Article originally posted on The Love Life Blog
Self help books, women’s magazines and traditional therapists extol the virtues of intimacy as the way to improve your relationship and therefore have better sex. The two key aspects to this ‘intimacy’ are: 1) to become more connected by spending more time together, and 2) to communicate (by speaking) every little thing about yourself, and conversely listening wondrously in rapt attention agreeing in perfect accord with every utterance.
Which would imply most of us haven’t got a snowflake’s chance in hell of having a decent sex life… Fear not. You can breathe a sigh of relief because this means that in fact you will avoid that stifling arrangement of co-dependent ‘intimacy’ we too often think is the prerequisite for ‘happily ever after”. Now certainly intimacy does require connection and communication, but it’s the how, the what and the how much that matters. Let’s look at the two fundamental aspects of intimacy - connection and communication - debunk a few myths and look at what really matters.
First, connection. Supposedly we need to have lots of quality time together to feel intimate. But in fact you don’t have to even be physically near each other to feel connected. Especially in this digital age there are myriad ways to connect without being physically present. Even when you are together, it doesn’t have to be ‘quality’ time, i.e. time that is spent highly focused on each other, more of that rapt attention stuff. Just spending time together in an unfocused hanging-out kind of way can actually be a better way of enjoying each other’s company than high intensity time together. (How often have you seen couples in restaurants eating without speaking? Not a lot of intimate connection going on there. They’d be better off doing the gardening together or going for a walk where there is more distraction, less intensity and surprisingly more ease of connection).
We’re also supposed to improve our ‘connection’ by sharing common interests and learning to enjoy those that aren’t in common. Well, that’s not necessary either. While it’s good to have some interests in common, you don’t have to have everything in common, and there’s no onus on you to learn to like those that aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with having different interests, it doesn’t mean you’re not suited, it doesn’t mean you’re not close. Quite the opposite, maintaining connection in the face of difference is bonding if you respect and appreciate the difference.
This can be intimidating for some people though. They fear that sense of separateness. They fear that if they’re not fused they could lose the other person. These people become jealous and fiercely attached to their partner. Any sense of flirting is felt as potential or actual infidelity and is the hovering angel of death to the relationship. There is no trust, only a desperate clinging. This is not true intimacy.
It’s also intimidating because of the threat of rejection. If your partner is different to you then they may not agree with you and that can be a frightening thing. It’s scary to know that the person whose opinion you value the most and whose agreement you crave might reject your thought or action or opinion. Shock, horror, that could cause disharmony, and we all know that the “perfect relationship” is harmonious. It might be, but not through fear of difference, only through appreciation of difference. If you’re holding yourself back and not expressing your true self, not living with a sense of integrity, because you fear your partner’s disapproval and crave their validation, then you are not being truly intimate.
When you interact like this you cannot have good communication, that quality so espoused by the self help gurus. Look, of course communication is essential, it’s how it’s done that matters. Too often communication is equated with speaking, whereas communication is effected through so many ways, not just spoken. Even considering the verbal aspect, more is communicated through tone of voice and body posture than the actual words (which is why arguing never works because the arguers are reacting to the tone not the content). But communication also occurs through touch, looks, through silence, through action, and definitely through sex. In fact when a couple have truly intimate sex they communicate their inner beings far more profoundly than any conversation could ever do.
Receiving the content of the communication is also crucial to effective conveying of meaning. But what is receiving content and how are you expected to respond? When the communication is spoken, listening openly to the other person is important, but it doesn’t have to be in rapt wonderment, affirming every utterance in mutual accord. Listen with respect, certainly, but not under any pressure to agree.
Just as importantly, being open to communication in non-verbal ways is essential to true intimacy, you can’t just expect verbal cues. Your partner expresses feelings and thoughts constantly, in actions, gestures, moods, silences, and of course, in making love with true intimacy.
Even being open to this type of communication requires true intimacy, because it requires you to show your real self without needing validation from the other person, and without feeling that you have to give it to the other person. True intimacy is not expressed through jealousy, fear or anxiety.
True intimacy requires integrity of yourself. You need to show yourself and be seen. To do that you need separation, difference, distance, a sense of ‘other’.
This is essential for good relationship, and it is essential for good sex. Why? Because only with true intimacy can you express your sexuality without fear of rejection or displeasure by your partner. It’s only when you can truly know and express your eroticism that you can enjoy the other key element to extraordinary sex: erotic tension.