- Gender and Relationships»
- Romantic Intimacy
Tools for Greater Couple Intimacy
When the word 'intimacy' comes up in conversation, it is quite often associated with sex. While sex is part of intimacy, it is not nearly the total story. Couple intimacy has a far greater potential than what most couples believe or even ever experience during their relationship. Understanding and developing the full spectrum of couple intimacy can not only enrich a relationship, but even save some relationships that are stuck or dying due to a stalled level of intimacy.
Six kinds of intimacy may be defined as a means of learning about the full spectrum of what is possible in the healthiest relationships. Further, these six intimacies need to be in balance with each other so that the optimum levels of couple intimacy are able to be achieved. The six intimacies are: intellectual, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, and difficult intimacy.
Intellectual intimacy is a closeness that develops when a couple share thoughts, ideas, plans and strategies with each other. When couples have enough of this intimacy, they will feel like they are really sharing life together; that they are 'on the same page' with each other. The basis for intellectual intimacy are the abilities to engage positively in conversation with interest and attention, sharing at least some interest in the topic at hand, and the ability to hold on to your won emotions well enough to keep a friendly disagreement or debate from turning into a reactive fight.
Emotional intimacy is a sensibility that each individual in a couple is able to deeply respect their partner's emotions and emotional life, and that there is genuine empathy between the couple when one has an emotion or wants to share an emotion. Truly shared emotion, meaning that both partners find an emotional connection through a common emotion or event, can produce a strong sense of intimacy. Emotional intimacy can include very positive emotions or very negative ones, like when a death occurs in one partner's family of origin. When emotional intimacy is lacking, partners begin to feel that there is no warmth and little real caring between them. When this occurs, the other intimacies bottom out very quickly.
Physical intimacy for couples involves the every day casual touches and signs of affection common to being a couple. Supportive hugs, reaching out to touch a shoulder and patting a hand are all simple examples of physical intimacy. More involved and intense physical intimacy might include things like back or body rubs that are not intended nor turn into sexual encounters. In addition, invitations to cuddle on the couch or in bed as a couple drifts off to sleep are typical physical intimacies that should not be minimized or taken for granted, This because when there is a decrease in non-sexual physical intimacy, it can be an indication of building resentments in other areas of couple life.
Sexual intimacy may seem to need no detailed explanation, but quite often this area of intimacy in a couple's life has long since hit the doldrums not only in spark and heat, but in the area of meaning and variety as well. There are plenty of statistics to demonstrate just how many couples live in relationships that are essentially 'sexless'. Everyone who has had sex understands that sex can be completely devoid of intellectual, emotional, or spiritual intimacy. In fact, many couples have not even stopped to consider that sex has a potential to even include spiritual intimacy. The potential for sexual intimacy is that it is the intimacy where all of the other intimacies can come together in unison; this uniting of all six intimacies in sex can take sexual experience to a whole new level!
How can the other intimacies come together in sexual intimacy? Well, physical intimacy is so most obvious it does not need explaining. Intellectual intimacy can be used in a couple searching out together further adult level sex education that can include anything form understanding human sexual response to choosing a new sex toy together. Emotional intimacy is also one that needs little explaining, but it should be pointed out that couples can explore and heighten their level of emotional connectivity during sex. While many people may be mystified when the idea of sex and spirituality are mentioned, when all of the intimacies are being expressed to the fullest during sexual experience, the effect can be quite clearly a spiritual one for the couple.
Spiritual intimacy is more difficult to define, because many people associate 'spiritual' with 'religious'. Though the two can be closely related, and a couple may in fact share deep intimacy surrounding a shared religious tradition that is spiritual, spiritual intimacy may not necessarily be religious. Even when it is, spiritual intimacy between a couple can greatly exceed the religious and enter into a domain that strikes at the very heart of 'two souls joined'.
Couples often do not discover spiritual intimacy until later in the relationship, and it one that couples often speak about as one that grows and deepens the longer the couple are together. It is important to note that not all couple relationships recognize or even want this type of intimacy, but spiritual intimacy is possible in every relationship.
The final intimacy is difficult intimacy, a kind of intimacy that most couples work hard at avoiding. Opportunities to engage in difficult intimacy happen as frequently as the other intimacies, but because it is difficult, is often anxiety producing and uncomfortable. Difficult intimacy presents when one partner is in a position to tell the other partner something that is critical or unsatisfying. Examples of this might include the need to tell your partner that you are not satisfied with the amount of time that you spend together, or that you disagree strongly with them on a situation or choice. Many people avoid or 'bury' their thoughts and feelings when they are presented with difficult intimacy because we are taught and socialized to 'keep the peace'. We fear that our partner will become upset or even leave if we tell the truth of what is on our heart or in our mind. This is not to say that we are brutal or vindictive in sharing these things, but that we tell it like it is, 'straight up'. The value of being brave and engaging in difficult intimacy is that it brings a more authentic and honest kind of communication and intimacy to the relationship. Difficult intimacy can be an amazing tool to make all of the other intimacies even stronger.
Taken together, it can be seen how each intimacy overlaps and flows into the other; how each have strong influence over the others. In committed monogamous relationships, engagement in all of the intimacies can create a very positive energy flow in the relationship that gives it strength and staying power. When even just one of the intimacies is out of balance with the others, it begins to negatively affect all of them. So attention and evaluation of the balance is in order as a routine check on the the health of the relationship.
If you find that your couple relationship is lacking in any of the six intimacies, it is important to get the ball rolling in the right direction. To do this, you will need to address your dissatisfaction or negative evaluation with your partner. And this of course, involves difficult intimacy, and you may feel quite anxious about approaching the subject with your partner. But get your courage up, and take the chance, because your partner may be also feeling the same as you, and if neither of you engage in difficult intimacy, you will both lose out on something beautiful.
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Welcome to the professional website of W. E. Krill, Jr. M.S.P.C. Bill is an experienced counselor with children, teens, families, adults, and couples. He specializes in treating children and adults who have PTSD as a result of interpersonal trauma.