People generally seem to have two conflicting needs in relationships:

  • We want a sense of space and autonomy, of being allowed to do our own thing. Our independence is important to us.
  • We also want to be close to someone else, to know that we are loved and accepted for who we are, despite our faults. We need to know that we matter deeply to someone else, and that we are valued by them. In other words, we long for intimacy.

Intimacy in relationships

Intimacy is also about being able to accept and share in your partner's feelings, about being there when they want to let their defences down. Intimacy often doesn't need words, but being able to put feelings and experiences into words makes intimacy more likely to occur. Intimacy involves being able to share the range of feelings and experiences we have as human beings - pain and sadness, as well as happiness and love.

Intimacy is important in relationships, but is not always easily achieved.

Intimacy and sex

For most couples, one of the times when they are most aware of being intimate is when they are making love. This is not surprising - sexual activity involves trust and taking the risk of being vulnerable with each other. It is a time when, both physically and emotionally, partners let themselves get close to each other.

Sex cannot, however, carry all the burden of intimacy in the relationship. Being able to share feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, pride - the full range of emotional experiences - is also necessary. Without this, some couples find that after a while they begin to feel lonely and unappreciated however good their love-making might be physically. It is sometimes necessary for a couple to learn how to be close and express affection for each other without this leading straight on to lovemaking.

This can be particularly difficult for some men, who may have been brought up to believe that showing their feelings is somehow a betrayal of their masculinity. The more a couple is intimate with each other in ways other than sex, the more rewarding their sex life often becomes. Sex and intimacy are not the same, but they are closely related and easily influence each other.

Intimacy and separateness

Real intimacy is when two independent people choose to come together. The words of Kahlil Gibran from the poem "The Prophet" are often quoted about the balance of intimacy and separateness in relationships.

 

'Let there be spaces in your togetherness ... Love one another, but make not a bond of love ... Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone ... And stand together, yet not too near together; For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.'