Define an intimate relationship.
The quality of our relationships is a reliable measure of the quality of our lives. Our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being depend on the emotional nourishment our relationships provide. Intimate is a term that aptly describes an emotionally nourishing relationship. It follows that if our relationships are intimate and ever-deepening, we’ll be balanced and growing, and the quality of our lives will be fulfilling and meaningful.
There is something we could call the language of intimacy. It seems that for some people, this language comes naturally, just happens, just flows, as if it were inherent in their beings, as if they were born with it. For others, it doesn’t exist, they never saw it and don’t what it looks like, which means that the language must be taught and learned.
The language of intimacy makes for an emotionally nourishing exchange between two people characterized by deep caring and understanding. It is how and what people communicate to each other, both verbally and nonverbally, and continues to deepen over time. Intimacy and intimate communication can be summed up as the ability to achieve a mutual understanding, being in tune with each other. Understanding is abundantly nourishing. When there is understanding, both people are receiving and providing nourishment and their relationship becomes a source of sustenance.
Intimate relationships have four basic ingredients: respect, trust, acceptance and knowing (each other), which can take place through both verbal and nonverbal communication.
Respect has to do with honoring each other with regard, validating each other as inherently worthy, treating each other as if the other person’s thoughts and feelings are important and matter. Eye contact, attentiveness, and how you listen to each other are nonverbal expressions of respect. Certainly there are verbal communications that convey acknowledgement and humble reverence.
Trust has to do with feeling safe enough to be open and honest with each other, feeling that you can count on your partner being there for you, knowing that you are always looking out for each other and that you can count on each other to act responsibly – that is, “do what you say.”
Acceptance has to do with unconditional acceptance: not holding each other to idealized standards, but rather embracing each other’s limitations, flaws, character defects, differences, quirks, moods. Acceptance is appreciating each other as a unique individual, not wanting the other to be someone else or thinking that he or she should be someone else. Acceptance means not being fixated on assumptions about each other.
Knowing each other means becoming acquainted with subtleties and nuances in the other. We can only do this through deep, personal sharing. Mutual understanding is one aspect of knowing; the ability to do so on an ongoing basis is another; and the insights and revelations that occur by virtue of time spent together another aspect still.
Some people may wonder whether sexual attraction and sexual chemistry should be included in the definition of an intimate relationship. The aforementioned definition is an attempt at prioritization and sequencing. Respect, trust, acceptance and knowing are the vitamins and minerals, the source of nourishment, the structure and foundation of an intimate relationship. Sexual attraction, chemistry, and satisfaction in a relationship are more analogous to heightened pleasures; they are enhancers – the “icing” as opposed to the “cake.” Certainly when it is happening on all levels, there is a certain synergy: making love as the ultimate expression of intimacy. But a relationship can be extremely intimate without any sex at all, while no relationship could be considered intimate without these four basic ingredients.
Perhaps the most important implication is that these four basic ingredients also apply to the relationship one has with oneself. How can one respect, trust, accept and know another person when one doesn’t feel that way about oneself – when one doesn’t have self-respect, trust of self, self-acceptance and self-knowledge? It can only happen when one is in touch with and able to identify what one is feeling, wanting or needing. The recognition that a line has been crossed (i.e., that one is disrespected, not safe to be open, honest and vulnerable; that one is being held to unrealistic expectations, or is not being accurately seen or heard) comes from an inner knowledge.
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About Daniel Linder, MFT
Relationships. I was born with a keen sense about relationships, was always assessing how close and intimate people are with each other. I had a knack for relationships. The importance of relationships cuts to the core of who I am. The combination of clinical training, 25 years of professional experience treating dysfunctional, non-intimate couples and families, as well as rigorous self analysis has given me a lot to work with. I put what seemed to come naturally to me under a microscope in an effort to break the process of building healthy relationships down to concrete essentials: Understanding of Basic Principles, Communication Skills, Self-realization and Intimacy.