Many people search for that special intimacy in their relationship. Some of us search our entire lives for a feeling of oneness with another person. It’s hard to describe, really, what we search for, but we know it when we finally achieve it. Maybe we tire of that dark feeling of being alone as we struggle through life. If only there were someone else here, we say to ourselves, who could understand and share these burdens. Then it wouldn’t be so lonely. It wouldn’t be so hard.
Or perhaps, in our more positive moments, we want to share not just the burdens but our pleasures too, our strength and beauty. We want the powerful impact of our internal experience to have an impression on someone else, as if to say that we count, we are whole, and we want to impart this feeling to another person.
Humans are social beings. Is that why we search for intimacy with others? Is the quest for intimacy the reason we commit ourselves to another person in marriage or some other public declaration of loyalty? In trying to find intimacy, are we simply searching again for the ultimate feeling of bonding that we felt toward a parent during our infancy? The search for intimacy may be one reason we form social groups, and it may explain why we quest for spiritual fulfillment in our lives.
Many people in contemporary society feel lonely. For all the benefits we derive from living in a highly technological world, with seemingly instant and complete communication with others, we still may find it difficult to discover ways to form intimate relationships. In fact, our high tech society seems to fragment our social connections, to drive us away from other people. For example, texting seems to make connecting with other people much easier, but in truth our messages are usually just flashes of ideas – briefly written, briefly read, and instantaneously deleted – and they barely fulfill our desire for more complete relationships.
Our high tech world has brought us an abundance of stress. We’re conditioned to expect immediate responses but stress and intimacy are hardly compatible bedfellows. To form an intimate connection with another person requires first that we have access to our own personal emotions and ideas. We cannot expect to be intimate with another when we are out of touch with our own internal experiences.
Our intimate experiences may involve our emotional, cognitive, social, physical, sexual, and spiritual lives. Two people, each of whom is in touch with his or her internal experiences, may be able to share an intimate relationship on any one of these levels. True intimacy is one of the ultimate expressions of the human experience. And that may be why we strive so hard to find it.
How Do We Reach Intimacy?
Each person seems to understand the intimate experience in his or her own way. In a sense it takes a journey of personal discovery to learn how to share intimacy with another person. Here are some guidelines that may help to define that journey:
Know Your Self: Get in touch with your own private experiences. In our stressed-out world this is often hard to do because our attention is directed outward much of the time. It helps to sit – doing nothing and being distracted by nothing – and spend time in reflection and introspection. Observe your thoughts and feelings. The brain has pleasure centers – close your eyes and imagine yourself experiencing pleasure.
Become familiar with those parts of yourself that are strong and feel whole and integrated. Learn to feel comfortable with the part of yourself that senses calmness, confidence, and peace. Some people like to spend a few minutes every night before bed, perhaps with just a candle burning, reflecting on the events of the day. Others prefer to keep a daily journal of their private thoughts and feelings. Some prefer to learn a technique like mindfulness meditation. Until you know your own private feelings, it is difficult to share them with someone else.
Communicate With Another Person: Share what you know about yourself with another person who can be trusted. This involves several steps. First, you need a sense of commitment to that person. Strangers passing through your life are not the appropriate people with whom to share your deepest feelings. Intimacy has to be reserved for a person who will be there over the long haul – a close friend, a partner, a family member, or, if we’re lucky, the soul mate.
You also need a feeling of trust. If the other person is not able to appreciate the delicacy of what you are sharing, it is futile to try to achieve intimacy. In the worst case, your words might be held against you later, which can be damaging and may lead to cynicism and distrust. Knowing whom to trust involves acquiring good judgment about other people.
Understand that intimacy involves making yourself vulnerable. The guarded and defensive person will never find true intimacy. Finding intimacy means taking a risk, opening yourself up, sharing the most personal part of yourself with another person. Can the other person handle it? Can the other person care? If they can, you may no longer be alone.
Intimacy Is Reciprocal: A healthy intimate relationship is one in which both partners know themselves and are able to come together with a sense of equality. Certain relationships are not meant to be reciprocal (the therapist/client relationship, for example, often involves a high level of deeply personal communication, but this is on the part of the client). Perhaps the most intense and lasting levels of intimacy are achieved when both partners are able to share equally with each other.
As the listener, you have to be able to honor and respect the openness, vulnerability, and courage of the one who is communicating personal ideas and emotions. Value judgments, criticisms, and advice-giving have no place in intimate communication. The goal is to appreciate and acknowledge the validity of the other person’s deepest feelings. If you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, you may then have the ability to appreciate similar experiences on the part of the other person.
Keep the Light Alive: Once two people have entered into a deep level of sharing, they usually want to stay there. If there is true equality between the two, they achieve a balance that feels right and they don’t want to lose. If, however, one of the partners feels the need to lessen the level of intimacy, the probability of conflict increases. You can avoid misunderstandings by maintaining your commitment and trust during these natural cycles that occur within any relationship.
Intimacy takes work and a sense of maturity. To shirk the responsibility of keeping an intimate relationship alive invites a return to isolation. The intimate relationship is healthy. Intimacy allows us to end loneliness and to share the deepest and most personal parts of ourselves with a trusted partner. As social beings, we respond physically to the experience of intimacy.
People who have intimate relationships live longer and healthier lives and they report more personal happiness and satisfaction with the way they live. Intimacy gives us a feeling of comfort, security, and a sense of being loved and accepted. It gives us the freedom and support to stay true to the special qualities that define each one of us as a unique person.
Individual counseling is an effective way to achieve a deeper understanding of ourselves and our unique intimate needs. Working with a trained professional can allow us to explore our own deepest and most intimate feelings in a safe, accepting and confidential setting while we learn to understand our own inner processes. This relationship allows us to learn to stay true to our uniqueness and feel comfortable in sharing our authentic self with another person.
We can also explore who can be trusted, and who can’t, as well as the features of our lives that may have led us to hide ourselves from others. Counseling has the potential to teach us how to break out of isolation and loneliness into a world of love and acceptance. It prepares us to explore an intimate relationship outside of the therapy setting.
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