Relationship Intimacy

For many the word “intimacy” brings thoughts of THAT part of the marital relationship to mind. However, in a marriage relationship THAT is only part of the overall concept of intimacy. Sorry to disappoint—and lose about half of the readers—but intimacy is a principal element in all healthy relationships.

In the simplest terms intimacy can be defined as allowing another person to see into oneself. Someone once said intimacy is “into-me-see”. With this definition one quickly realizes that intimacy is about sharing, openness, transparency; in short: self disclosure. However, self disclosure alone does not build intimacy. By itself disclosure is little more than a confession. In order for intimacy to be present the disclosure, sharing, and openness must be coupled with acceptance of the person disclosing. Said differently, intimacy is when someone can share his or her most internal thoughts, feelings, and desires without fear of rejection. With this understanding put into practice one will witness an intimacy which dissolves the masks that are used to hide the real us. This type of intimacy will turn acquaintances into lifelong friends and married couples into a love that will last a lifetime. So how does one develop this type of intimacy? Here are a few ingredients, far from exhaustive, that help your relationships grow.

Intimate relationships incorporate the ingredients of trust and loyalty in high quantities. Trust may be one of the most important components of intimacy. In order for someone to self disclose he or she must believe that the person with whom sharing is taking place is someone safe and worthy of trust. Relationships that are marked by even small amounts of ridicule, embarrassment, belittling, wrong-spirited criticism, or shame violate trust and derail the intimacy building process. Loyalty builds upon and demonstrates trust. Loyalty belongs to both people in a relationship but the person receiving the self disclosure is called upon to demonstrate loyalty in order to deepen intimacy. Loyalty gives priority to the person and the relationship by offering a safe environment for intimate discussions to take place.

Healthy relationships build intimacy by also demonstrating a deep fondness toward one another. This fondness begins with a two-way assumption of the best of intentions toward each other’s words and actions. In other words, healthy couples always assume the best. Relationship research suggests that people typically give themselves significant kudos for good intentions even in the presence of poor follow through but frequently give little regard to other’s good intentions and only consider other’s actions. Relationships that are building intimacy will fight this natural tendency and will give the benefit of the doubt. When all this fails and hurts happen—and they will—the next ingredient, forgiveness, is added.

Forgiveness helps build intimacy in healthy relationships. People will hurt each other and somewhat frequently. The factors leading to hurting someone are innumerable; so much so that it is impossible not to hurt someone sooner or later. Since hurts are inevitable it should not be surprising when one occurs. Some hurts will be big but most are small in nature. Some will be intentional but most will be unintentional. No matter the size or motive, when hurts happen intimacy will either be improved or hindered based on what happens after the hurt occurs. When forgiveness is sought (yes, one must seek forgiveness even when the hurt is unintentional) intimacy will improve. However, when someone hurts another and refuses to seek forgiveness intimacy will take a hit. When one refuses or neglects to seek forgiveness damage to trust and loyalty will occur. At the same time refusing to grant forgiveness will do similar injury. Healthy and intimate relationships learn to apply forgiveness liberally.

Another ingredient of intimacy in a relationship is camaraderie. Camaraderie is the “us-ness” of a relationship. It is the “you and me against the world” mindset. Camaraderie will say that whatever happens to one of us happens to both of us. As this idea of “us-ness” is practiced it will build a sense of oneness. This oneness will is the process of knitting together the inner life of each individual in the relationship. The sense of camaraderie may be a good indicator of how well intimacy is doing in the relationship.

In addition to the ingredients one must also guard against the enemies of intimacy. Most of the enemies begin with the word fear. The fear of being vulnerable, the fear of someone using one’s intimate thoughts as a weapon, fear of rejection, fear of what someone might think if they really knew, and the list could go on. Fear places limits on intimacy. Occasionally one’s fears are justified because trust and loyalty have been seriously broken. For some there may be an unhealthiness that requires some outside help to overcome. In all cases where trust and loyalty have been damaged a rebuilding process must take place before intimacy can begin to grow again. Other times fears are baseless and one must bring them into the open and face them. In either case overcoming the enemies of intimacy will have a tremendously positive impact on the quality of one’s relationship.

Intimacy happens in the presence of trust, security, honor, and respect. The rewards of developing intimacy are profound. It is intimacy that allows greatness to happen in a relationship. It empowers someone to take on the world. Intimacy denotes value in another person. It fosters contentment and peacefulness. Intimacy leads to a relationship without regrets. Yet the greatest reward to intimacy is being a witness to another’s life. Most of one’s life, the real life, occurs on the inside. The inner life is where the essential elements of the real person reside. As discussed earlier intimacy is revealing and accepting this part. When intimacy—deep intimacy—takes place in a relationship one becomes a true witness to someone’s life, the real life, the life lived in inner person.

Generous quantities of trust, loyalty, forgiveness, and camaraderie help produce intimacy in relationships. Deliberate effort to build intimacy in one’s relationships has rewards that go far beyond the relationship.

…and for the married folk still reading, improving overall intimacy will positively impact the intimacy of THAT also.

(note: although updated and expanded here, this post originally appeared in my church’s newsletter at http://www.cedarstreetchurch.org)

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