Intimacy is a game-changer in terms of change. When we are able to generate more intimacy within our relationships, we have the opportunity for deeper connection, support, problem-sharing and -solving. Intimacy can give us a sense of security or power and of self-actualisation, which all make change more possible – both self-generated and imposed change. We can build our flexibility and adaptability when we experience more intimacy in our lives and this powers us up and enables us to grow.
Firstly know this: intimacy is not just sex! There are four types of intimacy:
1. Emotional intimacy:
Mutual sharing of feelings, deep communication, disclosing your inside self, the things in your head and heart, sharing things which might feel difficult, upsetting, confusing and shameful. In emotional intimacy, we expose our true selves.
How: Try to have more meaningful conversations with people you trust. Share how you’re feeling or what’s going on for you, even if it isn’t neat and tidy. Share things that are not working out, the challenges and the struggles. Tell them you are feeling alone if you are. Encourage a sense of non-judgment between the two of you that validates and welcomes honesty.
Watch outs: Fake intimacy, telling stories about yourself you feel disconnected to in order to control or direct a response from the listener, dramatising events/your experience in order to make it feel more valid, making things up about yourself or others to create a false sense of intimacy. For example, saying things like ‘Oh yes that happened to me’, even if it didn’t. Intoxication and over-sharing when you really need intimacy can create experiences that aren’t emotionally safe.
2. Mental intimacy:
Meeting of minds: it feels satisfying, challenging and possibly stimulating. Bouncing ideas off each other, meeting your intellectual match or feeling creatively or intellectually inspired when you are together. You might share professional experiences, you might be planning a business opportunity together, or really value each other’s opinions around work, the arts, like the same things, or disagree passionately. It might include some healthy competition. Championing, and feeling a little inspired by each other.
How: Share work challenges or career confusion, ask for support and advice when you need it. Share the joys and successes and invest in others’ journeys. Be a champion for each other.
Watch-outs: Notice repeating feelings of jealousy or envy if they emerge. Share those feelings, talk it through and use them to support the intimacy, not destroy it. Avoid fierce competition and stay true to your truths within the relationships. Be inside each other’s real journeys rather than outside harbouring difficult feelings.
3. Spiritual intimacy:
This might be a set of values or ethics you share, or spiritual practices that you can unite on. It might be anything from yoga to religion. Perhaps you practise together, celebrate common events, and understand each other’s views on big life things.
How: Share ideas and experiences. Show each other what speaks to your spirituality and share in joyful things that have an impact on you. It might be a place, a view, a meditation, a piece of music, a poem. Find ways to be expansive in what you share and how you include each other.
Watch-outs: Look out for superiority or a desire for excellence in the topic that unites you because this might create a harmful power dynamic and be avoidant of intimacy. Watch out for trying to rescue others or impart your views too strongly or over-challenge particular views.
4. Physical intimacy:
Physical intimacy and sexual intimacy are two ways that people show affection for each other. Sex and intimacy aren’t always the same thing and we can often confuse them as being so. Sex is a biological function, but physical intimacy is often an indicator of a deeper intimate relationship and can happen with or without sex.
We can be involved in very physically intimate relationships which involve truth, compassion, care and a deep understanding of each other, where sex is an important part of developing and building on a sense of intimacy. But we can also have physical intimacy with people we have deep and meaningful relationships with, which do not involve sex. We might find this in families, in close friendships and with people who we feel seen by. It might involve handholding, hugging, being in close proximity in an uncensored way. Being in each other’s company and feeling at ease with each other.
How: In your sexual relationships, if you need something more intimate, talk about what you are hoping for. Find ways to develop intimacy by talking through your fears, hopes and experiences of the relationship as well as your sexual desires. Developing dialogue which is based on truth can deepen your relationship and help you attune.
Watch-outs: Mistaking sex for intimacy or looking for intimacy and offering or accepting sex as a way of getting it. This can be an act of desperation and/or exposure of our deepest vulnerabilities. We can confuse sex or someone’s desire for sex as a substitute for the intimacy we need. This might cause us further pain when intimacy is not felt. It can also be a defence against intimacy – the very thing you are searching for.