Many people say they want intimacy in relationships, but they don’t. What they want is an anodyne state, where no one offends anyone else, and no one presses the wrong buttons. This is not intimacy. It is kind and peaceful, but it’s not intimacy.
Let’s look in a bit more detail at what intimacy is.
Intimacy is the ability (1) to be welcomed and welcoming, (2) to know and be known, and (3) to go where we might fear to go, and to allow others to come where they might fear to come. This means, in short, being kind, curious and daring in relationships.
1 – BE KIND
Kindness is the first essential for intimacy. By kindness, I mean the ability to create a relationship where there is goodwill, and a strong likelihood of mutual protection. Without this, no one can be assured that getting closer will bring good results.
Think of a relationship you would like to become more intimate. Are you welcomed by the other person into their life, and are they welcomed by you into your life? If not, why not? What are you or they protecting? Many relationships cannot be intimate because neither party can trust the other.
In families where kindness is missing, for example, children grow up learning to hide. This is because there is no point in showing themselves, only to receive an angry or violent response. Such children sometimes grow into adults who find it difficult to trust others, and to create intimacy in relationships. This is not surprising – their early training counted against intimacy, discouraged it.
2 – BE CURIOUS
An intimate relationship is one in which each person knows a lot about the other. This is impossible without a certain degree of curiosity. If you are not interested in your partner, for instance, then don’t be surprised if you don’t get to know a lot about them!
In an intimate relationship, you know, and are known, more deeply. Intimacy can be forced by circumstance. Sometimes emergencies force people to get to know each other quickly. Also, work situations can expose individuals to great knowledge about each other, because they have the privilege of watching each other do their jobs every day.
But a key ingredient in those who can forge intimate relationships, is genuine curiosity about the other. You may remember from school days that, if you were not interested in a subject, then nothing went into your brain. However, if you were genuinely interested, learning was a lot easier. It’s the same with people.
3 – BE DARING
Are you prepared to ask difficult questions, or are you afraid of opening up questions that it’s hard to discuss? When there is an elephant in the room, do you dance around it gingerly, hoping someone else will bring the subject up? Or are you prepared to go there yourself, and show the other person you are not afraid of discussion?
Here are three things you can do, at any time, to built more intimacy into your relationships.
- SEEK KINDNESS – Make it very clear to others that you wish them well, and want them to be safe. Equally, seek others who wish you well, and who want you to be safe; if they are hostile towards you, or make you feel unsafe, then perhaps a more intimate relationship with them is not a good idea.
- SHARE INFORMATION – Take the time to ask questions. Take a genuine interest in individuals and their lives. Equally, take the time to answer questions, and not just bat them away. If you have problems with taking a genuine interest in others, or with sharing information about yourself, then perhaps intimacy is not for you.
- PUSH SLIGHTLY BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE – You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg, and you can’t make an intimate relationship without opening things up. You have to be a bit like a fearless explorer to enjoy intimacy. It requires initiative.
SOME FINAL NOTES
It takes two to build intimacy. If you find yourself being kind, sharing, and taking initiative, but you are not getting a response from the other person, then it’s time to reconsider. It may be that you’re not compatible as close friends. It may be you’re not to their taste. Or it may be that the other person is not ready to enter into intimacy. Relationships take resources, and it is important to be wise in allocating those resources.
In particular, avoid abusive behaviour. If one or other of you is being unkind, holding back on information, or withdrawing, then it’s time to reflect. Is this a temporary blip? Or is it a pattern of behaviour likely to continue, making it difficult to keep going? Intimate relationships are supposed to be helpful, not painful.
- An atmosphere of kindness and safety on both sides
- Interest in, and knowledge about, each other
- A willingness to dare to explore, not withdraw
It’s a two-way thing. If it’s one-sided, it may be time to reconsider the relationship.
In general, being kind, taking an interest, and being willing to get out of your own comfort zone to get to know the other more… these are all key skills for intimacy. If both you, and your significant friends, are doing this, it gives relational depth a very good chance indeed.