Intimacy is one key to a good relationship because it helps increase our connection to someone we love. We all strive for it, but we rarely know how to get it or maintain it.
Intimacy can be emotional or sexual. Regardless of whether it’s emotional or sexual in nature, there are three steps that you need to take when creating intimacy:
3 Steps On Creating Intimacy
Step 1: Communicate
Intimacy starts with communication. This means talking with one another in an open and honest way, being genuine and authentic.
Good communication provides the other person with insight into who you are. It lets them know what you’re thinking and feeling, and what your needs are. While much of communication is verbal, it is important to remember that communication doesn’t only involve words.
How we behave communicates a lot. Do you reach out for your partner’s hand when they’re upset? Do you show them what you like when you’re in bed together?
Our actions, emotions, and words all provide ways to show ourselves to our partners. This is a requirement to be truly intimate with someone.
Communication, of course, is a two-way street.
Are you listening to your partner? Not just listening to their words, but listening to hear what they mean. Understanding someone is how you can really know them. Are you showing interest in them? Do you make time when they are available? How responsive are you when they want to talk?
All the communication attempts in the world will get you nowhere if you’re not interested in being genuinely engaged and responsive.
Intimate communication involves a movement towards one another, rather than away from one another. Picture communication as two people standing close together, face-to-face, with their arms and minds open, eagerly and willingly. That’s the space you need when creating intimacy.
Step 2: Be willing to be vulnerable
If the image we just described conveys a sense of vulnerability to you, that’s great. It should. You can’t be intimate unless you’re willing to show each other who you really are, to face your fears, and take the risk of self-disclosure, or perhaps better put—self-exposure.
Think about the people you’re closest to who are not your partner. Maybe a family member or a good friend. Part of what makes you so close is that they know lots of things about you. And not just the “good” stuff, but many other things like what you’re afraid of.
Your closest friends and family know what makes you sad. They have seen your favorite silly movies with you like. That person who knows that you feel better when the refrigerator is organized has an intimate knowledge of your needs. If you can’t function until you’ve had your second cup of coffee, then the person who has seen your morning persona knows the real you!
Knowing someone for who they really are makes people feel close to one another.
In addition, showing your vulnerable side by sharing private thoughts or confiding personal experiences and stories allows for the possibility that your partner will connect with. At least they will relate to you, your experiences, or empathize and support you.
Creating intimacy is easier when two people share similar experiences or support and validate one another.
The bottom line is, the more we’re willing to be vulnerable, to show our true self—ALL of it, especially the things we’re afraid to show—the more we create the possibility for intimacy.
Step 3: Cultivate a safe environment
A sure-fire way to ruin the possibility of intimacy is to respond to a partner’s self-disclosure with disinterest or, even worse, disdain.
Intimacy can only develop and grow in a safe environment. One where you each respond to one another with openness, curiosity, interest, and caring. A place where you and your partner feel accepted rather than judged. One where there’s no threat of shame or rejection, but a sense of comfort and security.
Security is key to creating intimacy. When people don’t feel secure, they live in constant fear that their relationship is threatened, that their partner might hurt or reject them. There is no way that intimacy can thrive in that environment.
Why would you want to give your partner any “ammunition”, in the form of self-disclosure, to hurt you with? In secure relationships, both people feel respected, cared for, and safe. This is the place in which intimacy flourishes.
All of this means that it’s very important to be mindful of how you respond to your partner when they share something with you. Stay kind. Get excited. Remain supportive. Be accepting. Be warm. And be careful with joking around.
If this is an accepted way of interacting in your relationship, that’s okay. However, make sure both people are really alright with this. Otherwise, humor and teasing, even if they’re intended to be playful, can have the unintended impact of hurting your partner or making them feel embarrassed or ashamed. That will kill all chances of intimacy right there.
When intimacy is involved, safety is key.
The 3 Skills That Can Help You Take These Steps
To effectively communicate, be vulnerable, and create a safe environment, you need three skills.
Insight is about awareness, understanding, and openness to learning. If you’re using this skill to create intimacy, you will take time to get to know yourself and your partner. The goal is to understand how you each think and feel, and what you each need.
In communicating with your partner and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you’ll be giving your partner the opportunity to develop insight into you. When you have an insight into your partner, you’ll know how to best respond to them and how to create an environment that is safe for them.
In relationships, both people have needs, both sets of needs matter, and both deserve to get met. When you know this and approach relationships from this perspective, you are using the skill of mutuality.
People who use mutuality are open and able to communicate their needs and are interested in listening to their partner’s needs. They put themselves in their partner’s shoes and work to understand and empathize with one another. They recognize the value of their own needs and genuinely want and attempt to meet the needs of their partner.
When you do this, communication is a natural by-product, as is the fostering of a safe environment. If you know your partner cares about and respects your needs, you’ll feel safer expressing them and trusting that your partner will be responsive.
The skill of emotion regulation helps people adaptively express their feelings. With negative feelings, emotion regulation means that you keep your negative emotions in check. You don’t take out your anger on your partner, or express every unfounded anxiety. Your reactions aren’t based on impulse.
You think about your impact on your partner and you keep the well-being of your relationship at the forefront of your mind. This goes a long way towards creating a safe environment. Imagine how hard it would be to be intimate with someone who might impulsively explode, or get really upset when you’re talking about something personal or private or when you’re being vulnerable.
Using the skill of emotion regulation also means that you calm any anxieties you may have about being intimate so that you can take that risk to create healthy intimacy. This is key to allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
Emotion regulation is also important for positive feelings. If you can’t express feelings of love, joy, pleasure, excitement, etc. to your partner, that’s going to impede or reduce intimacy. Communication of positive feelings is absolutely necessary for a healthy, intimate relationship.
When creating intimacy in your relationship, work on developing your insight, mutuality, and emotion regulation skills. They’re exactly what you need to create a safe environment in which you and your partner can be vulnerable and communicate openly with one another.