Building Intimacy in Relationships

“Intimacy requires courage because risk is inescapable.We cannot know at the outset how the relationship will affect us.” This quote by Rollo May describes how intimacy requires vulnerability as an integral aspect of healthy, sustainable relationship building. Cultivating an environment that encourages intimacy allows for individuals to witness one another holistically and without judgment. Nevertheless, couples may struggle to not only identify the value of intimacy but also how to incorporate it into their relationships throughout time. Intimacy is the foundation for developing trust and fulfilling connections with those around us.

Intimacy Types and Benefits

Intimacy is a feeling of closeness and connection in interpersonal relationships. While many people might think of physical intimacy, there are a plethora of other types of intimacy, including emotional, sexual, experiential, intellectual, and values-based intimacy. In addition to romantic relationships, intimacy is a vital part of any close relationship, including with friends, family, and even in the workplace. While physical intimacy might coincide with sexual intimacy, it can also be illustrated through hugging, holding hands, and other physical displays of affection – both romantic and platonic.

Emotional intimacy, on the other hand, often involves vulnerably expressing one’s feelings with the expectation of receiving validation and understanding. In order for emotional intimacy to take place, there needs to be a sense of safety in the relationship with the expectation that each person’s emotions will be held with compassion and care. Showing up with emotional intimacy might look like communicating when you’ve been hurt, opening up about challenging experiences, revealing hopes and dreams, or asking for help when you need it.

Intellectual intimacy occurs in relationships where people are free to share their interests and hobbies with each other in order to further connect and better understand one another. Examples of intellectual intimacy include engaging in a book club with peers, discussing work projects and theories, learning a new language together, or simply sharing your favorite music and movies with loved ones. Like intellectual intimacy, experiential intimacy can also look like trying new things together as you are bonding through experiences. Lastly, values-based intimacy revolves around sharing similar beliefs and ethics and exploring values-based goals and activities together such as volunteering or engaging in spiritual practice.

The benefits of relational intimacy positively impact not only the relationship itself but also the people involved in the connection. Intimacy boosts physical and mental health and wellbeing, improves relationship satisfaction and sex life, and leads to greater overall fulfillment in life. While intimacy is crucial to all relationships, there can be barriers that interrupt intimate moments or even prevent intimacy from ever forming at all.

Causes of Decreased Intimacy

A multitude of factors can contribute to decreased or diminishing intimacy in a relationship. Past trauma, chronic stress, feeling stuck in a routine, and other unaddressed issues within the relationship itself can prevent the opportunity for cultivating connection and closeness. When we don’t feel seen, heard, or respected, this can block the ability to be vulnerable in relationships, which also hinders any opportunities for true intimacy. Some may also fear intimacy due to attachment wounds from familial dynamics or past unhealthy relationship experiences. Nevertheless, when we turn towards each other in a partnership and respond willingly to one another’s bids for affection, we can work to develop and maintain intimacy.

Increasing Intimacy

There are endless opportunities to grow authentic intimacy in relationships. One pathway towards greater intimacy is through talking openly with your partner about your feelings, what you need from the relationship, and what you value and appreciate about them. Verbalize gratitude instead of assuming the other person already knows how you feel about them. Identify how you and your partner both show and receive love. Cultivate opportunities for intimacy even when navigating other commitments or life transitions. Work stressors, family life, and other obligations can create barriers to intimacy; nevertheless, it is vital to set aside dedicated quality time where the focus is on the relationship itself. Don’t discredit small moments that can add up and deepen intimacy over time, whether it is trying something new together in order to add novelty, setting aside technology to give one another undivided attention, or prioritizing affection.

One person in the relationship should not be responsible for always initiating intimacy. Both parties can brainstorm ways to connect through deeper conversations rooted in curiosity and a desire to learn about each other in new ways as you also learn about the world around you. Start with identifying the different areas of intimacy you would like to grow or any intimacy types that may feel easier to access and build upon. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just takes each person being genuinely invested and committed to showing up with their partner authentically and mindfully. If you are still struggling with cultivating intimacy in your relationships, consider seeking a mental health professional to help support you in this process

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