What is emotional intimacy? Interestingly, two people can be married and live together for years. But they are not emotionally intimate. Both people have committed to each other in that situation, but that differs from intimacy.
Intimacy is the ability to share the deepest feelings with one’s partner. That includes sharing love, passion, creativity, laughter, and joy. It means allowing one’s partner to know the secrets and the most hidden parts of oneself.
Emotional intimacy is such that one no longer feels lonely. Yet, there are countless numbers of people who feel lonely and unhappy although of marriage. Two people may live together for many years but feel like total strangers. One of the prime reasons for this is the fear of intimacy. Commitment is the decision two people make to stay together. Still, intimacy is the ability and willingness to be open and honest with the other. It is a closeness that is both sexual and emotional. Of course, some individuals fear and avoid intimacy if they avoid commitment.
How do you know if either you or your partner fear intimacy? I get many email questions that represent problems with emotional intimacy. For example,
- Some people state that their partner, during an argument, remains silent. Silence is the refusal to communicate with one’s spouse. Another complaint is that the spouse reacts to any disagreement by leaving the room. There is a refusal to discuss anything. Nothing is more frustrating than being with someone who refuses to have a discussion.
- Secrecy is another example of the lack of intimacy in a relationship. Secrecy is the opposite of openness and honesty. Those who keep secrets do not view their partner as their best friend.
- intimacy means that two people can empathize with the feelings and stresses their partner is going through.
People avoid intimacy for various reasons. The first relationship begins in infancy. During that tender period, attachment bonds are formed between the mother and infant. The quality of that bond will determine what type of relationships the individual will form during adulthood.
Children who grow up with physical and emotional abuse emerge into adulthood with problems of trust in others. For many, commitment and intimacy may be avoided for fear of being abused and hurt again. Relationships feel too filled with danger and fear and must be avoided. Then, too, parents who were too controlling and intrusive produce children who learn that getting too close to others may be too stifling. There is a fear of being controlled and engulfed.
The absence of the ability of one or both people in a relationship to show empathy and understanding is a sign of intimacy problems. It is a symptom of a problem if the partner wishes always to be right.
Relationships rest on a foundation of willingness to compromise and understand the feeling of their partner.
Your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD