When I ask individuals or couples to define intimacy, they frequently associate intimacy with some form of sex. Sex can be intimate, but intimacy need not be sexual, romantic or even involving physical affection.
Intimacy requires at least two people because intimacy involves sharing with an “other”. It can involve a partner, parent, co-worker, friend, even a pet! It can take various forms, depending on the type of relationship.
Intimacy is an act of sharing the innermost part of your being. Intimacy can be shared in a healthy manner when the relationship that supports it includes mutual acceptance, commitment, tenderness and trust.
You may seek intimacy in your relationships yet struggle in finding, sharing and feeling real intimacy with others. Do you find yourself asking, “Why do I still feel alone even when I’m with someone?”
The answer may have to do with risk. One of the fundamental components of intimacy is the willingness to allow yourself to be vulnerable. If you fear vulnerability, then you fear intimacy even though you may long for it.
Intimate sharing involves self-disclosure. You may want to tell your partner something about yourself that is private. An example might be a story about how you’re older brother repeatedly made fun of your weight when you were a kid and how this affects you now. You may no longer undress in front of anyone because you feel ashamed about your body and that you will be ridiculed.
The risk involved is that you do not know if your partner is ready to hear what you have to share and you don’t know how your partner would respond. Would your partner brush it off, think you should “just let it go”, or would your partner feel compassionate toward you?
This risk of uncertainty may prevent you in establishing honest relationships with your partner, parents or friends. Instead of revealing yourself, you walk around wearing an “everything’s okay” mask.
Stating how you really feel about something is another act of intimacy. How many times do you hold back what you might really have to say to someone? Maybe you feel lonely when you’re partner sits in front of the TV all night. Do you dare say this? Perhaps you feel loved when your partner surprises you by making dinner. Do you share that with him/her?
Whether you choose to share your anger, disappointment and hurt, or love, commitment and joy, each time you share your truth with someone, you bring intimacy into your life.
When you let others in, to experience you in who you really are, you establish true intimacy. When you give yourself permission to do this, you may find that you feel full instead of empty, connected instead of alone.
You may also find that when you genuinely share yourself with others, it gives permission for others to reveal themselves to you. From this, your relationships will feel richer and more rewarding!