Defining Intimacy

An intimate relationship is an interpersonal relationship that involves physical and emotional intimacy . Intimate relationships play a central role in the overall human experience.  Humans have a general desire to belong and to love which is usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. Intimate relationships provide a social network for people that provide strong emotional attachments, and fulfill our universal need of belonging and the need to be cared for.

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It is a familiar and very deep and close effective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. Genuine intimacy in human relationships requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability and reciprocity. The verb “intimate” means “to state or make known”. The activity of intimating (making known) underpins the meanings of “intimate”.

To sustain intimacy for any length of time requires well-developed emotional and interpersonal awareness. Intimacy requires an ability to be both separate and together participants in an intimate relationship. Murray Bowen called this “self-differentiation”. It results in a connection in which there is an emotional range involving both robust conflict, and intense loyalty.  Lacking the ability to differentiate oneself from the other is a form of symbiosis, a state that is different from intimacy, even if the feelings of closeness are similar.

From a center of self-knowledge and self differentiation, intimate behavior joins family members and close friends as well as those in love. It evolves through reciprocal self-disclosure and candor. Poor skills in developing intimacy can lead to getting too close too quickly; struggling to find the boundary and to sustain connection; being poorly skilled as a friend, rejecting self-disclosure or even rejecting friendships and those who have them. Psychological consequences of intimacy problems are found in adults who have difficulty in forming and maintaining intimate relationships. Individuals often experience the human limitations of their partners, and develop a fear of adverse consequences of disrupted intimate relationships. Studies show that fear of intimacy is negatively related to comfort with emotional closeness and with relationship satisfaction, and positively related to loneliness and trait anxiety.

Intimate relationships have four basic ingredients: respect, trust, acceptance and knowing (each other), which can take place through both verbal and nonverbal communication.

  1. Respect has to do with honoring each other with regard, validating each other as inherently worthy, treating each other as if the other person’s thoughts and feelings are important and matter. Eye contact, attentiveness, and how you listen to each other are nonverbal expressions of respect. Certainly there are verbal communications that convey acknowledgement and humble reverence.
  2. Trust has to do with feeling safe enough to be open and honest with each other, feeling that you can count on your partner being there for you, knowing that you are always looking out for each other and that you can count on each other to act responsibly – that is, “do what you say.”
  3. Acceptance has to do with unconditional acceptance: not holding each other to idealized standards, but rather embracing each other’s limitations, flaws, character defects, differences, quirks, moods. Acceptance is appreciating each other as a unique individual, not wanting the other to be someone else or thinking that he or she should be someone else. Acceptance means not being fixated on assumptions about each other.
  4. Knowing each other means becoming acquainted with subtleties and nuances in the other. We can only do this through deep, personal sharing. Mutual understanding is one aspect of knowing; the ability to do so on an ongoing basis is another; and the insights and revelations that occur by virtue of time spent together another aspect still.

The degree of intimacy experienced is a direct reflection of the intimacy one has with self.

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