1) Name the cause and move on
What’s been preventing you feeling intimate with someone? There’ll be some reason for habitually keeping people at arm’s length. Perhaps you’ve found it difficult to trust people because you’ve been let down before. Maybe you were raised in a household that influenced you to feel distrustful of affection. You might have developed a cynical mindset about others. Whatever the reason, think about what may have led you to feel reluctant about getting close.
Of course, there may be real reasons why you can’t relax with, and feel connected to, someone. Perhaps they are untrustworthy or abusive. If this is the case, then it would be right not to naturally feel intimate with them. But if you’ve had long-term intimacy issues, it may help to reason why, with this proviso:
Just discovering possible reasons from the past has limitations. Knowing doesn’t always help us to actually change. So the next tip is all about starting to change.
2) Get physical bit by bit
Behaving differently can make us feel differently; so even when you don’t particularly feel intimate and relaxed, start by making small changes one at a time. For example, if you have a partner, then start to take time to hug them when perhaps you normally wouldn’t (not when they’re driving or swimming in the deep end : ) ) – maybe before they go to work and also when they come back.
One man I spoke to said that he and his wife only ever touched when they had sex. I encouraged them to have more non-sexual touch and after a couple of weeks they reported feeling much closer to one another. They also found that this increased physical closeness had become second nature.
Increased hugging and holding hands with your partner, even if it doesn’t feel natural at first, can begin to increase intimacy. Just start to do it very gradually, else it might seem too sudden a change. But…
3) Know the difference between physical and emotional intimacy
The prolific romance writer and enthusiastic self-applier of copious makeup Dame Barbara Cartland once wrote: “Among men, sex sometimes results in intimacy; among women, intimacy sometimes results in sex.” I think there’s some truth in that: generally, men can disconnect their feelings; whereas women may feel sex is a bridge to greater intimacy, men may feel sex is “just sex”.
Of course, a general rule isn’t absolute. But it’s wrong to assume that physical intimacy will inevitably lead to emotional intimacy – especially if it isn’t accompanied by relationship building outside the physical aspect. When we feel disconnected from our partner, the physical intimacy will likely be less satisfying. I recall someone once telling me she had “slept around” in her youth because she was desperate for intimacy with anyone. She’d since learned that physical intimacy was no guarantee of greater emotional intimacy.
It’s wonderful when two people are physically and emotionally intimate, but one won’t necessarily lead to the other. So emotional intimacy is not all about being physically close; the way you relate to others also determines levels of intimacy.
4) Make small disclosures
Some people tell you all and everything about themselves in a big splurge of intimate self-disclosure – too much too soon. I’ve noticed that these are often people you might not even know at all. I recall a fellow passenger on a flight fixing onto me and telling me her life story, hopes, desires, and anxieties. She had no idea I was a therapist, but here I was with all this information about her in my head.
We don’t need to go to those extremes, but the opposite can distance us from others. Never telling others what you feel about something, never sharing information about yourself, has a way of stretching the divide between people. Get into the habit of telling other people how you feel about stuff, what your thoughts are, what your hopes are…
Yet, there’s a caveat here, too: