Notes on intimacy

What's does intimacy mean?

Most adults understand the idea of intimacy to be that of a special bond, or 'feeling', that is generated, expressed and acknowledged by two partners. The expression of intimacy may take many forms but usually includes sensual, erotic or sexual touch, the sharing and revealing of personal thoughts and an understanding that it is these elements that differentiate this relationship from a good friendship. These 'feelings' of intimacy cannot be rushed or forced, as this state of closeness demands that both adults be willing and able to gradually engage in the process of becoming available to and for each other.


How do we experience intimacy?

People often express a sense of intimacy using words or phrases such as 'a quiet warmth', 'contentment' and 'general wellbeing'. Adults find themselves at ease with each other, desiring of each other and available to their partners. This sense of 'availability' is one of the most important factors here, but what do I mean?
It is all to easy to assume I am only talking about sexual availability, but being able, willing and present to listen in a focussed way to something your partner wants to talk about, can be the most intimate behaviour by which two loving adults can express care toward each other. This instils a sense of being valued and appreciated by the partner who is talking and reflects an open expression of interest from the partner attentively listening.

How does intimacy challenge us?

Growing to be, and remaining aware, of the importance of intimacy may challenge many adults. Before we can become vulnerable to another, we must have a sense of stability within ourselves. We must have the capacity to 'self-sooth', in other words to take care of our own emotional state and wellbeing. An adult state of intimacy does not require one adult demanding the attention and care of the other. It is not about one partner relinquishing the responsibility for his or her own development to the other. Both adults can only experience this deepened emotional state when they recognise the inherent elements of vulnerability within it, and can tolerate this degree of openness.

Does intimacy matter in relationships?

Certainly relationships can function well without, or with lowered levels, of intimacy. Many couples quietly, and sometimes from a less 'conscious' place, settle at a level of closeness that feels right and tolerable for themselves. Both partners experience all the positive aspects mentioned regarding contentment and so on. The difficulty arises when two individuals are in different developmental places regarding their ability to look after themselves and, as a result, offer differing levels of availability toward each other. This may have been the situation at the start of the relationship or it may only have become evident over time. It is at fracture points such as these that many couples seek help to understand why things suddenly feel so uncertain and somehow out of step.

Can we further discover, or re-discover, intimacy in our relationship?

The simple answer to this perennial dilemma is yes... BUT... only if each partner is willing to consider their own position and contribution to the lack of intimacy and both seek to positively develop themselves. Rather than ask how long something may take to change or fix, the question is more reflecting on ones self... How can I change the relationship dynamic? What have I brought or not brought to the area of communication? If I'm honest with myself, what have I avoided discussing? This is not about self-judgment, nor finding weakness in the relationship, but rather, making a courageous attempt to shift the sands of our own emotional landscape, for it is on this adventure that two willing, forgiving and kind partners can find what we might describe as deepened closeness.

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