How Can I Develop Healthy Intimacy With My Partner?

"iuri, let me tell you how this works... you make love all day, and have sex at night."

iuri melo
iuri melo

Well hello there, and thanks again for joining me for another fantastic question that you submitted, and oh man, so critical... and I mean critical because of how important and valuable our relationships are, and how impactful they are to our own emotional, psychological, and even physical well being... our relationships, our attachments are such weighty matters, and today we are going to talk about intimacy, which includes physical intimacy, although it is just a variable in the equation.

I admit doing research on this topic has just completely kicked my behind, and brought to my awareness some of my own flaws... some of my insecurities... some of my own patterns that are fear based, and honestly just poor adaptations that have caused some harm in my own relationships, and unfortunately to my own dear Katie, my lovely spouse...unfortunately, its a reality, that ultimately our closest people... the most critical relationships in our lives, get our whole selves right?... warts, tantrums, beauty, gifts, all of it.

I think I'll start this podcast by talking about the conversation that I had with my mother, the night before my wedding to my lovely wife. Among other things, my mother said to me...

"iuri, let me tell you how this works... you make love all day, and have sex at night. And that's how it works"

Now don't get all excited and go on running to your spouse... "honey, iuri said we should be having sex everynight... hahahah, oh my goodness, well, what i'm really saying is this... having sex (whenever and however often) is symptomatic of a loving, intimate, and connected relationship."

So let's talk intimacy, and more importantly, let's discuss how we are going to nourish it... heal it... fix it... encourage it. And honestly, after all these years of working with couples, what I have found... what i believe is at the heart of the matter, the central issue in all of the marriages I've worked with, rarely is about the content of a couple's arguments, and almost always, the central issue is concerned with the quality and responsiveness of the attachment relationship they have with one another.

And the bottom-line test of that relationship is in the answer to one fundamental question, which is... "Are you really there for me?" Now just take a second... and think of some of the discussions and arguments you've had with your beloved... and see if you can't identify or see them in a new light... maybe even realizing that beyond all that was said in those arguments..., maybe all that they... and you as well... what the both of you were really asking of one another was:...:

"Are you really there for me? Do I really matter to you, enough that you'll put me first when it really counts--before your job, before your friends, even before your family? Am I safe with you? Do you believe me? Will you be patient with me? Will you see and trust my effort? Do you care about me? Will you respond to me? Partners in troubled relationships feel that on some basic level the answer to these questions is "no," or at best "maybe."

All couples fight, but the fights that really define a relationship are always about the same thing: whether the partners feel they have a safe, secure connection with the other." I mean... what do you think... does that ring true to you?

If you are looking for an excellent read, what I would say is a transformative read, read "Hold me tight - By Sue Johnson, she is the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, and to me, man I think she's captured it. And I'll have some more thoughts and quotes from her in a moment, that I believe will create a deeper understanding, and offer some hope as well.

But let's define intimacy for a moment. When something is intimate, it is close... so closeness, togetherness... nearness... and intimacy between individuals in a marriage, or a relationship... even parental and other types of relationships, can only happen... will only happen when there is a sincere attempt at understanding, and feeling understood, when one feels accepted and is accepting, and when both are willing to be vulnerable and take risks... and when those risks are taken... right, when we express things that we fear, that we desire, that we hope for, that matter to us, the emotional responsiveness of the partner will determine whether that relationship will be one that is intimate, close, safe,... a healing relationship... or one where the other partner will feel... it's not safe here... my ideas, beliefs, concerns, fears, hopes, requests, complaints, are not safe here, and the only possible outcome for that relationship is that it will be stunted... it will plateau, and some of that emotional vitality will likely whither, and become lessened.

Now I know that things are going to go wrong and that we are going to fight, and that we will hurt each other, and that's a relationship... Sue says... "If you dance with somebody, they're going to step on your feet. They're going to go left when you expect them to go right.

It's just the way it is.

The point is, in a good relationship, you can recognize what's happened and you can tune in and you can repair it. It's emotional responsiveness. That's the basis of a secure bond." In fact she goes even further, when she describes the process that often happens in marriages, of connecting, and disconnecting through our disagreements, our difficult discussions, when we are hurt, and then reconnecting - and her thought that these interactions are challenging but essential to the livelihood of the marriage.

Disconnecting, repairing, and re-connecting

So think of it this way... in your own relationships your, ability to create and encourage intimacy hinges on:

  1. Your willingness and conscious effort to risk and be vulnerable, and
  2. Your ability to tune in and be emotionally responsive, and receive your partners risks and ventures with attentiveness, a seeking to understand, acceptance, safety, gentleness, affection, and kindness and mercy. When that combo happens, intimacy grows... trust grows, and we very quickly get the message... and what is the message? The message is... you're safe with me... my secrets are safe with this person... hopes, fears, embarrassments, shame is safe with this person, and then... then everything else can be resolved, and with that wonderful freedom, connection and acceptance comes creativity, freedom, and an increased ability to be our very best...

I've always said that relationships will demand the very best of us... especially in those critical moments... the beauty is that relationships will also lead us to the very best of us.

As I thought over some of the cases that i've worked on, in addition to my personal life,I Also found that intimacy is a process of discovery. It's so interesting, as I pondered this topic, I realized that so much of my time with clients is spent building quick intimacy... within the first 15 minutes or 30 minutes, or over months... the message that I'm sending out loud and clear is... everything you tell me here is safe... it will be handled gently... it will be looked at with compassion and mercy... it will be received from a perspective of non-negative-judgment.. And with an overarching hope, that together we can address, and resolve anything. How do i do this in 15 mins, so that within 30 to 45 minutes people are telling me their deepest, darkest, most embarrassing, shaming secrets... well this is what i do, and of course for some this takes longer, and for some they never allow for it... but just the same, this is the pattern that i follow:

  1. I greet people with gladness and affection
  2. I compliment them
  3. I show interest in them and ask questions to give them an opportunity to risk and share... I usually start with things that are easy to talk about and are somewhat impersonal, and I gently move toward those that are deeper, more personal things about their lives, their thoughts, their feelings.
  4. I'm locked in and attentive
  5. I'm engaged and responsive to what they are saying
  6. I'm looking to understand them deeply, their points, concerns and thoughts
  7. I demonstrate and communicate an acceptance, a non-negative-judgment, and reassure them that whatever they say is safe here... in a way, they very quickly understand that their mistakes, errors, fears, anxieties, thoughts, emotions, are not fearful at all to me... in other words, nothing they say will create or rupture the relationship, in fact, it will strengthen it... sometimes i'll literaly get off my seat and clap out loud when they share something that I can tell was difficult for them... or a moment of courage and vulnerability.
  8. When the time comes for me to share an idea, an opinion, some advice, I'll do so with permission... I soften it... I leave it up to them... I'll leave room for my own ignorance... I do this because I'm always working to maintain and make the next interaction a safe one as well. I'm not interested in being an expert, i'm interested in a cooperative relationship, and finally II ask for their honest opinion, for their thoughts... for their own assessment of the visit.

I'm telling you this because I need to do more of this in my own relationships, and I hope that you will do them in yours... because i want you to send a clear message, and that message is... yes, I am here for you...I am the very best place for you to land... and I will listen and seek to understand you. My hope is that we can do this better with our spouses, with our children, and other relationships that we may want. This is also wonderful because when we do this, we then are able to model for our children what a healthy relationship is like.

And a healthy relationship is the one that helps you to really feel safe, and where the interactions with that person are easy, and you feel that you can be vulnerable, and when you are, they respond and tune into you, and they care about your vulnerability... and that's who you go with... in addition to them being wonderful and inspiring, and someone that you would want your children to be like... and if you find someone like that... pick that dude or dudette, if you are already married, let's get busy being those dudes!

So you're probably thinking to yourself... oh my gosh iuri, when are you going to stop talking about intimacy, and start talking about sex... well, that's a good question, but what I have been laying down for you, is the foundation that cannot be ignored if sex is to result. Remember that your relationships are living things. They are living, moving organisms, and they're like every other living thing. If you starve them of attention, and ignore them, and leave them on a shelf for years, then you turn around and try to pick them off the shelf, well, I'm sorry, but they've shriveled up (and there is no pun intended with that last statement) and died.

So I will talk about two things for a moment specifically about sex I recognize that all of us are just so dog gone different... we just are. Our ideas of what sex means, what it looks like, how often, when, where, with what props... oh my gosh... we are just different, and often you have one partner that wants to be intimate more frequently, and even more intensely, and the other who doesn't. Sometimes these differences are extreme, which can lead some spouses to withdraw completely from the sexual component of the relationship (meaning that they become avoidant), and the other can at times become more aggressive (verbally or emotionally abusive, and manipulative, pouting, being angry).

All of that can sometimes lead to people to feel hopeless and helpless, and then bitterness and resentment can set in. We of course want to avoid this push and avoid type of cycle, provide some healing and then allow each other to try again... reset things a bit. I go back to the sentence that my mom said "Make love all day, and have sex at night." All sexual relations, sexual activites have to be consentual...Period.

If something is uncomfortable for the other, is demeaning, is hurtful... back off... in marriage, or out of marriage, or the sexual relationship will become traumatized. That's why I spent so much time discussing intimacy and emotional responsiveness, because, we need to build that foundation so that a natural sexual relationship can flow from that.

For those of you who are more aggressive and specific with your sexual wants and frequency, start by recognizing that we are talking about wants and preferences, not needs... this may seem small, and just semantics, but the difference is important. If you don't have sex in the elevator or in an airplane, you are going to live... if something isn't done just the way you like it, you're going to be ok, and if you are not... it's possible that you've got something going on, and we probably need to spend some time dealing with it.

And if you, for whatever reason, have given up on sex, can I just suggest one thing... it's possible that making love, is able to do just that... "make love" that means, that sex or making love (i prefer that phrase) isn't just an outcome or a symptom of a healty relationship... it is also a vehicle to a healthy relationship... it can inspire love, affection, connection, bonding, trust, forgiveness, psychologically, and even physically as the brain releases oxytocin (which is the bonding chemical)... so this is just a thought for you... consider trying again... experimenting... being a little more expressive of what you would like, and what is out of bounds for you, so that your sexual experiences can be more positive instead of negative.

In the end I would describe healthy sexuality in these words "Hey, want to make love... Yeah... great!" Hey want to make love?... I'm tired, stressed, i have a headache (eventhough sex may help aleviate those), a toothache, i have nothing more to give today, how about a raincheck, or even, hey I need a little time... and the answer... great!" Anyways, I hope that this was helpful for you. I have no doubt in my mind that at the pinnacle of human achievement, or spiritually achievement, or even from an evolutionary perspective... stands our ability to love... to forge relationships... to encourage intimacy. My very best to you, and may you make love all day... and every once in a while... whenever... have sex as well. Enjoy!