What is Intimacy?

When I meet with a couple for the first time, often one partner says “I don’t feel close to her anymore” or “I don’t feel like he finds me attractive anymore.” Or both might say they don’t feel connected anymore.

That’s when I ask each partner what they think intimacy means. Many times they look confused and admit they really don’t know. Although they do realize that it’s missing and they need to find it again.

What’s the Real Problem?

For many new moms it’s lack of time. With every moment taken up with either housework or taking care of baby, they end up exhausted both from too much to do as well as  the lack of sleep, especially if the new mom is also working outside the home. Is it any wonder that communication and intimacy fall by the way side if a couple does not make a conscious effort to hold onto it? And when that goes, so does intimacy and desire.

Intimacy has two aspects: emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy.

In essence, intimacy is feeling safe and emotionally close to someone. You can feel emotionally close to friends, brothers, and sisters, parents, mentors and children. But it is that special feeling of oneness and being connected that defines intimacy between married and or committed couples.

In a committed relationship, lack of intimacy drains these special feelings of love, togetherness, closeness. Whatever the cause (sexual problems, communication issues, affairs, etc) regaining  intimacy is critical in repairing a relationship where one partner has started to withdraw and the couple feel like they are living together as roommates rather than good friends and lovers.

Even though they may get along fine in taking care of their children, doing household tasks, taking care of finances, etc, the couple knows that something is missing. When they are alone, something is gone.  And even though they know something is wrong, sometimes they don’t want to say anything because if they confront the situation, they may have to deal with the consequences. So many couples live together under the same roof knowing in their heart, something is missing. Yet they keep pushing the thought away to avoid addressing what’s really bothering them.

Truth is, it’s not always easy to regain intimacy. Sometimes the couple needs to seek a  trained couples therapist to get them back on track. Seeing a therapist early rather than later offers the greatest benefit. Since you’ve had a baby or another child and have invested a lot of time and energy in your relationship, calling it quits should never be your first option. As soon as you notice a change in your relationship, realize it’s never too late to begin making things better.

Let’s take a look at why people get married or decide to live together in the first place? Because their parents did? Because they think they’re supposed to? Actually , most people get married so they can experience that feeling of oneness, intimacy and connectedness to another human being, often in the hope they can experience what they see in the moves or other couples they know.

But what is this thing called “intimacy” that people seem to long for so much? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines intimacy as “the fact or condition of being intimate, a close acquaintance, closeness, a familiar or intimate act, familiarity, and a euphemism for sexual relations”.  However, intimacy has been used in to mean so many things that its true meaning has been all but lost.

Real intimacy involves an entire range of feelings between two people. It means sharing everything from fears, faults, sadness, and vulnerabilities to joys, strengths, and talents. Therefore, an intimate couple shares their deepest feelings with each other. They can tell their partner anything and yet feel safe knowing that they won’t be criticized or shamed. That they can let their hair down and be themselves.

Yes, maybe the other person will not agree or not understand but the safety each feels allows such honesty, which in turn strengthens the relationship. It goes hand in hand with respect and trust. Without these three elements, a relationship can become unstable when life hits a bump and partners who do not feel safe, often withdraw and don’t feel heard or respected.

One of my clients said, “When my husband had an affair after our second child, I lost all trust in him. I couldn’t feel close and it was hard for us to repair our marriage because I lost all respect for him, too. On the other hand, I didn’t realize how I had been treating him and because we really never talked or listened to each other, he felt rejected. I wish he had come and talked to me, but because we had no emotional intimacy that didn’t happen. We just went about our day taking care of things. Learning to rebuild all of that will be the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do.”

Another barrier for some couples is the fear of loss of individualism if they become too intimate. This can cause severe problems because if you’re overly protective of your personal boundaries, then you’ll likely have a hard time feeling close or really sharing your life with your partner. If this describes you, please read this next sentence carefully. True intimacy doesn’t involve a loss of self. It means always having the freedom to express your feelings, without fear of reprisal.

In fact, true intimacy helps you become stronger and more confident because you have the gift of complete acceptance by your partner. A truly intimate couple accepts differences in opinions, ideas, likes and dislikes, attitudes and beliefs. They don’t have to always agree because each person respects the other’s right to individual thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Once couples realize they won’t lose who they are in the relationship and can express their own likes, dislikes, thoughts and feelings with their partners, they open up to making the effort to stay together and become happier and show more respect for one another. As a result, they grow closer and stronger as a couple.

Their bond is strong enough to withstand opinions that may seem quirky or offbeat at times, to accept each other’s weaknesses along with their strengths and special talents. They support, love and accept each other, regardless of whether they disagree.

So is intimacy important to you? I really hope so. Because there is nothing more important than to be loved and love in return.

Just remember that true intimacy doesn’t happen overnight. It is achieved when you realize that every conversation, every moment, every encounter that the two of you have will bring you closer together.

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