Guidelines that Lead to Greater Intimacy

Thursday, September 4, 2014 @ 12:16 PM

Intimacy can seem elusive, difficult to attain, mystifying to maintain. We may even find ourselves confused and uncertain about what intimacy is or isn’t. We may find ourselves accepting types of apparent intimacy that are not even intimacy at all. In this chapter I will attempt to explore this issue and suggest guidelines that may lead to greater intimacy.

First, let me say that intimacy is not based first and foremost on its physical expression. Rather, physical expressions of intimacy (touch, embrace, sexual expression) follow non-physical development of intimacy. I am sorry if this appears as bad news for you, but I have become convinced this is true. If physical expressions of intimacy precede emotional bonds we become confused and disoriented about the meaning and purpose of the relationship. We can convince ourselves that bonds are present and that connections exist that are still undeveloped.

Rather, intimacy is first based on self-disclosure and emotional vulnerability. You cannot be intimate with me if you do not know who I am. An old rabbinic story: a young student says to his teacher, “Rabbi, I love you!” The wise rabbi responds, “Do you know what my hurts are?” The student says, “No, Rabbi, you have never told me what your hurts are.” “Then,” the rabbi answers, “you cannot love me.”

To share ones hurts, joys, fears, loves, angers, worries, dreams, visions, hopes–to share all the inner thoughts and feelings that one knows about–is to risk. One risks rejection, betrayal, a blank stare. This willing to put oneself “out there” requires vulnerability. Yet, how can one be close to another without being known.

Of course this presupposes another proposition: one knows what his/her hurts are; one knows about his/her hurts, joys, fears, loves, angers, worries, dreams, visions, hopes. In short, one is aware of ones self. As a mentor once said to me, “You can’t be close to another unless there is a “you” first.” Perhaps this is why the divorce rate is much higher for those who marry before age 30. In our culture most persons in their 20′s are still discovering these things about themselves. If you don’t know who you are, when you find out and you’re already in a committed relationship that relationship may be called into question. A trivial example: I discover that I really don’t enjoy Mexican food but we have based our relationship on eating Mexican food. What do we do now? You may really enjoy Mexican food and wish to continue, while I seek other choices. This difference would have been useful to explore early in a relationship so we could determine how we will handle this conflict. If we don’t find a way to resolve it now, our relationship may be threatened.

Countless couples I have counseled have claimed, “He/she has changed and I have not.” Or “I have changed and he/she has not.”  More often than not, the “change” is a matter of self-discovery and new self-definition. It often stresses relationships to the breaking point when important self-discoveries are made. Young couples are particularly vulnerable. After all, growth plates do not close until mid-20′s. While personal growth continues throughout life, growth in self-awareness often peaks before age 30.

Intimacy and Self-Definition

This process of self-definition is actually a part of intimacy. Indeed, we must have a certain “critical mass” of self-understanding and self-awareness to begin to share with another human. However, once this “critical mass” is reached we don’t stop learning, growing, and developing–rather, the growth process continues throughout life. A personal example: at the age of 60 I became exposed to tai chi and qigong, Chinese martial arts and healing disciplines. The learnings and discoveries made through this exploration have become part of my on-going narrative, and, thus, part of what someone learns about me as we become intimate. Also, these learnings and discoveries inform my on-going relationships with my wife, my relatives, my friends, and my clients. This continuing and evolving growth becomes part of the intimacy-building process.


Written by Wil Hutchins