Intimacy and Relationships

Intimacy involves feelings of emotional closeness and connectedness with another person and the desire to share each other's innermost thoughts and feelings. Intimate relationships are characterized by attitudes of mutual trust, caring, and acceptance.

A key part of our sexuality is our ability to be intimate: the ability to love, trust and care for others in both sexual and other types of relationships. We learn about intimacy from those relationships around us, particularly within our families.

In order to have true intimacy with others, a person must be willing to take emotional risks when they share personal details and stories. Emotional intimacy doesn't automatically occur with sexual intimacy, as people who are sexually involved may still be unable or choose not to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. In fact, people sometimes find it easier to be emotionally intimate with friends than with a sexual partner.

Four key factors

There are four key factors to having a healthy intimate relationship:

1. Knowing and liking yourself

Some social scientists suggest that the initial step toward intimacy with others is getting to know and like yourself. By coming to know and value yourself, you identify your innermost feelings and needs and develop the security to share them with others.

2. Trusting and caring

Two of the most important components of an intimate relationship are trust and caring. When trust exists, partners feel secure that disclosing intimate feelings will not lead to ridicule, rejection, or other harm. Research shows that trust builds gradually as people come to see the other person has made a sincere investment in the relationship, such as by making compromises.

Caring is an emotional bond that allows intimacy to develop. When people care about each other, they seek to fulfill each other's needs and interests, and if necessary, to sometimes make sacrifices for the other person.

3. Honesty

Honesty is also a core feature of intimacy. However, this does not necessarily mean being an ‘open book'. For example, although being honest about your sexual history can help your current partner make decisions regarding their sexual health, you are not obligated to reveal every detail of your past relationships. We owe those we are intimate with the information they need to make informed choices, but discretion is also important. Try to provide important information in a way that is concise and respectful to your partner(s) and yourself.

4. Clear communication

Communication is a two-way street that embraces sending and receiving messages. The clear communicator must therefore learn to also be a good listener.

It is important when communicating with someone to listen not only to their words, but also to their non-verbal cues. Nonverbal communication provides valuable clues to feelings. Tone of voice, gestures, body posture, and facial expressions not only accentuate the spoken word but can also express emotion directly.

Clear communication can take the guesswork out of relationships, avert misunderstanding, relieve resentments and frustrations, and increase general (and sexual) satisfaction within the relationship.