In our work with couples and from decades of relationship research, we know that intimacy is essential to build and sustain happy relationships. Here are our Top Five Ways to Create Intimacy in your most important relationships.
The Importance of Intimacy
How would you define the word, “intimacy?” To many people, the word “intimacy” is interpreted as a synonym for “sex.” In reality, intimacy would be more accurately defined as a feeling of emotional closeness with another person.
In other words, if you are intimate with another person, you are completely known and accepted by that other person. Similarly, they are completely known and accepted by you.
Sure, sex can be a part of building intimacy, but intimacy cannot exist solely with sex. Often times, a lack of intimacy is why couples say they feel more like roommates than romantic partners.
So why is building intimacy so important?
We cannot read our partner’s mind. Therefore, it’s really important that partners continue to get to know each other through conversation and observation.
When was the last time you asked your partner what his or her biggest stressor is? Or their favorite home-cooked meal? Maybe you can guess, maybe you have old information, or maybe you have no idea!
Building intimacy with your partner means that you are constantly updating your knowledge about his or her world.
What is important to your partner?
What makes your partner laugh? Worried? Annoyed?
Does your partner know these answers about you?
Most of the time, conflict occurs simply because we do not understand or adequately express our own differences, feelings, and needs with our partner. We assume they know something about us, or we assume we know something about them.
Or maybe we shared something with our partner and they shrugged it off, laughed, or ignored it. That can be hurtful, and it can slowly chip away at relationships if we are not careful.
This is also why intimacy is important in long-term relationships. Partners need to know that they are accepted unconditionally by each other in order to be intimate – and this takes time to build.
Most of us cannot trust a stranger – or even a new friend – with our deepest desires, biggest insecurities, or gut-wrenching fears. However, we are able to get to that level of trust with people through repeated instances of them showing up and taking care of us.
Just make sure you are doing the same for your partner, too.
Imagine the following situation: Nora and Alex planned their first date and decided to meet for dinner after work at a new restaurant. Nora arrived on time and is very angry that Alex isn’t there yet. She worries that Alex forgot about their plans and becomes angry, without ever confirming this idea or trying to call. She storms out of the restaurant. Meanwhile, Alex is running late because he wanted to pick up some flowers for Nora on his way to dinner, and there was traffic. He didn’t think to call her because he had no idea that punctuality was such a big deal to her.
Now imagine that Nora and Alex had a higher level of intimacy: Nora would arrive at the restaurant and see that Alex wasn’t there. She knows that he isn’t typically late for things, so she might think, “Well this is odd. Alex is never late unless he has a reason to be.” She sits down and waits for him, confident that he isn’t late because he doesn’t care. She knows him better than that. She doesn’t wait long before her cell phone rings. Alex is calling her because he didn’t want her to worry. He tells her he is on his way and apologizes. Alex arrives with flowers, and Nora is happy to see him.
It can make a world of difference just to know things about our partner. It allows us to think positively about him/her and gives us a more solid idea of what kind of person they are. This knowledge allows us to make more accurate predictions about what they are thinking, feeling, or needing.
But how can intimacy be built?
There are five main ways to allow intimacy to grow and develop:
1. Communicate openly. If you need/feel/think something, tell your partner about it! You cannot expect your partner to read your mind, so it is important to let them know what is happening inside of your head.
By doing this, we allow our partners to get a glimpse of what is going on inside our head and understand the reasons behind why we make the choices or behaviors that we do.
2. Seek to understand, not to give advice. Trying to offer a solution before people ask for one is one of the fastest ways to shut people down.
When we are seeking to build intimacy with our partners, we should listen to them share with the intent to get a better understanding of why they are thinking/feeling/acting the way they are. It is best to only offer advice when someone asks for it. Even then, we should make sure we fully understand someone before we offer a solution for them.
3. Put feelings into words. Everyone expresses emotion differently, so it is crucial to any good intimate relationship that we vocalize what we are feeling. Some people cry when they are angry, but it might get misinterpreted as sadness. Some people yell when they are sad, but it might be misinterpreted as anger.
This is why it is better to put a name to how you feel and share it with your partner. It can ease the tension because no one is playing a guessing game. Tell your partner how you feel and why. Don’t just react to emotions and expect him or her to figure it out.
4. Ask open-ended questions. If your partner is doing/saying something you don’t understand, ask about it! More importantly, ask about it using an open-ended question.
An open-ended question is a question that cannot be answered by saying “yes” or “no.” It requires a longer explanation.
So, if your partner starts to cry, don’t say, “Are you really crying right now?” Instead, say, “What made you cry?” It invites your partner to engage with you and it shows that you are interested in learning more about them. This is one of the fastest ways to build intimacy!
5. Express empathy. Practice intimacy by expressing empathy. If you do not understand your partner and you are unable to ask about it, put yourself in their shoes and see if you can get a better understanding. Something that doesn’t bother you at all may be a huge trigger for your partner.
Don’t let your own insecurities or judgments get in the way of true intimacy. The feeling of being completely known and accepted is irreplaceable!
Our Denver couples therapists provide a safe space to work on these five steps to building intimacy with your partner. Give our Greenwood Village couples counselors a call to book your counseling appointment today: 303-513-8975, X1, or schedule online: Schedule Appointment
This blog post was brought to you by sexual intimacy and couples therapy specialist Emma Abel, M.Ed., Ed.S.