Entertainment media often portrays sex as the most potent way that two people can connect – as if sex and intimacy are synonymous. But is this really true? I think intimacy is something far deeper and much more rewarding. When intimacy is already present, then sex can be a way of expressing shared connection. Without it, sex is just enjoyable friction between bodies. If intimacy is missing, it is possible to be in a loving, committed relationship, and still be lonely. Like two trains passing each other on parallel tracks, some couples share a life together, but never quite figure out how to cross the gap between them.
So what is intimacy? It’s the proximity between two hearts. The closer the hearts, the greater the intimacy. Intimacy’s territory is found in the deep bond of knowing between lovers. It’s about hearts that aren’t afraid to be naked with each other. In a healthy relationship where the necessary skills are at work, the distance between the hearts naturally decreases over time. This is not about two people becoming the same and losing their individual identities, but rather, growing in understanding, and exploring the full potential of their relationship.
Many people desire increased intimacy with their partner, but don’t know how to achieve it. Let’s talk about some practical steps that can be taken to point your relationship in a more intimate direction.
1. Create the conditions in which intimacy can grow.
Intimacy isn’t a switch that is flipped from off to on. It is something which must be grown, and can only flourish under the right conditions. Trust is vital if hearts are to be revealed, and trust takes time to unfold. Your partner must feel loved, respected and valued. Your words and actions must consistently be in alignment so as to produce this sense within them. They must feel safe in order to get past any barriers of shame and fear, and open themselves to you. Each day, your choices will either prepare the way for (or prevent the flowering of) intimacy. All of these principles are mutual, of course. As a couple, you’ll need to work together in making your relationship a sacred space in which you can offer up your unguarded hearts to each other.
2. Become a skilled listener.
If you want to be an intimate lover, then hone your listening skills. Discover what your partner is thinking and feeling. Listening is much more than just acquiring information. The skillful listener devotes their full attention to not only the words, but what the eyes, the body, and the voice are conveying. Pay attention to what is and isn’t being said. Ask questions which encourage deeper sharing, as you coax your lover’s heart out of hiding. Seek clarification to make sure you are accurately understanding what your partner is trying to convey. A skilled listener hears deeply, without defending or arguing. Only when they are satisfied that their lover has been heard fully and accurately, do they share their own thoughts.
3. Take the lead in opening your heart.
The vulnerability required to open the deep places of one’s heart can be scary because taking off protective armor always carries the risk of being hurt. Understandably, many people are reluctant to do this. One of the best ways to encourage your partner to open up is for you to take the lead, modeling the behavior you want to encourage. By going first, sharing your heart, and making yourself vulnerable, you show that it’s safe for them to do so as well.
4. Choose intimacy-based responses to conflicts.
Every relationship has its share of challenges and difficulties, and being committed to deepening your connection will not magically make them go away. The good news is that, if handled properly, these very challenges can result in increased intimacy. Every time you work through conflicts together, your hearts will end up closer. When you have the mindset that all relational conflicts are learning and growth opportunities in the laboratory of love, then you can focus on respectful communication, and being partners in problem-solving. When difficulties arise, you stay on the same team and work toward the same goal (increased intimacy). How you respond to conflicts makes all the difference. In choosing your responses, always ask “Will this increase or decrease intimacy?” Let that be your guiding principle in everything.
Intimacy is about going deep with your partner. That’s where the good stuff awaits. It’s about experiencing love in high-definition. Become an explorer and adventurer. Grow in intimacy and you will unlock all the rewards your relationship holds!