The Basics of Intimacy
The Basics of Intimacy
An intimate relationship is an interpersonal relationship that involves physical or emotional intimacy. Although an intimate relationship is commonly a sexual relationship, it may also be a non-sexual relationship involving family, friends, or acquaintances. We’ll talk about the basics of intimacy.
Intimacy means deeply knowing another person and feeling deeply known. That doesn’t happen in a conversation in a bar or during a lovely day at the beach or even at times during sex.
People often confuse it with sex. But people can be sexual without being intimate. One night stands, friends with benefits, or sex without love are examples of purely physical acts with no intimacy involved. They are what they are, but they don’t foster warmth, closeness or trust.
Intimacy is important because humans are social creatures who thrive on close personal relationships with others. While intimacy connotes images of romantic relationships, it can also occur in close friendships, parent-child relationships, and siblinghood. There are four types of intimacy:
When people bond during leisure activities. People may “sync up” their actions in teamwork or find themselves acting in unison.
- Example: A father and son work together to build a model train, developing a rhythm to their teamwork.
When people feel safe sharing their feelings with each other, even uncomfortable ones.
- Example: A woman confides in her sister about her body image issues. She trusts her sibling to offer comfort rather than using her insecurities against her.
When people feel comfortable sharing ideas and opinions, even when they disagree.
- Example: Two friends debate the meaning of life. They enjoy hearing each other’s opinions and don’t feel the need to “win” the argument.
When people engage in sensual or sexual activities. When people use the word “intimacy,” they are often referring to this type.
- Example: Two lovers engage in foreplay, knowing how each other prefers to be touched.
What Intimacy Entails:
A truly intimate relationship lets both people know on the deepest level who they each truly are. They have looked into each other’s soul and found what something they value and appreciate so much that it can withstand the inevitable differences that exist between any two individuals.
Neither person feels the need to change the other or to change themselves in fundamental ways. Oh yes, minor changes always occur when people accommodate each other to live together. But neither member of the couple thinks to him or herself, “Well — with time, I’ll get him or her to change who they are.”
Appreciation of differences:
Both understand that they don’t need to be entirely the same to be close. In fact, part of the delight of relationships is the discovery of differences and appreciation for each other’s uniqueness. Learning about each other’s points of view is seen as an opportunity to expand their worlds.
True intimacy happens when both people feel safe enough to be vulnerable. There is support for each other’s weaknesses and celebration of each other’s strengths. The couple has agreed on a definition of fidelity and both feel secure that the other will not violate that understanding.
Elephants don’t come to stay in the middle of the “room” of the relationship. Issues are confronted by both people with love, compassion and a willingness to engage with whatever problems have come up. The two work to be on the same team, solving a problem, rather than on different teams competing with each other.
Intimacy grows when people stay emotionally connected, even when there are problems to solve. It doesn’t require that either person walk on eggshells or withhold what they really think in order to stay connected.
Reasons why people fear intimacy:
- Abandonment Issues: You may fear that once you become attached to someone, that individual will leave.
- Fear of Rejection: You might worry that once you reveal any flaws or imperfections, the other person will no longer want to be with you.
- Control Issues: You may fear losing your independence as you become emotionally connected to others.
- Past Abuse: A history of childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, may make it difficult for you to trust others.