In a couple, each person seems to understand the intimate experience in his or her own way. In a sense, it takes a journey of personal discovery to learn how to share intimacy with another person. Here are some guidelines that may help to define that journey–

Know Your Self:
Get in touch with your own private experiences. In our stressed-out world, this is often hard to do because our attention is directed outward much of the time. It helps to sit – doing nothing and being distracted by nothing – and spend time in reflection and introspection. Observe your thoughts and feelings. The brain has pleasure centers – close your eyes and imagine yourself experiencing pleasure. A trustworthy person is one who can honor and respect you for sharing your most intimate experiences. Become familiar with those parts of yourself that are strong and feel whole and integrated. Learn to feel comfortable with the part of yourself that senses calmness, confidence, and peace. (Some people like to spend a few minutes every night before bed, perhaps with just a candle burning, reflecting on the events of the day. Others prefer to keep a daily journal of their private thoughts and feelings. Some prefer to learn a technique like mindfulness meditation.) Until you know your own private feelings, it is difficult to share them with someone else.

Communicate With Another Person:
Share what you know about yourself with another person who can be trusted. This involves several steps. First, you need a sense of commitment to that person. Strangers passing through your life are not the appropriate people with whom to share your deepest feelings. Intimacy has to be reserved for a person who will be there over the long haul – a close friend, a partner, a family member, or, if we’re lucky, the soul mate. You also need a feeling of trust. If the other person is not able to appreciate the delicacy of what you are sharing, it is futile to try to achieve intimacy. In the worst case, your words might be held against you later, which can be damaging and may lead to cynicism and distrust. Knowing whom to trust involves acquiring good judgment about other people. Finally, understand that intimacy involves making yourself vulnerable. The guarded and defensive person will never find true intimacy. Finding intimacy means taking a risk, opening yourself up, sharing the most personal part of yourself with another person. Can the other person handle it? Can the other person care? If they can, you may no longer be alone.

Intimacy Is Reciprocal:
A healthy intimate relationship is one in which both partners know themselves and are able to come together with a sense of equality. Certain relationships are not meant to be reciprocal (the therapist/client relationship, for example, often involves a high level of deeply personal communication, but this is on the part of the client). Value judgments, criticisms, and advice-giving have no place in intimate communication. Perhaps the most intense and lasting levels of intimacy are achieved when both partners are able to share equally with each other. As the listener, you have to be able to honor and respect the openness, vulnerability, and courage of the one who is communicating personal ideas and emotions. Value judgments, criticisms, and advice-giving have no place in intimate communication. The goal is to appreciate and acknowledge the validity of the other person’s deepest feelings. If you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, you may then have the ability to appreciate similar experiences on the part of the other person.

Keep the Light Alive:
Once two people have entered into a deep level of sharing, they usually want to stay there. If there is true equality between the two, they achieve a balance that feels right and they don’t want to lose. If, however, one of the partners feels the need to lessen the level of intimacy, the probability of conflict increases. You can avoid misunderstandings by maintaining your commitment and trust during these natural cycles that occur within any relationship. Intimacy takes work and a sense of maturity. To shirk the responsibility of keeping an intimate relationship alive invites a return to isolation.

The intimate relationship is healthy. Intimacy allows us to end loneliness and to share the deepest and most personal parts of ourselves with a trusted partner. As social beings, we respond physically to the experience of intimacy. People who have intimate relationships live longer and healthier lives and they report more personal happiness and satisfaction with the way they live. Intimacy gives us a feeling of comfort, security, and a sense of being loved and accepted. It gives us the freedom and support to stay true to the special qualities that define each one of us as a unique person.

Individual Therapy, relational therapy, or couples therapy can allow you to explore your own deepest and most intimate feelings in a safe and accepting setting with a professional trained to understand these inner processes. The psychotherapeutic relationship allows you to learn to stay true to your uniqueness and feel comfortable in sharing your authenticity with another person. You can explore who can be trusted, and who can’t, as well as the features of your life that may have led you to hide from others. Individual therapy, relational therapy, or couples therapy all have the potential to teach you how to break out of isolation and loneliness into a world of love and acceptance. It prepares you to explore an intimate relationship outside of the therapy setting.

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT