Growing old in your marriage, living through various roles like friend, spouse, foe, parent, co workers, sometimes also strangers… This is all a journey to intimacy…
Need for intimacy is equal to human need for survival. It starts right from infants, how they need to be touched and held while we express our affection towards them. Research has given us insights on how lack of intimacy in the growing years affects brain development. There have been examples of children who committed crime: on psychological intervention, the need for deep empathy in them was revealed and there was a depth of pain due to the same. All stages of life, from infancy to old age, have a profound need for human connection. Relationships provide support and help us to fortify our mental and physical health. Intimacy in a relationship comes over a period of time and one needs to invest in the same. It is a continuous process, it never stops. It adds life to a relationship. Intimacy is the most rewarding aspects of relationship and differs from couple to couple.
Meaning of intimacy and the different forms of intimacy
Intimacy is deep closeness with another person at different levels. There is intellectual intimacy where u can have deep and open conversations with another person, share your opinions and listen to the other person. There is no fear of being judged. Then there is experiential intimacy where you share certain hobbies or tasks with another person. You might not exchange words but intimacy develops due to shared interests. There is also emotional intimacy where you share your deep thoughts and feeling with another person and listen to theirs. Again there is a deep degree of openness and no apprehensions. Finally, there is physical intimacy which comes in with your spouse or partner where there is understanding of each other’s sexual needs and genuine efforts on both sides to fulfill them. It need not be only sexual, it also encompasses sensuality which comes about with hugs, cuddles, touch, kisses, gaze, etc.
Obstacles to intimacy in couple relationships
In the beginning of the relationship, we feel very intimate with our partner. This happens due to the excitement. Then, as it progresses, you come across disappointments, misunderstandings due to misconceptions on both sides. Disappointments make you feel hurt and you start losing hope. These are natural patterns but obstacles to intimacy. These patterns develop due to unfulfilled expectations which arise in the first place due to lack of awareness of your own self. You expect the other person to know and fulfil your expectations, these expectations which you didn’t know you carried until they were not fulfilled. In the process you lose your self esteem and become defensive in order to prove your worth. There are blames followed by counter blames. You withdraw while you eventually stop sharing or listening. This happens from both sides and starts confusing you, and you start questioning your relationship. You start looking out for other engagements. This phase becomes an obstacle to intimacy building.
“You need to work on building up intimacy in order to work your relationship out…”
How to improve intimacy in your couple?
From our special someone, we expect things that we do not expect from anyone else. It ranges from loyalty, love, care, affection, sex, consistency, trust, encouragement, companionship, respect or acceptance. The list is not exhaustive.
• The first step towards the same is self awareness. Usually our needs, expectations and hopes arise from our past experiences and upbringing. Hence, we need to reflect on what they are and share with your partner. Self awareness increases self esteem.
• Next step is communication. We should be prepared to share all of our feelings and desires with our partner. There should be no fear of vulnerability. We should let our guards down. Usually, we make some errors in communication. Either we talk to please, or to blame or criticise, or we talk with amazing self control where we just measure and say what is required or at times, we talk only to avoid confrontations for the purpose of distraction. Sometimes, we use intimidation to scare the other person to listen to us. At other times, we might dominate or act childlike depending on the other person. None of these styles of communication should be resorted to as they are obstacles in building intimacy. By communicating in these maladaptive patterns, we are unconsciously expressing our pain, hurt or anger. Do not manipulate. You should express your feelings by primarily sharing your expectations, your needs, and your hopes, without fear of confrontations. You should be able to talk with the sole purpose of sharing, and no criticism or blame should follow. Talk with respect. Communication reduces anger and anxiety. We should neither get caught into words nor focus on non-verbal aspects like facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, etc. Once we learn to communicate, there is no one who is right or wrong and we stop making assumptions about the other person. We discuss and share everything together whether it is perceptions, thoughts, feelings or ideas. Discuss and understand the reality of the situation. Do not feel humiliated or embarrassed.
• Good communication also means improving your listening skills. Listening should take place with undivided attention. You should try to listen without keeping self interest in mind. Do not just listen to those parts which are related to you. Listen as a whole and understand the experience of what your partner is saying. Listening also includes indicating by rephrasing while you hear him or her out. If you did not understand, the other person should correct you. Listen to understand your partner without judging her or him. Listening helps in gaining empathy.
• You should also learn to practice forgiveness. Now that you understand your partner, it will be wise and easier to forgive. But at the same time, there are things for which you are the best judge and for which you need to decide whether you can forgive or not. If there is something you cannot forgive your partner for, then you should look at moving on. If you decide to stay together then it does not make sense if you hold grudges or operate in the past for future communications. Forgiveness builds closeness.
• With empathy should also follw acceptance. Now that you can empathise with your partner, learn to show care and compassion. Accept him/her for who the person is. Acceptance builds deep intimacy. Being intimate is being human. It brings you and your relationship alive.
The above does not mean that you will not feel any negative emotions, you will feel hurt disappointed, angry, sad or frustrated. You will learnt to listen and share. There will be trust and acceptance.
Practising the above points will go a long way if you start making rituals and keeping time aside for small gestures like appreciating consistently what you like in each other; expressing to the other person what you value about him/her; reflecting together when you feel taken aback about something which could be with you or your partner; requesting the other person to amend in some aspect; sharing new information; talking about the future in terms of desires and hopes; scheduling fun time… Make some time regularly for all the above and any more that you can think of. While doing this you should maintain any kind of physical contact. Emotional and physical closeness together builds deep intimacy as it leads to acceptance of the other person in that moment the way he or she is.
When we get intimate with someone, we feel good as chemicals called oxytocin are released in the brain. Developing intimacy in relationships makes us calmer, tolerant, confident, compassionate, empathetic and more aware about ourselves. These qualities help us have a better quality of professional life as well as personal life. It makes us mentally and physically fitter.
Intimacy, communication and sex
• Usually a couple that struggles through frequent conflicts have similar manifestation in their sexual life. Emotional gaps show themselves in physical life as well. Sexuality is a human expression.
• In the contemporary life, sex has become an alternative to intimacy. A lot of couples lack intimacy in their relationship and they cover themselves under a blanket of sexual life that lacks fulfilment.
• Communication improves intimacy and so it adds on to a life of physical satisfaction. We are not able explore what we enjoy in bed; as a result we do not express our needs. To start we need to be ready to explore what stimulates us and go ahead and express it. This is a circle and has to keep revolving with the two of you while you acknowledge, express, offer and accept. It should be a continuous process of deep intimacy that heightens the pleasure of human couple relationship. Intimacy comes through openness and flexibility. Emotional proximity breeds physical intimacy.
• The good news is that most of us have the ability to satisfy our partners and vice versa if we are prepared to work towards achieving intimacy. This is something a lot of us are not aware of and we end up believing that we do not have good physical chemistry with our partners. What we do not realise is that good emotional connect, trust, acceptance, sharing, communicating, exploring heightens physical chemistry. Like emotional intimacy, this is a long term investment too.
• Sexuality has got limited to intercourse and that takes away depth from a relationship. We can do a lot more with each other every physical contact should be gratifying at a level. Hugging, kissing, holding hands, pats, playfulness, massaging are all pertinent. You should please each other through various physical acts. This gives comfort and trust to explore, open and communicate safely.
To live a relation that gives a meaning and satisfaction to our self, we have to strive to build intimate relationships. It takes honesty, care, trust and nurturing environment to build up intimate relationships. It starts building when a couple is comfortable with each other, accepts each other for who they are and engages in conflict resolution over a period of time. Avoiding problems does not work. Intimacy sometimes comes down when there are difficult life transitions like moving, child birth, disease, financial crisis, etc; one should work towards resolving conflicts and rebuilding intimacy. However, sometimes when your feelings are too difficult and too complex to understand, you might need guidance. It is then better to seek professional help before problems exacerbate. Feel free to ask me a question or book an appointment if you think that you need help to improve communication and intimacy in your couple.