You’ve skirted or overcome the odds and most the major obstacles. At last, you find yourself safely within the confines of a long term relationship, where you can sit back and congratulate yourself on the achievement of intimacy. Not so fast! While a stable, satisfying relationship is no small accomplishment, there’s more to intimacy than communication and hand-holding. It’s more a constant evolution than a final destination, and as you encounter new obstacles you discover new ways to understand and support each other. No two relationships will ever follow the same path, but there are a few principles that will help guide you no matter where you are in your journey to true intimacy.
Stop being polite.
Courtesy is indispensable in a civilized world. We’re polite to cashiers, to bank clerks and to co-workers. But it’s a kind of shorthand for being pleasant and likeable with people we don’t know. By design, courtesy is a way of creating distance and can be a major obstacle to true intimacy. Think about the ways in which you’re inclined to be polite to your partner. It probably involves not revealing what you want or not saying what you mean. That’s not to say you should disregard your partner’s feelings; respect is crucial in a relationship. When you care about someone, you don’t want them to feel bad, and it makes sense that you would go out of your way to avoid doing so. But when being polite means being dishonest, you’re depriving your partner of a chance to truly know you. Trust that you are likeable; your S.O. probably wouldn’t be with you if you weren’t. But sometimes being intimate means being uncomfortable. If your goal is truly intimacy and not simply ensuring that you and your partner have a pleasant experience, it’s time to put away the public face when you’re alone together.
One of the most important things we can do for our loved ones is to make them feel validated. Make sure your partner feels understood, even when you don’t necessarily agree. This is as important in trivial conversation as it is in an argument. Listen to what he or she tells you, imagine how that feels, and give your partner some kind of feedback that you hear and understand. Another key component to validation is supporting your partner in his or her goals. You should be a fan of this person with whom you’ve chosen to share yourself. If you don’t honestly believe in your partner, you probably aren’t as interested in achieving intimacy as you think you are. Intimacy is sharing yourselves fearlessly and supporting each other whole-heartedly. If that’s not truly what you want, you’re really just being polite.
Respond to need.
Your relationship is a commitment to be there when your partner needs you. Make time when you don’t have it. Be honest when you want to hide. And make sacrifices when it’s exceedingly difficult. You should be the first place your partner turns for support. Of course, in order to respond to need, you’ll need to understand it. Listen to what your partner says, as well as what goes unsaid. When you’re truly intimate, you understand what your partner needs before they do.
Insecurity can sabotage intimacy; it’s a shameless promoter of inhibition, dishonesty, and jealousy. But eliminating it isn’t easy, and it involves addressing your partner’s insecurities as well as your own. No one wants to reveal their flaws, but if you are in a loving and supportive relationship, you have to trust that they will be accepted. After all, if you never reveal those parts of yourself, how will your partner have a chance to accept (and know) all of you? And while love is powerful, it isn’t enough. Your partner needs to feel your love and be secure in your feelings and your relationship.
Be wary of substitutes.
Alcohol and recreational drugs induce feelings of closeness, well-being and openness. But far from being aides to intimacy, they are its insidious imposters. If you don’t enjoy being with your partner without social lubricants, or you’re not comfortable being uninhibited without help, then no amount of substances will bring you closer together. If you want to achieve real intimacy, challenge yourselves to pursue it organically. Communicate, cuddle and find joy together all by yourselves. And remember that substitutes come in many forms. Sex that is used to avoid intimacy rather than enhance it creates distance. Compliments that are not sincere do nothing for your relationship. We all want to avoid conflict and to resolve it quickly when it occurs, but conflict, like honesty and discomfort, is part of creating a real bond. Be willing to confront the reality of being together, and you’ll find yourself well on your way to lasting, honest intimacy.
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