Think about the last few movies you watched… or television shows… or books you read. What kind of relationship did the main characters have? Chances are good they were either falling in love or falling out of it.
Popular culture presents us very few examples of what an actual intimate relationship looks like. Most entertainment today focuses on one of two points in a relationship: the romance, or the conflict that comes after “the thrill is gone.” There is another aspect of relationships that we seldom see, and is something we do want to achieve. We have few models as to how to get there, or how to maintain it when we arrive. That something is intimacy.
What Is Intimacy?
Intimacy and intimate relationships are often misdefined and misunderstood. There is the belief and fantasy that intimate relationships are supposed to be peaceful, happy and conflict-free, and anything else is a failure. I would suggest that is far from the truth.
True and authentic intimate relationships are, among other things, a container for growth and healing. They are safe spaces in which you can learn about yourself and your friend/family member/partner. They lead you to search yourself for needs that may not have been met in previous relationships and to learn the often unconscious ways you try to have them met.
How Does It Happen?
In the beginning of a relationship, there is fun and excitement, talking and a feeling that you can tell this person anything and they will understand; you feel that you are so much alike. In a romantic relationship, there is also touching, holding, kissing and sexual activity/passion. It is all so easy and natural.
This may also be the beginning of intimacy. True or authentic intimacy takes time to create. It is developed out of trust and through time. It comes from a process of discovering yourself, the other person, and the relationship. It is far more complicated that the first flush of romance.
Are My Relationships Intimate?
Since there are few models of intimate relationships available today, we have to do much of the work ourselves to determine whether we have reached an intimate space within any relationship. It also means we get to decide our own path to maintain and/or grow the connection that works for us, without being compared to an external ideal.
5 categories of Intimacy
One way to start to consider intimacy is to divide it into 5 categories. As you read each of these, consider where your closest relationships – both friends and romance – are in each category.
1. Emotional: In the romance stage, it feels safe to share your feelings – all of them, the happy, sad, mad and afraid feelings. You empathize, try to understand and accept their feelings as a part of who they are. As the relationship grows it becomes harder to show your feelings because you begin to reach deeper inside.
What you have to share is related to past and present pain. Empathy becomes harder to express when the feelings come from issues in the relationship and your own personal need and pain.
2. Cognitive/intellectual: In the beginning of a relationship you feel as though you are so similar that you even think alike. It is easy to talk about what you think because you usually agree. As time passes, there will be more individuality emerging and disagreements will occur.
Cognitive intimacy is the ability to hear and respect one another’s opinions, ideas and thoughts when you don’t agree. You are able to enjoy the ways you are alike and different.
3. Activity/experiences: Sharing activities, causes and experiences and supporting one another is important in intimacy. This may not involve a lot of talking or direct interaction. It includes being a spectator and fan of your partner’s activities. This could be a sports activity, a fundraiser or a hobby.
4. Sexual: This is the area of intimacy that usually comes to mind first. “Is the sex good?” is one of the first questions we ask. Sexual intimacy is much broader than intercourse. It includes any form of sensual/sensuous activity where you share your feelings, reactions, and thoughts about your interactions.
5. Personal Growth: An intimate relationship is the container in which most personal growth and healing occurs. Because the wounds of the past and unmet needs emerge in intimate relationships, it is an important part of a relationship. It is as you grow in your relationship that you can begin to get your needs and wants meet in direct ways that are kind, loving and respectful to yourself and your partner. This kind of relationship leads to a happier and more satisfying life.
Are you struggling with intimacy in your relationships? I can help you
find a way to feel safer inside of yourself so that you can be close to others.