What is intimacy and why is it so important?
Intimacy is about being emotionally close to your partner, about being able to let your guard down, and let him or her know how you really feel. Intimacy is also about being able to accept and share in your partner's feelings, about being there when he/she wants to let their defences down.
To be able to share our 'inner-world' with a partner we love, and to be able to share our partner's experiences, is one of the most rewarding aspects of a relationship.
Intimacy often doesn't need words, but being able to put feelings and experiences into words makes intimacy more likely to occur. Intimacy involves being able to share the whole range of feelings and experiences we have as human beings - pain and sadness, as well as happiness and love.
Most of us, however, find it easier to share some types of feelings than others. For example, are you and your partner able to let each other know how you feel about each other?
Saying 'I love you' is important. Assuming your partner knows about your love because of the way you behave is usually not enough.
- How do you feel when you are sad, a little depressed, in need of some comforting and reassurance? Are you able to let yourself be dependent and to receive some nurturing? Is this balanced in your relationship, or is one partner the 'strong one' who never needs to show any vulnerability? If so, is this really how you want things to be in your relationship?
- How do you feel about yourself? - when you've taken a bit of a knock and are feeling small and 'put down', or when you've achieved something that makes you feel good about yourself.
- How do you feel about sex? - what you like and don't like in your love-making, and about how your sexual relationship could be made more enjoyable for you.
- Do you really know what your partner thinks and feels, or do you have to guess and 'mind-read?' Are you able to be open with your partner, or do you feel that your partner would not be able to accept some of your feelings?
Intimacy is a journey of discovery in a relationship
Many couples start out their relationship sensing they have achieved a new dimension of intimacy which they have not experienced before. They are in love, it is exciting, and they cannot imagine a greater degree of intimacy.
Yet, as the years pass and couples go through some of the highs and lows in their relationship, they discover a series of deeper levels in their intimacy. Each discovery makes the relationship more rewarding and fulfilling.
How can I achieve a greater level of intimacy in my relationship?
Intimacy does not happen by magic. It must be built up over time. This takes some people longer than others. Often the harder you work at intimacy, the more valuable and rewarding it is. The following are some steps that may help.
- Be positive about what you have in your relationship and let your partner know what you value about him/her and about the relationship. Put it into words, don't assume they already know. Everybody likes to be told that they are appreciated and loved.
- Create opportunities for intimacy. Make times when you can be alone together in a situation where you can focus on each other and on your relationship. The harder it is to do this because of the children, work or other commitments, the more important it is that you do it! Try to plan a regular evening, day or weekend for the two of you to be alone.
- Practise making "I" statements about how you feel. This avoids putting your partner on the spot, and may help him or her do the same. For example "I feel hurt you didn't ask me before you decided" instead of "Why didn't you ask me first?"
- After an argument look at the deeper feeling behind the anger, hurt, anxiety, or your sense of being let down. Talk to your partner about these feelings and ask about their feelings.
Achieving intimacy is not always easy, and sometimes help is needed. Consider doing a course or workshop for couples with Relationships Australia. Couples are not expected to share personal matters with other participants. The courses combine activities couples complete together with opportunities to discuss important issues about their relationship. Couples do not have to be married to attend.
Sometimes the issues are too complex, or the feelings too painful or confusing, for talking together to be successful. Counselling can, at these times, be of great value.
A relationships counsellor acts as an independent guide to help the couple talk things through. The presence of the counsellor makes it possible to say the things that are otherwise too hard to put into words.
If you feel your relationship has changed and you are concerned, consider talking to a counsellor.
It makes good sense to spend a little time talking to someone about your concerns instead of waiting until things get worse.