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What is Intimacy
Often people hear that word and think “sex” and nothing more. To me, however, intimate is a word that oozes vulnerability, openness, communication, and so many more things that many of us struggle with. It is something I struggle with. Something I desperately desire and yet still shy away from. Intimacy is something that can fulfill and enrich our lives or something that can rip us apart.
Emotional Intimacy in Marriage
My marriage has always been a struggle. I know that every relationship has its ups and downs, but ours has been especially rocky. Addiction and abuse can do that to a relationship.
Many times I have thought that our marriage was not going to survive. As my husband and I have both sought outside help for our problems I have come to believe that the lack of true intimacy is the root of most if not all of our difficulties.
Intimacy is about connecting with someone emotionally and spiritually. It is not about merely sharing positive feelings or having a great sexual connection. Intimacy means finding security in a relationship that allows you to share all of your feelings, including fear, anxiety, anger, disappointment, joy, hope, and so forth. In an intimate and safe relationship, you trust that when you do share, you will not be abandoned, criticized, or judged. That is a huge vision for what a relationship can be — and such a relationship can take a lifetime of training to develop.
Intimacy is Hard
Why is true intimacy so difficult to achieve? Because when you truly let someone you care about into the deepest parts of your heart and they reject, judge, or criticize what they see it hurts. It is a brutal gut wrenching pain. It can destroy you if you let it.
We all put walls around our hearts. Some of us have a chain link fence that offers a small amount of protection, but welcomes in most who are interested. Most of us have a 30 foot tall x 10 foot thick wall with barbed wire and vats of boiling oil on top. We then surround it by a moat filled with alligators!
Shortly after my husband confessed his betrayal we stayed up until 5 in the morning talking, slept a few hours, then talked all morning until he had to leave for work that afternoon. We laid it all out on the table. We were raw. We were brutally honest. We were truly intimate.
There were times when I wanted to climb back behind my alligators, and times where frankly I wanted to shove him in the moat with them, but we pushed through.
At the end I was completely emotionally drained, exhausted, and numb. In that moment I had the first glimmer of hope that maybe we can fix this mess that we are in. We both need to seek individual growth, but at the end of the day the thing that will save our marriage won’t be anything either of us does individually.
Our marriage can only be saved if we embrace those intimate moments where in the past we have so often walled each other out.
True Intimacy Requires Safety
It is important to note that real intimacy also requires safety. If we want our spouse to be intimately open with us we have to be a safe space for them.
Being safe doesn’t mean that we don’t feel or show pain, anger, sadness, etc. Safe does not mean that we don’t hold the other accountable and enforce boundaries. Safe simply means we aren’t going to belittle, demean, or attack out partner for sharing.
As Russel M. Nelson says:
Real love for the sinner may compel courageous confrontation—not acquiescence! Real love does not support self-destructing behavior.
Safety is maintained when we create and enforce healthy boundaries.
Intimacy is Important in Every Relationship
True intimacy isn’t only for marriages. Every relationship worth having requires a certain level of intimacy.
It is through open honest communication that bonds are formed which keep us strong. The more we open the deepest parts of ourselves to people we love and trust the stronger we are.
When we are authentic with those who are closest to us we are able to extend that authenticity to every relationship in our lives. When someone rejects our true self its ok, because we have the support of those inside our wall to remind us that we are amazing, valuable, and worthy.
Most importantly we must know ourselves intimately in order to love ourselves.
Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.