Intimacy in your Relationship: How to Get Closer

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Intimacy, in general terms, means closeness.  When I reference intimacy building in therapy, however, most people seem to brace themselves for a conversation about sex, which is just one form of intimacy.  Part of the difficulty in discussing this topic is that partnered people often think they lack intimacy.  While there is always, always room for improvement, this idea often stems from a fantasized version of what relationships should look like.

Paul David, PhD presents a branch of stage theory that illustrates four processes that go into securely attached intimate relationships:

Stage 1: Infatuation & Fusion: The part that only lasts for a brief period of time, yet is depicted by the media as the norm.  While infatuation plays a role in helping us bond over similarities, it is also responsible for ignoring our differences, which can lead to being blinded from toxic traits. Neurochemical and psychological changes are excessive during this stage, and we often feel out of control in the best way.

Stage 2: Conflict & Power Struggle: Here, couples find their individuality.  This stage can last for years, and secure attachment and genuine intimacy can only be built once both individuals realize they can’t change one another.

Stage 3: Adjustment & Consolidation: Stabilizing differences and focusing on the positives our partner has to offer occurs during this stage.  By focusing on what is right in the other person, couples can often consolidate their differences, leading to a more trusting, interdependent relationship.

Stage 4: Maturation & Differentiation: In this stage, we can find new clarity about how to make our relationships thrive in spite of our differences.  A neat aspect of this stage is taking accountability for the fears conflicts in our relationship create for each of us. 

Different Forms of Intimacy

Physical Intimacy

Some examples of physical intimacy are holding hands or hugging.  While this type of intimacy is not reserved to our romantic relationships, placing more focus on small acts of physical intimacy can increase sexual and emotional closeness. 

Sexual Intimacy

Mutual fulfillment is an important aspect of sexual intimacy.  Don’t let your ego get in the way.  One partner is typically the higher desire partner.  For that partner, it’s essential to understand that part of mutual fulfillment is understanding that sexual desire isn’t as high on their partner’s value list.  Sexual intimacy also includes a level of vulnerability, the ability to discuss desire, preferences, kinks, etc without shame. 

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy revolves around the ability to discuss your needs and wants from a relationship, while honoring your partners limitations.  Here, the word ‘baggage’ comes up.  Can you be patient with your partner as they go on their individual journey of resolving their past relationship wounds?

Intellectual Intimacy

Do you know your partners stance on current events and personal philosophies?  Have you taken time to understand why they have that annoying opinion you disagree with?  Obviously, you won’t agree on all the big life stuff in a relationship, but there’s a lot of room for growth in the process of understanding where your significant other is coming from. 

Value led Intimacy

Value led intimacy is far more important than some other aspects people often think about when they think of compatibility.  For example, folks tell me common hobbies bring them together.  While it’s nice to have shared interests, value led intimacy typically leads to connection and sustainability.  Think of values like family time or alone time and how challenging it may be when you and your partner are on vastly different pages.  

How can I actively increase closeness in my relationship?

  • Experiential closeness- get close through doing new things together. Being caught off guard can facilitate the healthy, fun kind of fear that happens when we travel to new places or learn a new, adrenaline pumping skill.
  • Set times to be away from distractions, especially your cell phones.  It’s a game changer!  
  • Find other ways to be present.  Look one another in the eye. 
  • Ask questions you’ve never asked one another.  Especially as our relationships grow long term, we may think we know everything about our partners.  Take it to a deeper level. Linked here is a cool place to start. 
  • Show your appreciation.  I speak to this often with my clients, but my view on love languages is that we should compel ourselves to speak those of our partners, versus the ones that come to us with ease.  Your partner likes gifts?  Great.  Let go of any judgement you may have around that and buy them a thoughtful gift on a random Monday.
  • Create a regular ‘check in’ time.  I’m a big fan of family meetings.  Typically, these regular, set aside times for serious or administrative (i.e.: financial) conversations are helpful for all of the attachment styles.  Anxiously attached folks are better able to practice patience in waiting to state their needs, and avoidant partners are able to plan for more vulnerability knowing an end time exists.
  • Spend deliberate time apart. Simply planning alone time can be a reset from having to spend time with your partner versus getting to.

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