When intimacy is spoken of in the modern world it invariably has a strong connotation of sexuality. But intimacy is much more in that it encompasses five essential dimensions of our lives: the physical; the social; the emotional; the cognitive and the spiritual. When all these components are harmonised couples arrive at a place of intimacy which in essence is total life sharing. But yet many couples struggle to integrate and understand intimacy within their daily lives. The experiencing of intimacy for some couples may be solely physical and fo rothers it is emotional also.
Attitudes and underlying assumptions about intimacy originate for most individuals in their family of origin in how love has been modelled and nurtured. The experience of not feeling loved in childhood can become a wound in adulthood that causes individuals to withdraw and disconnect from loving. This is frequently represented by individuals who are afraid of being loved: they long for closeness and tenderness but withdraw at the critical moment. This can become very disconcerting for the other partner who wonders if he/she is being rejected, teased or controlled.
Couples who have different approaches to intimacy sometimes struggle. An individual who is very shy, private and avoidant can find it difficult to respond to a partner who is expressive, and open . This requires tolerance, patience and loving understanding. Couples also struggle with intimacy when the desire for need is greater than want. This occurs when one partner becomes so obsessed that he / she cannot live without the other. In this instance the individual mistakenly believes that the intensity of his/her need is a true indicator of love.
Fear of revealing their true self can be a major obstacle to couples around intimacy. Individuals frequently feel that if they reveal something unpleasant or unresolved from their past life, it will destroy the relationship. They feel their partner will reject them, and so they hide behind a mask by projecting a false image of who they really are. But true intimacy can never be realised unless this mask is removed. Partners sometimes draw back from intimacy because they feel that in achieving intimate union with the other, they will lose some of their independence. And while the benefits of intimacy are rich, some individuals cherish their independence more.
Relationship intimacy rests on the mature understanding of two people who feel they want to share their lives together in love. It encompasses desire, openness, oneness, commitment, passion, tolerance and sexual loving. Intimacy takes various forms and for some couples this is represented through cuddles, touch, kisses and emotional closeness without sexual intercourse. The act of sexual loving is for many couples the ultimate expression of intimacy.
Discuss with each other what you understand by intimacy. What might be the obstacles to intimacy for both of you? How do you feel you might advance day-to- day intimacy within your loving relationship?
If you are encountering problems in your marriage/relationship or ifyou would like to explore unresolved relationship issues, and would like to speak to a marriage and relationship counsellor, you might like to contact ACCORD Catholic Marriage Care Counselling Service.