Sharing your deepest—sometimes darkest—thoughts and feelings with someone is just one of the ways that you can build intimacy in a relationship. But, if the idea of telling your partner about Loli, the imaginary friend you created during your parent’s divorce, leaves you feeling exposed in the worst way, no worries. There are plenty of other ways to build intimacy in a relationship!
The objective of intimacy is to build closeness and solidify a bond with another person. Though how you create and express that intimacy is a uniquely individual experience. For one person, it means they are allowing someone to meet their inner circle (friends, family, etc.). For another, it can mean engaging in a philosophical conversation about which John Wick movie was the best.
So, how do you build intimacy in a relationship?
Before we get into the different types of intimacy styles, let me be explicit.
Intimacy and sex are not synonyms.
So, while intimacy can lead to fantastic sex, it’s possible to have one without the other. Recognizing your style and that of others will help you tremendously in all relationships, not just romantic ones.
Types of Intimacy
Experiential: Created through shared experiences.
Intellectual: Getting to know how someone thinks and sharing ideas and philosophical viewpoints on who you are and life.
Emotional: Sharing personal details that you would not be comfortable telling many people or strangers.
Physical: Creating a closeness between bodies. Does not have to be sexual in nature, like when you lean on your friend’s shoulder to tell them about your terrible week.
Spiritual: Can include religious beliefs, but also core values (i.e., kindness). You may have a shared mission for how you want to live your lives.
Fear of Intimacy and Commitment
I used to be so scared of commitment! The very idea of allowing myself to get closer to someone and develop feelings—or my least favorite four-letter word—a need for them almost broke me out in hives. I would panic anytime I felt love’s gravitational pull.
The fear of commitment comes from the fear of loss. You’re afraid of losing someone you love if it doesn’t work out, your freedom, the ability to choose a better mate, etc.
Here’s what I learned about commitment:
The Odds of a Relationship Lasting
There’s a 50/50 chance that a relationship will work out. If you’re lucky, maybe a 60/40 percent chance in your favor. However, if you’re not even willing to try, you’re guaranteed a loss. And yes, not taking the risk does feel just as bad as losing.
Freedom Within a Relationship
In the right relationship, you will never feel like you’re losing your freedom. The right person will support you, enhance your experiences, and help you build the life you both want.
The right person is a partner, not a prison sentence.
Choices Outside of Your Relationship
You can ALWAYS choose a different partner.
If you fear choosing the wrong partner, you probably aren’t open enough to get to know one another and truly see if you’re compatible. I’m not encouraging you to go into every relationship ready to pull the ripcord. However, knowing there’s always an out is a comforting thought at the beginning of a relationship.
How do you create intimacy with someone new?
*Insert awkward silence*
There’s no singular way to bond with someone, but the best way to get to know someone new is through experiential intimacy. Because an activity serves as a built-in buffer, you don’t really need to share too much of yourself. As time goes on, and your level of comfort and trust deepens, you will seal your friendship or relationship through other forms of intimacy, but this takes time.
Pacing is essential at the beginning. If you take liberties with someone before they’ve given you the green light, you will fail miserably. Someone trying to sleep with you during the first hour of your date may turn you off. Yet, if that same person tried after giving you enough time to develop an interest, you’d probably be all over it—and them. What you perceive as a lack of interest may be a matter of giving your partner more time to catch up. As long as things are progressing, you’re golden.
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Intimacy Issues In Marriage
One 2017 study found 15% of married couples reported sexlessness in the past year. However, sexlessness does not necessarily mean that these couples would agree that they lack intimacy. As I said, intimacy and sex are not synonyms.
However, it seems that for a lot of spouses, a lack of physical intimacy is due to a lack of connection through other means.
Experiential: Responsibilities, milestones, finances, etc. are not divided equally or responded to in the same way.
Intellectual: Couples no longer engage in conversations or have difficulty finding new topics to discuss.
Emotional: One or both spouses no longer feel safe to share their feelings or that believe their partner will not be responsive.
Physical: Well, we know how that’s going.
Spiritual: Couples may be heading in different directions on their values.
Is intimacy important in a marriage? YES!
With increasing responsibilities with work, kids, finances, and life in general, it can be challenging to connect one-on-one. Restarting your marriage—or keeping it alive—means each of you will need to own up to how you contribute to the current dynamic.
Here are some intimacy tips to help you get started:
Be honest with your partner about what you want and how they are making you feel. Be upfront about your fears because you need to leave it all on the table or risk losing your relationship. Do not make the assumptions that they already know or understand how you feel. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t intentionally hurting you.
You may not always agree with how your partner is feeling. That’s alright; it isn’t your place to decide whether or not your partner’s feelings are valid.
Your partner’s feelings are always valid.
You need to listen and understand why their perception is leading them to arrive at those feelings. Understanding their train of thought will help you understand and empathize with them.
Disclose Your Own Feelings and Needs
You can not expect your partner to open up to you if you aren’t willing to do the same. So, if you want to increase intimacy, you may need to take the lead and show them how it’s done. Of course, this should be done at a pace you’re comfortable with, but don’t forget about pacing. Sharing too much too soon may come across as a red flag to your partner.
Quotes for Building Intimacy in a Relationship
It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy;—it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
There is no intimacy without vulnerability. Yet another powerful example of vulnerability as courage.Brené Brown
One thing I do know about intimacy is that there are certain natural laws which govern the sexual experience of two people, and that these laws cannot be budged any more than gravity can be negotiated with. To feel physically comfortable with someone else’s body is not a decision you can make. It has very little to do with how two people think or act or talk or even look. The mysterious magnet is either there, buried somewhere deep behind the sternum, or it is not. When it isn’t there (as I have learned in the past, with heartbreaking clarity) you can no more force it to exist than a surgeon can force a patient’s body to accept a kidney from the wrong donor. My friend Annie says it all comes down to one simple question: “Do you want your belly pressed against this person’s belly forever –or not?Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.John Joseph Powell, The Secret of Staying in Love
Most people are slow to champion love because they fear the transformation it brings into their lives. And make no mistake about it: love does take over and transform the schemes and operations of our egos in a very mighty way.Aberjhani
True love is not a hide and seek game: in true love, both lovers seek each other.Michael Bassey Johnson
Intimacy is a totally different dimension. It is allowing the other to come into you, to see you as you see yourself.Osho
Intimacy is not something that just happens between two people; it is a way of being alive. At every moment, we are choosing either to reveal ourselves or to protect ourselves, to value ourselves or to diminish ourselves, to tell the truth or to hide. To dive into life or to avoid it. Intimacy is making the choice to be connected to, rather than isolated from, our deepest truth at that moment.Geneen Roth
My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.Maya Angelou