Relationship Advice on Intimacy

Intimacy is the closeness of your relationship with another person —  emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, sexually, and in many other ways. Intimacy is one of many important aspects to a romantic relationship. Attaining intimacy is a process that occurs over time and is never completed or fully accomplished. Partners who desire deep and lasting relationships nurture the intimacy between them over the course of the relationship, not just in the early stages.  

Abundant research exists showing the positive relationship between marriage and health. Long term, committed relationships contribute to a myriad of positive health benefits. Developing long-lasting intimate relationships is conducive to both happiness and health. Intimacy can take many forms; emotional intimacy is the closeness created through sharing feelings. Because females are encouraged to recognize and express their emotions from an early age, women generally understand emotions better than men. Unfortunately, society tends to discourage men from feeling or showing emotion. Men who didn’t learn how to be emotionally intimate while growing up can learn as adults. Men who pursue emotional expression increase the quality of relationship with their partners.

Intimacy and Emotional Awareness

The first step to emotional awareness is to pay attention to your feelings, identify them, and think of possible reasons for them. Identify the differences between strong emotions such as terror and fury and the differences between more subtle emotions such as anxiety, insecurity, and irritation.

Emotional intimacy can occur once individuals know what they are feeling, convey those feelings to each other, and express concern and understanding of their feelings to each other.

Intellectual intimacy involves a mutual understanding about the important issues in your relationship, and sharing information/thoughts/convictions regarding life issues. Setting goals together is one way to further this intimacy. For example, you might set goals to improve your communication, to save a certain amount of money, or to work-out together. Spiritual intimacy involves sharing religious or spiritual beliefs and observing these practices together. As you share spiritual experiences, you will become united in your attitudes and goals.

Recreational intimacy is enjoying activities together, like running, golfing, or reading. Things as simple as watching a movie, planning a trip or preparing a meal together can be good ways to build recreational intimacy. Sexual intimacy is one of the most important dimensions of healthy romantic relationships. Healthy sexual intimacy includes sexual frequency that both partners are satisfied with, sexual activities both partners enjoy, and an open dialogue. A common sexual concern is differing levels of interest in sex. Happier couples tend to agree in their definition of sexual satisfaction and have fewer worries about their sex lives than unhappy couples. Many couples have difficulty discussing sexual issues.

Relationships with healthy intimacy have several factors in common, including the following:

Tenderness includes gentle expressions of caring. Through touch, emotional presence and conversation you can express your love to your partner. This affectionate contact is essential in building intimacy. Acceptance is unconditional approval in a relationship. No one is perfect, but acceptance means not holding weaknesses against one another. If you find yourself frequently pointing out your partner’s faults, work on focusing instead on the qualities you fell in love with.

Open communication is the ability to discuss anything with each other. It includes sincere expression of thoughts and feelings as well as careful listening. Signs of poor communication include feeling reluctant to share the events of your day or being unwilling to listen when your partner is explaining how he or she feels.

Showing Compassion to Your Partner

Compassion is genuine concern for your partner’s well-being. If you do things you know hurt each other, you will not have healthy intimacy. You can develop a more caring heart and mind by learning to think of each other’s feelings before your own. Always ask yourself before acting or speaking, “If I do this or say this, will I hurt my partner?” Boundaries are the limits you place on a relationship. The limits can be created individually and as a couple. These limits include saying “no” when your partner asks you to do something that goes against your values or is more than you can handle. Setting firm, clear boundaries for yourself and respecting the boundaries of your partner create feelings of safety and trust. You become even more of a safe person for each other. The ability to apologize is critically important in all relationships we value. Recognizing mistakes, taking responsibility for them, expressing remorse for any hurt caused, and making a commitment to change the hurtful behavior are all essential to repairing hurt after a mistake. For couples who have created a chasm of hurts that separate them, offering a sincere and humble apology is the first step in building a bridge over that chasm. Even if you believe that your partner made the mistake, you can begin the healing by finding something you did that calls for an apology. Mutual trust builds a sense of security for both of you. You can show it by having no desire to injure your spouse in any way. Though you might unintentionally cause hurt, you won’t hurt one another on purpose.

Forgiveness and Growth

Forgiveness is the FIRST step to healing. Healing follows forgiveness. It is the process of letting go of anger, desire for revenge, and obsessive thinking about times your spouse has hurt you. It includes giving your partner permission to have weaknesses, make mistakes, and change. Seeing the goodness and strengths of each other along with the weaknesses can open emotional space for good will to build toward your spouse. Forgiveness does not automatically create trust or reconciliation, nor does it mean you approve of bad behavior. But it is an important early step toward rebuilding a fractured relationship.

When we think of intimacy, we might think we can’t get too much of a good thing. But sometimes partners forget the need for separate time and may spend too much time together. If either person feels guilty about spending any free time alone or with friends, he or she might begin to feel constrained in the relationship. Usually this feeling doesn’t mean love has diminished, only that a healthy sense of self has gotten lost.

Most intimacy needs can be met through a spouse or significant other, but no one person can meet all our needs. A husband, for example, might find his wife wonderful confidante for his insecurities and dreams but not a good companion for sports events. For a night at the hockey rink, he’ll need to go with a brother or friends. A wife may need a regular night out with friends so she can do things that don’t interest her husband, like shopping or scrap-booking.

Healthy intimacy includes pursuing some of your own interests, independent of your spouse and encouraging your spouse to do the same. Individuality should not get in the way of building intimacy, but should increase the relational health as each person fully develops who they are. Spending reasonable time on personal interests helps each partner be happier and to deepen the relationship.

Respect and Independence

The respect for each other’s individuality prevents over-dependence. When one person is extremely dependent on the other, resentment and feeling burdened may occur. The goal is that each person chooses to be together, rather than being so dependent the relationship is a necessity. Over-dependence may lead partners to become tired and resentful of carrying the burden for the other’s happiness. Over-dependence creates feelings of powerlessness and weakness because your happiness is in someone else’s hands.

Over-developed independence is also unhealthy because it causes individuals to feel unneeded and lonely. Interdependence is a balance between over-dependence. In an interdependent relationship, partners feel needed without being overburdened. They feel a sense of freedom and power, understanding that their happiness is in their control and not in the hands of another person. There is a healthy balance between individuality and attachment.

Intimacy is an important part of a vibrant, loving relationship. Intimacy can be experienced at many levels, including physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, financial and recreational. Intimacy is nurtured through mutual trust, tenderness, acceptance, open communication, caring, apologies, forgiveness and respecting boundaries. Couples can work together to increase their intimacy in each area as they build their life together through the years.

Trying Couples Therapy

If you’re looking to build one of the areas of intimacy in your relationship, a great place to start is with our relationship advice. Another great option is to see a psychotherapist to begin couples therapy. It’s a great way to communicate in an open environment that is welcoming and forgiving. If you believe couples therapy can help you and your relationship, don’t hesitate to contact our psychotherapist for an appointment today.