I think that intimacy is really one of the most misunderstood topics that we have inside of our relationships so hopefully this will help expand our idea of what intimacy really is and maybe give you some new ideas on how to start more conversation about that.
We all need help with this topic because no one really taught us how to be in a relationship with one another and create and sustain a connected, loving, committed, relationship over the course of decades. We certainly don’t really know what creates connection. We just think it’s togetherness and while that’s a little piece of it, it’s definitely not the whole recipe.
Intimacy is one of those pieces but there’s kind of a common misconception about what that is and what it is not. If I walked up to anyone on the street and I asked them what their definition of intimacy is, most people are going to give me a definition that has something to do with sex. Either it’s getting ready for sex or the act of sex or something along those lines. It’s almost as though we didn’t really like to say the word sex so we came up with another word for it and that ended up being the phrase “being intimate” and then we extended the definition of intimacy to include sex. That really isn’t true, because as we all know, you can have sex without intimacy and you can have intimacy without sex; but when there is sex with intimacy the closeness that you can feel with your partner is really something that’s difficult to put into words.
I want to give you a definition from one of the experts on intimacy. This is from Harriet Lerner who wrote the book The Dance of Intimacy. The way that she describes it is that intimacy means we can be who we are in the relationship and allow the other person to do the same. It requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, that we can take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we can clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us inside the relationship. We are allowed to have boundaries in our most intimate relationships. It’s actually part of the ingredients that go into creating intimacy. Allowing the other person to do the same means that we can stay emotionally connected to that other person. So even though they may think and believe differently than we do we don’t feel the need to change them, convince them that they shouldn’t feel the way that they do, or try to fix them in some way. An intimate relationship is one in which neither party sacrifices, silences, or betrays the self and each party can express their own strength and vulnerability as well as weakness in a very balanced way .
So essentially what she’s saying is that intimacy is the safe space that exists between the two of you. When you have a safe space that exists, connection and closeness can occur . So the goal is to have a relationship that doesn’t operate at the expense of the self and does not operate at the expense of the other, or your partner. The goal is two independent people who come together and create this third entity which is the marriage and you create a safe space between the two of you around that entity. Intimacy is the closeness between two people. There’s often touch that’s present and that is a piece of it but that’s not all of it. There’s a safe space where you can each be fully yourselves; all the good, bad, ugly, and know that the other person is going to be okay with that. When you feel really seeing by another human being in any close relationship that is that intimate space and a vulnerable one.
If we look at the ingredients of a loving, committed, partnership, intimacy is right up there at the top along with connection. We need connection to have intimacy but we also really need to have great communication. We’re not really great at communication and since no one’s really taught us how to do these things, this is where things sometimes go sideways within our most intimate relationship. Think about it. When you get when you got married. You were probably in your 20 or 30s and intimacy probably wasn’t the thing that you were checking off your checklist. It probably wasn’t the thing at the top of your list. You were probably looking for things like; she’s a good person, she’s a good fit, we like the same things ,I love her, she will be a good mother. It’s more like we’re trying to put puzzle pieces together that create a good fit then thinking intimacy. We think that somehow intimacy is just going to magically happen after we’re together for a long time or that it’s just something that exists or it doesn’t. That is not the case.
The good news is that although we weren’t taught about intimacy, closeness, connection, and communication those are all completely learnable. These are not things that you have or you don’t. You can always learn how to create intimacy and get better at the ingredients that create it.
So I hope that this was helpful for you and that it’s giving you a different way of thinking about what intimacy actually is in your relationship. If you would like to explore other ways to create more intimacy within your relationship or see if we are a good fit to work together in a private coaching capacity I invite you to schedule a complimentary exploratory session.