I often ask couples, “What is intimacy?” They respond – sex, romance, affection, talking deeply. Intimacy may be defined differently by each of us.
The dictionary defines intimacy as: “Warm friendship, having a close personal relationship, familiarity, engaging in a romantic relationship or sex.”
So, what does intimacy really mean?
My favorite definition was expressed by sex therapist, Esther Perel. She said,
Intimacy is “Into Me See.”
Whether it’s inside or outside the bedroom, having deep conversation or making love…intimacy means letting our partner “see us,” know who we are at our core, listen to and accept our deepest secrets, our darkest fears, our riskiest dreams and our most raw vulnerabilities.
To be accepted, heard, loved and appreciated for our best and worst parts we need to let our defenses down, be transparent and authentic. In a truly intimate relationship, our partner reflects back to us the best parts of ourselves and accepts the parts we can’t change. This in turn helps us understand and appreciate ourselves more deeply.
The best place in the world is in the arms of someone who will not only hold you at your best but will pick you up and hug you tight at your weakest moment. – Unknown
How Do We Make Intimacy Last?
In the beginning of relationships and marriages, we focus on the best qualities our partner has, and minimize or deny the parts we don’t like. Our powerful biological yearning to connect, to give and receive love, unites us emotionally and physically.
Intense feelings of attraction, affection, and sexual desire align and unite to create a loving bond; a connection that feels fierce and powerful, untouchable and secure. In reality, it is actually quite fragile.
We may be unaware that our bond needs to be maintained and strengthened over time; that the seeds of emotional and erotic connection must be nurtured and watered or they will wither and die, under the stress of daily life.
Without mindful attention, the fragile bond slowly and insidiously starts to weaken and the elements of emotional and sexual connection start to fragment. Women may shift towards the emotional and affectionate elements of love, while men drift towards the lustful and erotic facets of love. If this continues a breakdown will eventually threaten the relationship.
For love to last a lifetime, the biggest challenge for couples is to attend to both.
Build Emotional Intimacy
When do you feel closest to your partner emotionally? For Bob and I, it can be working through a conflict, providing support for each at difficult times, having deep conversations about meaningful subjects. Or it can be going dancing, having a date and reminiscing about all that we have done in our time together, or escaping to a bed and breakfast for the weekend.
What builds intimacy for you and your partner? When do you feel connected? What makes you “see into” each other? Is it talking, sharing, supporting, spending time together, giving or receiving gifts, the “little things” that you do for each other?
Have that conversation with your partner. And then, mindfully do more of those things. Create the habit of emotional intimacy.
Build Erotic Intimacy
Sexual intimacy also needs attention and nurturance. Over the years we must stoke the fire of our passion, romance and sexual desire that attracted us to each other in the first place. This can be especially difficult.
Experts including Barry McCarthy, Ph.D., Michele Weiner-Davis and Pat Love, found that:
- One in five couples live in a “sexless” marriage, defined as having sex less than ten times a year.
- About one third of married couples have mismatched sexual desire.
- Having sex once or twice a week is considered average.
- Only 40% of married couples report they are “very satisfied” with their sex lives.
- About 50% of the population needs to make a real effort to feel sexual desire.
- If there is healthy sexuality in a marriage, sex only plays a 15-20% role in relationship satisfaction; but, in relationships with conflict about sex or avoidance of sex, it plays a much more powerful role in a couple’s dissatisfaction.
- Married couples have better and more satisfying sex than single or divorced people.
In practice, one of the most common problems couples present is low-sex or no-sex relationships. Couples avoid sex for many reasons:
- not making sex a priority,
- stress and exhaustion,
- low libido,
- decrease in sex drive due to medication, hormonal changes, or menopause,
- performance anxiety,
- weight gain and body image issues,
- anxiety about intimacy,
- conflict, anger, feelings of rejection,
- use of pornography or internet sites,
- not feeling close emotionally or feeling disengaged,
- boredom or lack of mismatched libidos.
Whatever the reason, avoidance of sex creates more avoidance. Couples who allow their erotic connection to wane are at great risk for unhappiness, affairs or divorce.
Love making is one of the most intimate pleasures in life. Esther Perel says the purpose of sex is to make us feel alive. With conscious effort, a good erotic connection can be made great. Where there is low or no sexual desire, the sparks can be reignited.
Communicating with your partner about your sexual connection is vital. Most couples feel awkward talking about sex and avoid it. Do it anyway.
Identify and discuss the roadblocks to an improved sex life in a spirit of love and respect. Boost your partner’s self-esteem and self-confidence with encouragement, compliments and appreciation.
In addition, we recommend the following to increase your erotic connection:
- Talk – Tell each other what excites you or “turns you on.”
- Tease – Make out on the coach or in the car with your clothes on.
- Touch – Flirt using sensual touch outside the bedroom.
- Tune-In – Ask your partner what would make him/her feel more loved.
- Take Time – Make your erotic connection a priority.
- Tune-Up – Be more creative, adventurous and playful with sex.
- Travel – Go away together to focus on your relationship.
- Toys – Use sexual toys.
- Try it anyway – Even if not in the mood, once you begin, desire will follow.
- Thank your partner – Express gratitude to your partner for their efforts.
With attention and care, the fragile bond of emotional and erotic love will become stronger and deeper. This is the forever love that will last a lifetime.
Share this article with your partner to begin the conversation about creating deeper intimacy today.
Your relationship deserves the highest level of support. Relationship Experts, Bob and Lori Hollander are committed to helping individuals and couples build connection and deepen bonds in a world that often makes it difficult.
Call them at 410-363-2825 or email them today, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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