Emotional intimacy is a foundational aspect of all great relationships. The word “intimacy” refers to the experience of being fully seen and comes from the Latin “intimus” meaning innermost. When we share this experience with another, we feel whole, complete, and at one with the world. Yet we often fear that which we most desire, and in the case of emotional intimacy this is all too often the case. Intimacy requires an unmasking of our public image and a disarming of the defenses that we normally utilize to protect ourselves from the vulnerability that exposes us to the possibility of pain, rejection or hurt feelings. This desire to experience the feelings of deep connectedness is often the primary motivator for engagement in romantic relationships. Consequently it’s not surprising that so many of us find ourselves in the conundrum of both desiring and resisting deep connection in our lives.
Fortunately, despite these ambivalent feelings and desires, it is possible to bring greater intimacy (both in terms of quantity and quality) into our lives. The experience of intimacy is not one that can be brought forth by demand, but can be invited to arise when certain conditions are in place in a relationship. These conditions include:
Feelings of emotional safety: When we feel trust that our partner supports our well being and has no unspoken or unacknowledged agenda we are less likely to feel the need for the emotional protection that inhibits openness.
No incompletions: Incompletions occur when “unfinished business” is neglected, causing both partners to feel uneasy or fearful of activating unresolved differences. This can promote feelings of anxiety or defensiveness, which inhibit vulnerability.
Responsibility: When someone feels the need or the desire for more intimacy, it’s helpful if they can take responsibility for taking the initiative to make that desire known to their partner rather than believing that if the other doesn’t initiate contact that they are not open to it. Repeated failure to connect can result in feelings of resentment or frustration that could diminish the depth of appreciation and affection in the relationship. It’s always best to express one’s desire without blame or judgment.
Shared intention: This refers to an understanding on the part of both partners to agree upon a time in which they can be together with a shared intention of experiencing a deeper connection and greater emotional closeness. This intention can be overt or implicit.
No distractions: It’s important that both partners trust that there will be no interruptions to the time that they have set aside to experience closeness with each other. This means shutting off the phone, the TV, closing the bedroom door, and deactivating anything else that could distract them from the experience of being fully present with each other. Real intimacy means giving your full and undivided attention to each other during the time in which you have agreed to be together.
Sex? Intimacy may or may not include sex. When there is a prearranged time for it, it is helpful if there is an understanding as to whether the experience will be sexual, non-sexual, or open to the possibilities. There should be no coercion in this negotiation, although gentle persuasion is fine, provided that it’s done respectfully and the persuader can take “no” for an answer.
Honesty: Contrary to what many people may think, intimate experiences aren’t limited to gushing expressions of love and devotion. They also include a willingness to express the full range of feelings that may be present with each partner at a given time. What promotes intimate connections is honesty, delivered with respect and sensitivity and without blame or judgment. The counterpart of this willingness to experience and speak one’s truth is the willingness to receive the truth non-reactively, without interrupting or being defensive. Easier said than done, but well worth the effort.
Physical contact: Intimate connection may also involve non-sexual forms of physical contact that convey feelings of affection, care, appreciation, or other positive emotions.
Presence: The quality of our connection with another has everything to do with how present we are in our own body, and how receptive we are to the input that comes into our experience through our senses, our mind, and our intuition. When we are not present in the moment with ourselves, we’re not able to deeply connect with another.
Gratitude: Nothing deepens and affirms an experience like gratitude. Even if some of our communications have been difficult to speak or hear, it is likely that there has been value in our shared willingness to engage in the dialogue. Thanking our partner for their willingness to take the time and give their attention to invest in our relationship makes the possibility of future intimate interactions much more likely.
Relationships and people require intimacy in order to thrive. When we make the effort to give attention to bringing the conditions into our relationship that encourage and promote intimacy, it’s not only our relationships that benefit but our lives in general. And as a result, so do the lives of all of the others with whom we engage. A good time to start could be today. There is, after all, no time like the present!