As an intimacy and sexology scholar, I witness couples painfully share their sense of loneliness in what is supposed to be a happy, fulfilling, shared life.
Couples may not always know how to define intimacy, but they can definitely feel something missing from their relationships. They may sleep in the same bed, shower in the same bathroom, eat similar foods, and raise the same kids, but somehow, they feel lonely and disconnected from each other.
Nancy L. Collins and Brooke C. Feeney, authors of the chapter “An Attachment Theory Perspective on Closeness and Intimacy” in the text Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, cite exclusive definitions for closeness and intimacy.
- Closeness refers to “the degree to which relationship partners are cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally interdependent with one another. By interdependent, we mean the degree to which partners’ lives are deeply intertwined such that partners influence one another’s outcomes and rely on one another for the fulfillment of important social, emotional, and physical needs.”
- Intimacy refers to “a special class of social interactions in which one partner expresses self-relevant feelings and information and, as a result of the other partner’s responsiveness and positive regard, the individual comes to feel understood, validated, and cared for.” Intimacy includes verbal sharing, physical touch, and sexual engagement.
You may find yourselves managing life together but not necessarily diving into the deeper realm of emotional transparency, physical affection, and sexual pleasure.
When I help people develop healthy levels of intimacy, I remind them that intimacy is not an end goal. Intimacy is a shared moment. It will come and it will go.
Our work is not to hold a death grip on intimacy but simply to create an abundance of intimate moments.
In fact, intimacy can feel so intense at times that I believe we need to step away from deeply intimate moments or else we might not put our best attention toward other important life tasks. Our work is not to hold a death grip on intimacy but simply to create an abundance of intimate moments.
In their definition of intimacy, Collins and Feeney note that a partner’s responsiveness and positive regard are elements of an intimate dynamic. Lack of intimacy may directly connect to a history of poor responsiveness.
Questions you may want to consider about your relationship include:
- Do we regard each other as good people?
- Do we have each other’s best interests at heart?
- Do we trust each other with our innermost thoughts and feelings?
- Do we listen to each other attentively?
- Do we take care of each other emotionally, physically, and sexually?
Research tells us our adult romantic relationships are tied to our early primary attachments as infants. When you consider the questions above, how closely do your responses mirror relationships from your early childhood years? With your parents? With caregivers?
Building a solid, stable, loving, long-term, committed relationship takes work. You are a complex human being, comprised of many dimensions that influence how you show up as a romantic partner.
Know that with thoughtful, consistent effort, you can develop a richer, more connected relationship. Start with answering the questions above. Let them guide you into a deeper conversation with your partner.
Aron, A., & Mashek, D. (Eds., 2004). Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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