Intimacy is often a scary endeavor for many people. A fear of intimacy is not a fear of being close to someone, but rather, a fear of vulnerability and exposure.
I believe we often protect ourselves by placing boundaries so rigid that the ability to connect with another person is stunted.
The desire to connect with other people is a central part of being human. However, knowing how to develop intimacy and having the desire to do so are two different things. Understanding the root reason people struggle with intimacy, can help us understand the difficulties one has in developing intimacy.
What is intimacy?
To be intimate means to be close to another person. This includes being sexually, psychically, cognitively, and emotionally connected with those aspects in another person over time. We begin any relationship with rigid boundaries only allowing limited aspects of who we are to be disclosed. As the relationship matures, those boundaries retreat allowing a person to connect with more and more aspects of who you are. For example, on a first date you are not going to talk about things that a couple of 30 years might.
As these boundaries retreat, our vulnerability increases each time we expose our true self to our partner. I truly believe intimacy is the key to the evolution of a relationship. We must develop a deep connection and maintain that connection over time for our relationships to survive. Often these connections get lost and intimacy gets lost as well and can result in turmoil and resentment in a relationship.
A person who struggles with intimacy is really struggling with fear and uncomfortable feelings.
We fear rejection and isolation; it is wired from the hunter gather days where social isolation met certain death. When we are afraid we close off into protection mode. We place rigid boundaries to protect ourselves. A person’s true self is really only seen through one pair of eyes. How much we let people see that true self depends on how afraid we are that the person we are sharing our true self with won’t reject us.
Trauma can impact intimacy
Trauma is another aspect that prevents people from achieving intimacy. To be intimate you must feel safe to share. A person only allows their boundaries down if they feel safe.
Take me for example. Prior to my marriage, I had an engagement fall through. It hurt, it took a long time to feel safe enough to propose to another woman, who I can happily say is my wife. The level of intimacy I needed for marriage was not easily achieved because I was processing the trauma of that failed engagement. To put it better “once burned, twice shy”.
But things are not hopeless. We can help ourselves and our partners to feel safe and thus feel the comfort needed for intimacy to form. Here are some of the ways to achieve this:
1. Don’t be judgmental
Judgment is a common thing we do to others and even our partner/s. When it comes to your partner, judgment builds walls between the two of you. We don’t want to make our partners feel less than you.
We need to feel accepted and, when we do, we open up more and more to find more and more parts of ourselves to be accepted. If judge, we feel rejected, humiliated, and not good enough; all the feelings that cause people to pull away rather than connect.
2. Take the first step
We can wait for our partner to connect with us or we can try to connect with our partner. If you are both waiting for each other, no one wins. A lack of action can also bring a sense of powerlessness over the conflicts in your relationship. By acting first, you can start to reclaim that power and make positive changes in your relationship.
3. Have sex
Sex is an important part of intimacy. For many, the physical pleasure of sex and touch can disarm the most guarded of people. Sex must be more than two minutes of humping and roll over and go to sleep. To reestablish intimacy, you must take your time to relearn each other’s bodies.
Sex can also lead to a person to relaxing their boundaries and opening up. Sex can be the pathway to intimacy for many men and for women as well.
4. Play with each other
The longest relationship I have is with my best friend and we have known each other since we were 8 years old. How we forged such a strong bond as children was because of play. We played childhood games but through that play we forged a long-lasting and trusting relationship.
If you hold back, your partner will hold back. By accepting yourself you allow the development of intimacy with yourself and thus can share with someone else. We withhold the parts we see as our most vulnerable and threating parts of ourselves. These are what we see as a threat to our social acceptance.
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