Though we rarely think of intimacy as a challenge (especially when we’re single and looking for love!), sharing your life – and yourself – with another person is a complicated matter. Between the questions it poses (how much information is too much information) and the risks it involves (if I share how I truly feel will they still love me?), finding a way to be yourself, and accept your partner for who they are in return, requires opening your mind and your heart, as well as learning the fine art of timing.
If you’re struggling with the delicate balance of an intimate relationship, or simply want to establish some ground rules for the next time you’re part of a pair, try taking these tips for intimacy to heart (and head):
1. Remember, trust is earned
One of the biggest (though most well-intentioned) mistakes we make when we meet a person of interest is to pour our hearts out instantly. But giving someone the good, the bad and the ugly before you’ve exchanged middle names (or spent more than a night or two together) isn’t intimate – nor is it wise if pursuing a long-term relationship is your goal.
The early part of dating is about getting to know each other. And aside from removing the mystery, instant full disclosure asks that you be judged on your history and experiences rather than who you are. You cast yourself in light of your past, when what you want to do is be present… and if things start to seem plausible, create a future. A time to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets (and biggest joys, too!) will come in time when you’re with the right person. Naturally this doesn’t mean you should hide things or lie – in fact, quite the opposite. But you can be honest without revealing your whole hand in the name of (premature) full disclosure. Trust is earned over time… Otherwise, we’d be intimately involved with everyone we casually date!
2. Honesty is paramount
While it’s up to you to dictate your time line for opening up, honesty is of the utmost importance from day one of a relationship. What does this mean? It means not saying you like something you don’t (you can express willingness to learn about your partner’s hobbies rather than feigning experience with them). It means not pretending to be comfortable with a situation you’re not (in hopes it will change or out of fear of scaring your lover away). It means being willing to open up as the situation merits it, and staying true to yourself no matter what. If you’re dishonest with your partner or with yourself (about anything from favorite books to how compatible you actually think you are), you’re setting the relationship up for failure. Think about it, if you’re not yourself, then with whom are you asking your partner to fall in love with?
Always be yourself. In the right relationship, your mate is going to know your strengths and weaknesses and love you for all of them.
3. Acceptance is mutual
On that note, one of the toughest lessons to learn in love (and in life) is that nothing (or no one) is going to be perfect. You’re not and neither is your partner (potential or proven). Love means acceptance. And in order to share true intimacy – wherein you contribute to the betterment of each other’s lives while helping each other grow as individuals and a pair – both partners must be willing to accept each other – as they are, as they were, and as they will be. Remaining honest and trusting each other are two ways to foster that atmosphere. But you must also be open. That doesn’t mean you should accept being poorly treated, or compromise your beliefs in the name of love. The acceptance in question means cultivating understanding in good times and bad, knowing what’s important and letting the little things slide.
4. Selflessness is sometimes required
Lastly, in a relationship, things are rarely all about you – or your partner. Both of you play a role in your actions and reactions – as do outside factors. The point is, while we all can have the tendency to be self-centered at times (after all, we only know our own experiences and feelings), true intimacy requires being able to read your partner and assess (and tend to) their needs as well as your own. Of course it’s not your job to make sure they’re taken care of at all times, but being intimate does require occasionally checking your own needs at the door. The beauty part is you get that back twofold – both in the act itself (giving is rewarding, after all) and when it’s your turn to be cared for in return.
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