Intimacy is the most natural, effortless experience two people can have and yet it is also very difficult for many people to experience and to maintain in long-term relationships and marriage.
Intimacy can be experienced in different ways including through touch, verbally, sexually and eye contact. However, touching, talking, lovemaking and eye contact are necessarily intimate. We have all had conversations that weren’t intimate or been touched in ways that weren’t intimate. Who hasn’t had sex that wasn’t very intimate? The degree of intimacy experienced in any situation is determined by the degree of openness and engagement each person brings to the interaction.
The essence of intimacy between lovers is the experience of really being with one another, the keyword being ‘being’. The more we can really let ourselves be, the more we can really let ourselves be with another person. Our sense of being is our sense of presence. Our ability to be aware in the here and now to our inner experience and to our immediate experience of our partner determines how intimate we feel.
Intimacy depends on honesty, and the honesty begins within yourself. You can only be as honest with someone else as you are with yourself. We feel closest to the people we have secrets with and most distant from the people we keep secrets from.
People have a hard time being honest with themselves and others when they fear the ramifications of their actions, feelings and desires, or they think what they are experiencing is wrong, or they fear the other person will judge them negatively. To allow ourselves to experience greater intimacy often feels like a risk. It means admitting things to ourselves that we may have learned to deny. Then opening up to another person, knowing they may not respond in kind or like what we share with them.
There can be intimacy at different levels of experience.
- Intimacy can come with the sharing of ideas. This occurs when people are openly sharing their ideas and are open-minded to hearing the other’s ideas.
- Intimacy can come with the sharing of emotions. This occurs when people are openly sharing their emotions and are open-hearted to hearing their partner’s emotions.
- Intimacy can happen in sharing a hug. This occurs when each person allows their heart to open and body awareness to enjoy the warmth and human presence of their partner.
- Intimacy can happen with any sort of touch, but the touch is only as intimate as the presence in the touch and the presence the touch is received. This is also true for sexual touching and intercourse.
Routine is a great dampener to intimacy. Intimacy is always fresh and in the moment. Intimacy is lost when we are going through the motions of what we shared before. Intimacy occurs when we are open to the uniqueness of this moment and what is arising within us in relation to the other.
It is common for couples to become less intimate over time. This generally occurs when the idea of being together has become more important than the quality of their being together. For fear of upsetting their partner they are less honest with things that might be bothering them or asking them for something that is out of the ordinary. Everyone has limits on how comfortable they are with intimacy.
Overtime we exhaust the novel ways we can easily share with our partners. For intimacy to continue it must deepen. What was an intimate sharing at one time eventually becomes just an old story, or a broken record emotion or a worn out sexual routine. However the degree of intimacy is not determined necessarily by what we say or do, but the degree of presence we do it with. Saying ‘I love you’, gazing into your partner’s eyes or sharing a hug are simple activities that can feel dead or really come alive depending how much of ourselves we bring to those moments.
To become more intimate with our partners we must become more intimate with ourselves. We must be willing to find out who were are when we are not caught in the social conditioning we have adopted to adapt to living in a world that has not always been receptive to our speaking, expressing and acting what is true for us. People who grow up with parents that are more concerned with obedient behaviour and keeping up with appearances will have more difficulty being intimate than people whose parents were genuinely concerned about their children’s uniqueness and emotional well-being.
The desire for intimacy is the desire to know and experience ourselves deeply and to be known and experienced deeply by another. This is simple because it requires our simply being ourselves in close proximity to another, but it is one of the most difficult things for us to do because it requires us to face all the shame, fear, hurt and resentment that get in our way of open and undefended relating with ourselves and others.
To support intimacy in your relationship
- Make time to be together.
- Commit to being honest.
- See your relationship as a vehicle for getting to know yourself and heal old emotional wounds.
- Practise bringing your full attention to your heart and hands when you touch or hug.
- Take time on your own to meditate or write in a journal, and then share with your partner what you get in touch with.
- Play and have fun together.
- Make gentle eye contact, let your mind settle and allow for silence.
- Show your vulnerability.
- Ask for what you want and ask your partner what you can do for them.
- Hug until relaxed and keep relaxing until you enjoy the hug.
- If you don’t feel close, let your partner know that you want to be more intimate, and share what is getting in your way. Or ask them what is getting in their way.
- Commit random acts of kindness.
- Get help from a good relationship counsellor who communicates with you and your partner in away that promotes intimacy.
- Ask your loving heart to show you the way.
Eric Lyleson established the Healing Relationships Centre in Dee Why in 1988. He is a graduate of Sonoma State University in California where he specialised in Marriage and Family Therapy and Gestalt Therapy. He has been a member of the Australian Psychological Society since 1988. He is author of Essential Wholeness, Integral Psychotherapy, Spiritual Awakening and the Enneagram and the eco-psychology book Reflections from Down Under, Getting Lost and Finding Yourself in Nature.
Share this post