. In fact, these actions are common and ineffective means of dealing with difficult emotions that sometimes arise in relationships…
1. Being preoccupied with changing something about your partner
2. Reacting in a habitual (often defensive) way to your partner
3. Exiting the partnership (doing things to get away from or avoid your partner)
Instead, intimacy is allowing your essence, your soul or spirit, to be seen by your partner. This means being open and vulnerable about what you truly think and feel but doing so without a motive or agenda. It also means allowing your true self to be present and show up fully in any situation, including during sex. You’re conscious and aware. And when your partner is available in an open and vulnerable way with you, you remain curious, non judgmental, and try to be understanding. You’re focused on what your partner is saying rather than on your thoughts about what he/she is saying. You’re in the present moment rather than focused on the past or future. This includes when difficult emotions arise.
It’s a myth that closeness occurs only when partners are feeling happy and peaceful together. Closeness can also occur when painful emotions are present and handled with vulnerability, understanding and empathy. This can be very hard to do at first, especially when one partner may be feeling hurt, sad, lonely, or rejected. Often our first instinct is to do one or more of those three behaviors I listed earlier. Remember – those behaviors hamper closeness and intimacy. Instead, sharing painful feelings in a healthy way can build a relationship and deepen intimacy.
Here are three ways to practice intimacy and closeness…
1. Ask for an Imago Dialogue (the structure to talk and listen in an open, understanding way)
2. Learn to tolerate your own painful emotions and to contain your reactions when your partner is bearing his or her soul to you
3. Learn to give and receive love in various ways (via your body, your words, and your actions).
When you view intimacy this way, you’ll have an accurate and realistic picture of what it is. All humans need closeness with at least one other person. It is my hope that you use these guidelines to get started or to deepen intimacy with the person you love most in the world.