Don't count on intimacy just "happening." Create the time and space for it.
Intimacy. The word is often used as a synonym for sex, but as most of us know, sex and intimacy aren’t the same. We are intimate with family members or dear friends, but those relationships aren't sexual. And sex in a loveless marriage or performed out of duty lacks intimacy. What I will discuss here is that sense of heart-to-heart connection that allows one to feel seen and heard by another, and to feel that one really “gets” another person.
The late Stan Dale defined intimacy as into-me-see; in other words, allowing oneself to be seen by another person, warts and all. With intimacy, you will know what makes me angry, sad, happy, scared, and turned on. No topic is off-limits, and I don’t have to put on a mask of any sort in your company. In return, you will do the same with me, letting yourself be seen and known.
Isadora Alman, M.F.T., is a California licensed marriage and relationship therapist, a Board-certified sex therapist, author and lecturer. Her syndicated sex and relationship column "Ask Isadora" ran in alternative weekly papers worldwide for 25+ years. Web surfers can find her columns on her online free interactive Sexuality.She is the author of two collections of Q & A's from columns: Let's Talk Sex and Ask Isadora, as well as Sex Information, May I Help You?, a peek behind the scenes of a sex help phone line which still flourishes in San Francisco today.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
During the getting-to-know-you phase of what will become an intimate friendship or love affair, a great deal of self-revealing conversation goes on. There is a joy in discovering what makes this fascinating other person tick. We find out how we are alike and marvel at that, and we find out how we are different and find those traits just as fascinating. There is an exchange of facts, certainly, but more importantly we share how we feel.
Once the friendship or the marriage established, everyday concerns seem to take over: Did you take the dog out? Have you called the plumber? How did you do on those tests? But if a couple fosters their intimacy, they will also ask: Do you mind taking the dog out every morning? Would you prefer that I do it, or we might do it together? How are you feeling about the tests you took? Are you worried? Want to talk about it?
If both people have just come home from stressful days at work, it's likely that one plops down in front of the TV to watch the news, and the other takes something out of the freezer and pops it into the microwave. They may eat together in silence, and then one might go back to watching the TV, while the other catches up on emails. Then they go to bed. Yes, they might have sex. But where is the intimacy? They may feel that they already know each other’s likes and dislikes, so is that it?
The couple would likely feel much closer if she came over and cuddled on the couch where he was watching TV, or if he said, “Let’s go for a walk as soon as you’re through at the computer.” One of them could ask the other, “How are you feeling about the trouble at work you were telling me about?” or suggest that the two of you discuss a weekend getaway.
If this is a new approach, your partner might be grumpy or uncommunicative at first. That happens. Don’t give up. Show concern, and genuine interest. Ask more questions that begin with “What’s happening with…?” or “How are you feeling about…?”
It's heartwarming when the person you care about shows that he or she cares about you. These small gestures of interest, and caring conversations, are what build intimacy. Time has to be created for them to happen. Try to make a point of adding them into your everyday interactions. Intimacy needs to be tended like the most delicate of plants, but what flowers from the time you spend nurturing it will be extremely rewarding.